Where Did You Get That Photo?
Updated: May 17, 2020
See that photo?
I have permission to use it on my blog because permission to use the photos in my web development platform's library is included in my subscription.
See that photo?
I hired a professional photographer to shoot that image. I have permission to use that image on my blog because I bought the rights from the photographer. I can show you the contract from her granting me that permission.
Where did you get the photos you use on your website, business cards, advertising, marketing, and other promotional materials? Do you know if you have permission to use them? Do you have permission to use the images of the people in your photos?
Images are protected by copyright. The person who created the image owns the copyright, except in very limited circumstances. If you didn't create the image, you need to obtain permission to use it. If you don't obtain that permission, you risk infringing on the copyright of the person who created the image.
Rarely is an image free to use or in the public domain. An image that you find with an Internet search is not free to copy and use. You can't copy and use the images in this blogpost because someone else owns the copyrights to them. If the images on your website or other advertising or marketing materials were copied off the Internet, you run the serious risk of infringing on someone else's copyright.
In addition, if an image contains the portrait or likeness of another person, you risk violating that person's right of privacy for using their image without their permission. My local public school system gets this right. Each school year they ask parents to sign a consent form to allow the school system to use a child's image in any photos they take on school grounds or at school events that might be posted by the school on a website or social media. Parents also have the right to opt out and deny permission, and the school system will not use images of their children.
I have represented clients in negotiations to settle infringement claims for using someone else's images on their website without permission. These matters are frustrating because the client ends up paying thousands of dollars to settle and removing the images from their websites. In most of those matters, an internal or outside marketing person or website developer found the images by doing a Google search, copied the images, and pasted them into the website without further thought, innocently thinking that they were free to use because they appeared on the Internet.
Audit your use of images on your website and other advertising, marketing, and promotional materials. Do you own the copyrights to them because you created the images yourself or purchased the copyrights from someone else (e.g., the photographer you engaged for a photo shoot)? If not, do you have permission to use them (oftentimes called a "license")? Can you point to a document where your usage rights are clearly described? Are their people in your images? If so, do you have their permission to use their image for commercial purposes (e.g., because they are your employees and granted you permission by agreeing to the terms of your employee handbook concerning the use of their likeness for business purposes)?
If you can't answer these questions yourself, get help from someone who understands copyright and privacy laws.