Copyright and use of photographic images on the web
Copyright law is designed to protect the rights of creators of artistic, literary, musical and dramatic works of all kinds from having their work exploited or misused. As such it protects their rights to charge for the work and time they have put in to their creations, and also their moral rights to control how their work is used by others.
Copyright law applies to all manner of materials and applies not just to printed publishing, but to digital publishing as well, including photographic images and digital graphic art work.
The ‘free’ web
The web is a freely available, highly accessible medium, and inherently a sharing technology, where it is very easy to copy and republish material without thinking about copyright. It is also a very big space indeed. All this makes it very difficult to police. A Google image search can quickly find you images you might think will be appropriate to use on your own pages to decorate them or to illustrate what you are saying in text, but you must always be aware of copyright ownership and not assume because something is easy to find and copy from a web page that it is OK to steal someone else’s work.
Copyright owners fight back
The ease of reuse of other people’s creations on the web is leading to some content creators and rights owners, such as the major image libraries, taking steps to protect copyright by using sophisticated image-matching robots to crawl the web and find where their images are being used without permission, i.e. illegally, even if the image has been adapted in some way.
In the past 2 or 3 years many individuals, businesses and institutions, including the University of Exeter, have found themselves being issued with very large bills for the use of such material on their websites without permission. In such cases, ignorance is no defence and people have been obliged to pay up.
Copyright owners are attempting to protect their rights more robustly. So do not assume that the web is so big, and everything on it available so freely, that no-one will ever find out what you are using when you copy that image to fill a space on your web page.
Copyright statements and obtaining permission
It is important to be aware that copyright owners do not have to make any statement at all to have copyright over whole web pages, text, images, graphic art, maps, videos, music, sound recordings or any other work, including artistic, dramatic, literary or musical – anything that is created and published on the Internet is automatically under copyright to the original creator under the law, assuming it has not itself been copied.
You cannot assume that the lack of a clear copyright statement either accompanying the individual item you want to use, or accompanying the whole site on which it appears, means the item can be copied freely. For that reason you should always seek the permission of the website owner, and check if they own the copyright to the item you wish to use or if they have been granted a licence to use the item by the original copyright owner. Any rights they have been granted or have purchased will be restricted to the usage on their site only; you must obtain the permission of the original rights owner yourself if you wish to copy it on your own site. Many of them will allow some defined usage without asking for payment, but if payment is requested and you don’t think the expense can be justified, you must on no account go ahead and use the image.
Permission to reuse images from pages even within the University site must also be sought, in case an image is being used under restricted copyright but the ownership not explicitly acknowledged, although we would not encourage this.
Acknowledging copyright ownership
With individual image:
‘Photo courtesy of [photographer’s or company’s name, linking to their website or email address as appropriate]’
‘Credit: [photographer’s or company’s name, linking to their website or email address as appropriate]’
On a page where a number of images needing copyright acknowledgement appear:
‘Photography supplied courtesy of [list of photographers/company names, linking to their websites or email addresses]’
When using an image in the right hand ‘www Image with Caption’ template in Site Manager, the template includes an optional field for including a copyright acknowledgement.
If in doubt do not use it
You also cannot assume that an image you find on a website has not itself been copied illegally. For this reason, if, after contacting the website owner to obtain permission, you are not completely certain who owns the copyright on an image or other item, you should not use it.
JISC Digital Media
JISC Digital Media exists to help the UK’s FE and HE communities embrace and maximise the use of digital media - and to achieve solutions that are innovative, practical and cost effective. JISC Digital Media's mission is to support the UK's education sector in achieving greater digitisation and use of digital media resources (still images, moving images and sound resources) for teaching, learning and research. Their website provides a wealth of advice on using images and other digital media, including information on finding and using digital media, including further copyright information and links to free educational resources.