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How to use images from the Web without breaching copyright

How to use images from the Web without breaching copyright

Norbert Weber, head of online photo agency Polylooks, explains how marketers can select pictures online without falling foul of copyright laws.

Do you know your “rights managed” from your “royalty free”? With more than a third of UK marketing professionals admitting to using images obtained from the Internet that they have no right to use, are marketers risking law suits to cut modest image costs?

Sourcing photos has never been easier or cheaper. Within just a few clicks you can obtain the perfect image to jazz up your blog, illustrate your PowerPoint presentation or even print on a t-shirt. But are you absolutely certain you have the right to use that image for the purpose you require?

Do you know what terms such as “rights managed” and “royalty free” mean in the context of photos and illustrations obtained from the Web? If you do, our research indicates that you could be very much in the minority.

According to a survey Polylooks conducted recently, more than a third of UK marketing, PR and publishing professionals (37 per cent) admit to using images illegally obtained from the Internet, and the vast majority of those (81 per cent) did not feel guilty about it.

But with tools such as PicScout, which enables photographers to find where their images are being used online, it is becoming easier to trace images being used without permission of the owner.

Copyrights and wrongs

There are a number of widely used terms in the “microstock” – or online photo agency - trade which marketers should familiarise themselves with. To break it down:

Royalty Free: Users can purchase a licence under a set of conditions and are then free to use the image in perpetuity without paying additional charges for the privilege

Rights Managed:  Purchasers are given specific limits to the way they can use the images. This could typically include time restrictions or definitions over file size, format and medium over which it may be used. More flexible licences tend to be more expensive

Commons: Some photographers will have made their work available for free in exchange for a credit where used

Merchandise Licence: If image purchasers intend to use an image for commercial purposes – such as creating gift cards or printing on mouse mats, then they will need to buy the rights to do that, often called a “merchandise licence”

Given a number of options, our survey found that only 21 per cent of UK creative professionals we questioned could correctly identify the definition of “royalty free”, with nearly half (44 per cent) believing it meant they could use the image without paying for it. Additionally, only 16.5 per cent knew what “rights managed” meant. The survey unveiled that these creative professionals have control over image-buying budgets, despite their lack of knowledge of how to legally use them.

Responsible crowdsourcing

While marketers should not simply copy and paste images from the Web from a copyright standpoint, they also need to consider the status of the subjects of images they use.

Obtaining images from respectable microstock sites such as guarantees that all models featured have given their express permission to be used and owners of buildings have consented for their property to be photographed and sold online.

As images are vetted for quality purposes, buyers are also guaranteed to only select from a high standard of photography and illustration.

Responsibly sourcing images guarantees marketers the right to use stock images without any legal ramifications. They can also avoid the type of embarrassing incident as that which hit the news last year when a Czech grocery store was found to have used an American family photo it found on the Web in a billboard advertisement without the family’s knowledge or consent.

There is still a great deal of confusion when it comes to using photos or illustrations that photographers and artists have made available for sale online. Many people who should be paying for the right to use images are not doing so due to a lack of understanding on industry rules and terminologies.

It may appear easier – and cheaper – to simply copy and paste images from the Web, but not only is the net closing in on those who use images illegally.

Marketers should not feel that buying legitimate images online need be expensive as cost-effective, professionally-generated photos are widely available and the only real investment should be the time you choose to take deciding which images you would like to use.

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