Image copyright is one of the least wlll known legal hazards when publishing content online. Whether you update your website or social media, you need to understand the potential pitfalls. Read on to find out more…

It’s approaching 5pm on Friday afternoon and you’ve just finished writing a Facebook update which you want to post before you leave the office. With one eye on the clock, you quickly search Google for an appropriate image. Spotting one that fits the bill, you right click ‘Save image as…’. Within 30 seconds the post is live and you leave work to enjoy the weekend.

You have just breached image copyright law.

What is image copyright?

The key thing to remember is that the photographer, or their employer, owns the image copyright. Publication without permission of a photo, or even a still image of a television broadcast, is an infringement under section 17 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Publication includes print and online.

Image libraries, especially bigger ones like Getty or PA, use clever software to track when pictures have been published illegally. So while you are enjoying yourself in a pub garden, an invoice is being automatically generated to give you a nasty surprise when you return to work next week.

Depending on the scale of the breach, the bill could easily run into thousands of pounds.

How to avoid breaching image copyright?

Breaking image copyright law takes just one click of the mouse, but trouble can easily be avoided with some simple protocols. The safest path is to own the copyright either by taking images yourself or by employing the services of a freelance photographer (they will either share the copyright with you or you can ask for sole rights).

The other option is to use an online picture library. Free services are available, but you need to check their terms and conditions carefully. I would recommend paying for the use of a picture library, such as ShutterStock or ThinkStock, as these have a much wider range of good quality images. You can pay a one-off fee or a monthly subscription.

To avoid careless members of staff downloading images without permission, assign someone in your office the role of picture editor. Only they should have access to the image folder or online library, thus minimising the risk.