The Images on your Website and Copyright Law

Image Copyright law- don't be a target

Image courtesy of Steve Baker.

It’s so easy. You want an image of something, you search for it on google, you find it, download it, and use it for what you want. Did you know that most of those images are protected by copyright laws? And if you put them on your website, or your webs designer does, you can actually get sued for a lot of money?

How to tell if your Website Contains Copyrighted Images

If you didn’t purchase the rights, it’s safe to assume they are protected under copyright law. All images are by default, but some have different licenses attached to them, that may allow for use. If not, take them down as fast as possible. There are services like that have a reverse image search function, allowing owners of images and teams of people who work for companies like Getty Images to crawl the web, and locate and identify copyright infringement instances. Not knowing is no defense!

What to do if you get an Extortion Letter

Recently a client of mine called and informed me that she had just received a letter from Getty Images stating that an image used on her website was copyrighted, and they were demanding $2000 for this thumbnail sized image, even though we removed it immediately upon learning it was copyrighted.

It turns out this is not an uncommon practice for some companies that own or control rights to images on the internet. In fact, it is a business model. An unsuspecting website owner has copyrighted picture placed on their website by a (possibly unaware) webmaster or a template designer. Then the company representing the photographer FINDS the image and sends a letter to the OWNER of the website, who is the legally responsible party. These letters demand a great deal of money in damages. Getting a letter saying you are “under threat” of being sued can be scary! So website owner caves to the threat, and pays all or most of the money.

If you do receive a letter, don’t panic. Promptly remove the image from your site and server, disallow all archiving of your website in the wayback machine. You may feel the need to reply, stating that you had no knowledge and have removed the image in question, however I wouldn’t recommend this. Their game is based on fear and intimidation, and although they do have a case against you, it is very hard to prove in court and their legal fees would not be covered by the amount of money they might recover by taking you to court. Therefore, it will probably never happen.

Royalty- Free, Rights- Managed and Attribution Licenses

The best practice other than the preceding is to buy the RF (royalty free) rights to the image you wish to use. Royaltyfree (RF) means that once a license fee is paid, the images may be used many times without paying additional fees, but the initial license is necessary to protect yourself and your clients. This differs from Rights Managed (RM), a copyright license which, if purchased by a user, allows the one time use of the photo as specified by the license. If the user wants to use the photo for other uses an additional license needs to be purchased. There are also images which require attribution to the author, a link to their page or credit to them in text form on your website. There are even many different types of attribution.

There are sources of free images, please follow the links below.

It’s best to spend the extra time and make sure all your images are correctly licensed and deployed. And when you are purchasing a website, make sure the images used are paid for and documented. Don’t be a sitting duck!

Sources for Free Images:

17 Amazing Sites With Breathtaking Free Stock Photos

Creative Commons Image Search

Some Additional Resources:

Bloggers Beware: Image Copyright Infringement Is Costly (ELI)  Dedicated to reporting  information and providing commentary on Getty Images (and other stock photo) Settlement Demand Letters


  1. Wow beautiful photos

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