Image usage and copyright

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 digital publishing as well, including photographic images and digital graphic art work.

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.

A Google image search can quickly find images you might think are appropriate to use on your own webpages, but you must always be aware of copyright ownership. Never assume because something is easy to find and copy from a webpage that it is OK to steal someone else’s work.

Many content creators and rights owners, such as the major image libraries, protect copyright by using sophisticated image-matching robots to crawl the web and find where their images are being used illegally without permission, even if the image has been adapted in some way.

Individuals, businesses and institutions, including the University of Exeter, have found themselves issued with very large bills for using material on their websites without permission. Ignorance is no defence and people have been obliged to pay up.

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 for your webpage.

Copyright owners do not have to make a statement to have copyright over:

  • whole webpages
  • 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).

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, does not mean the item can be copied freely.

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 use it on your own site. Many of them will allow defined usage without asking for payment, but if payment is requested and you don’t think the expense can be justified, you must not 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.

Once permission is granted, terms of use agreed and any required payment has been made to the copyright owner, it is important to acknowledge the original owner of the image or work publicly on your site - do not pass it off as your own. If you have obtained formal permission to use an image under terms and conditions stipulated by the copyright owner, these may detail the precise credit line you should include with the image.

Sample copyright captions with individual image:

Photo courtesy of [photographer or company name, linking to their website or email address as appropriate]


Credit: [photographer or company name, linking to website or email as appropriate]

On a page with a number of images needing copyright acknowledgement:

Photography supplied courtesy of [list photographer/company names, linking to websites or emails]

Where to put the image credit

In the carousel template there is a caption field, use this to include the image copyright acknowledgement.

You cannot assume that an image you find on the web has not itself been copied illegally.

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.

Image resources

JISC Digital Media helps 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.

Their 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, further copyright information and links to free educational resources.

The University regularly commissions photography for use in promotional publications, including the University website. We have an extensive and growing archive, many of which can be viewed on the University’s online archive, Assetbank. Some photos will have usage restrictions; check before downloading or requesting the image.

The copyright owner of the photography within Assetbank is the University of Exeter. 

Even if artists allow reuse for their work free of charge, they still retain intellectual property rights over their images and you will be obtaining their permission to use their images under the terms of the image library website. You should acknowledge their ownership of the images you use.

  • Morgue File photographs contributed by many artists to be used in creative and commercial projects. You are asked to credit the photographer when possible. You do not need to register to download images.
  • Fotolia image bank of free and affordable royalty-free photos and illustrations. ‘Royalty-free’ is not the same as ‘free’; it means the image can be purchased without limits on the time it is used for or on the number of uses that are made of it. Acknowledging the photographer or artist is courteous. You need to register as a member to use the site; membership is free. You must purchase Fotolia credits if you need to purchase images from the site. Credits cost from £0.63p each.
  • stock.xchng a community of professional photographers and amateur enthusiasts who offer their works for public use free of charge or at minimal cost. You need to register to use the site and download images; membership is free.
  • free stock image library
  • free stock image library