No one likes to receive an unexpected bill for £1,200 but that’s what happened last week to someone in a business Facebook group I belong to.
The invoice came from one of the big stock photography companies for the use of 3 images. He was understandably outraged. He didn’t know the student who updated his website had used photos that were subject to copyright. “They should have had a copyright notice printed across them,” he wrote. “How was I supposed to know without that? And why are they charging me £400 each when I can buy photos like that for £1??”
Unfortunately he’s not alone. I’ve seen similar stories many times before. A lot of people, like the student this business owner employed, assume that if a photo’s been posted to the Internet without a copyright notice on it, it’s OK for them to use. But that’s not the case. You have to assume that every photo is subject to copyright unless explicitly stated otherwise.
Stock photography companies and independent photographers do search for images that are being used without permission and they do bill the companies that are using them.
As for the £1200 fee, the stock photography company has no way of knowing what size of image file you’ve got. All they know is that you’ve used one of their photos without permission. I guess they’ve invoiced him for use of the full size high resolution image, which can easily be £400+ per image. Some companies will add an extra fee for copyright infringement or even take you to court, so he’s lucky his bill wasn’t higher.
So if you don’t want to be faced with a big copyright bill out of the blue what can you do? The answer is simple:
Make sure any photos you use for your business are correctly licensed. And if someone else creates materials for you, ask how they licensed the images they used.
That applies to printed materials as well as websites, adverts, blog posts and social media updates.
Professional graphic designers, website designers and social media managers should all be aware of copyright law. If they haven’t included a line on your invoice for image licences
- They may be paying a monthly subscription to an image library that permits them to use the library’s photos for their clients
- They may have budgeted for licensing photos for you in with their other fees
- They may have sourced images which are free – e.g. ones supplied under a Creative Commons licence that permits commercial use. (Not all Creative Commons licences allow you to use material for your business, so do read the licence carefully).
If you’re not sure, do ask and get the answer in writing so if you’re ever challenged in future, you’ve got evidence.
(UPDATE: After reading Kerry’s story in the comments below, you need to ask for copies of the licences.)
Alternatively, you can take your own photos or get a professional photographer like me to take create a custom image library for you. You’ll find that costs a lot less than £400 each. (My commercial photography sessions start from £135 including several images with copyright licences.)
Using custom photos has the other advantage that they’re unique to your business which helps to reinforce your brand.
If you’d like me to create some custom photos for you or teach you how to take your own, get in touch.
And if you’d like to understand more about copyright law for photography in the UK, there’s a great document on the gov.uk website that explains it in plain English.
This is really interesting and I have been considering these issues recently in terms of my blog. I do buy stock images and I buy licensed graphics for use on my website and always opt to buy the extended licence if required. One thing I have noticed lots of blogs put credit under their post images from the found source i.e. a website address. Does this cover them? I had been thinking of doing the same but have been concerned about liability.
I recommend contacting the person who took the photo to ask if you can use it on your blog first. And if the photographer has licensed the photo via a stock library, there’s still the risk that the stock library could bill you for it so do check with the photographer. I’ve had some of my photos used without permission on blogs. I often let it go as long as they have correctly credited the photo to me and linked it to my website, but I have occasionally asked the blogger to take it down when I didn’t agree with the blog’s ethos. I don’t tolerate anyone who uses my photos without accreditation on their website, which has happened!
Great post, Linda. Having been caught out to the tune of £12k by a web development company in India, some 10 years ago, I know first hand how important it is to to get copies of the licence details for each image. In my case, I did have confirmation in writing that the firm I used had proper licenses in place – in truth they didn’t, and as the responsibility lies with the web publisher / owner, it wasn’t enough. I always recommend clients source their own images, through a reputable photographer, like yourself and retain a copy of the licence.
Ouch, Kerry! Sorry to hear that the web development company you used misled you. But thanks for sharing your story – it all helps to convince people that they do need to take copyright seriously.
really good post and very helpful for those of us who run our own businesses. Finding good unique photos can be tough. I do a lot of my own photography but being a perfectionist, I’m not always happy with the results.
Thank you. An issue that is a problem around the world.
I hear of this happening a lot, and unfortunately as an editor of a site see people just grabbing any image they want to use, not thinking about copyright issues. As a writer, I can understand the photographer’s point of view. I get really angry when someone uses my work without permission, and I expect a photographer to, too. Ignorance isn’t an excuse. It doesn’t take long to do your research, and there are plenty of places offering free, fully licensed photos.
Thanks for commenting Alexandria. There are plenty of options for properly licensed photos. And, like you, I am not happy when someone uses my photography without permission.
So if a photo is on Wikipedia, in the Public Domain can we use it? I found a lovely image of the picture “flaming june” but hesitated to post it because I was unsure?
According to Wikipedia’s own help pages “large numbers of images are removed from Wikipedia within hours or days of being uploaded due to inappropriate, insufficient or inaccurate copyright information” so I wouldn’t rely on any photo on there being correctly licensed. If you particularly like a photo on Wikipedia, check the copyright link that should be listed next to it. If you’re still not sure, use Google Image Search to see if you can find the original on a reputable stock library.
I occasionally search for creative commons licenced content on flickr, and properly attribute the source (owner and image location), with a link to the license page
As long as the Creative Commons licence for that photo permits you to use it in that way then you should be ok. It’s always worth checking the licence for each photo, particularly if your blog is related to a business, as not all photos are licensed for commercial use. Flickr has made that very easy to do by including a link to the detailed licence below each photo.