Whose photos are on your website?

A friend of a friend of mine has just received an invoice for £7,000 from Getty Images for the unlicensed use of one of their photographs on his website. Ouch!

For a while now, the bigger picture agencies such as Getty, Jupiter Media and Corbis have been marking their copyright material with code numbers which can help them locate use of their images on websites. Corbis uses Digimarc software to encode the images then MarcSpider software trawls the web looking for them. They can then cross-reference use of their images with their licence agreements with users to identify unlicensed users. They then send out a demand for payment for the retrospective unlicensed use of their images. Other stories involve amounts of £2,000 and even £17,000 – enough to cripple a small business.

Whose images are on your own website? Are you sure you have the permission of the copyright owner to use those images on your website – and for that matter, in printed material and other media?

Some people seem to naively think that because it is technically easy to copy an image from a website, the legal position is also ‘free and easy’. Not so!

So what should you do?

  • Website owners are responsible for what’s published on their websites and should ensure that all images are used with permission of the copyright owners.
  • Website designers should be aware of the issues and advise clients accordingly, to protect their clients – and contract with clients to protect themselves.
  • Photographers, illustrators, designers who are owners of the copyright material should protect their position by taking a similar stance to the picture agencies (or working through a picture agency) in order to establish proper licensing agreements with website owners.

The excellent website ‘Own It’ (www.own-it.org) has more information about licensing as well as downloadable contracts.


Let me know what you think about all this – and tell me of other examples of licensed or unlicensed use of copyright images in websites and elsewhere.

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