The ease at which you can access images on the internet for use in advertising is as simple as a “right click and save”. Never before has there been such easy access to the plethora of images that there is today. However, just because you can technically download and save images from online sources, doesn’t mean you have the legal right to use them.


What are the “rules” when it comes to online images?

In many cases Photographers, Graphic Designers and Marketers are entitled to earn a fee for the intellectual property they have in their work when published online. In this regard, copyright laws apply equally in an online environment as they do in print. When sourcing images to use in your online marketing and social media campaigns it’s extremely important that you correctly source them, as there can be strict penalties for using unauthorised images.

You need to make sure, in every instance, that any images you are using are not subject to copyright and you are entitled to use them.



Recent Example:

We recently had a potential client come to us who had sourced an image online and didn’t follow due diligence to ensure that the image was able to be re-produced freely. As a result, our potential client had been issued, unexpectedly, with a huge bill for breach of copyright.  The original owner of the image was suing them, asking for payment of the licence fee for use of the image on their social media.

These sorts of claims can quickly become complicated, and it’s not just the actual fee that can be requested, but the market value of the image in question. Further, with digital images these days, there is a way for the original source to be tracked, therefore it can quite easily be established where the original image came from.

While many may have the attitude it won’t happen to me, or no one will find out. The example above highlights that an unexpected bill can arrive if due diligence is not applied.

Below is guide which will help you understand what you can and can’t use.


Where Can I Source Images?

There are many websites online which provide images for commercial use. These websites will explicitly state in their licence agreements (found on their website) whether you can or can’t use the images for commercial purposes and what restrictions may apply.

Images on some of these sites have been released under Creative Commons.

Using freely sourced images is fine for things like blogs, social media and website. If, however, you were to be producing TV commercials, or running a feature in a national magazine, permission of any identifiable people would be needed – in this instance it is recommended you get some legal advice just to make sure.


Myth Busting:

1.The image doesn’t have a © symbol therefore it’s not protected under copyright law – WRONG – just because an image doesn’t have a copyright symbol does not mean it isn’t protected by law.

2.Stating the source protects me from the rights holder asking for money for a licence fee – WRONG – stating the source does not absolve you of paying a licence fee to the original image owner.


How to Protect Myself:

1.Images you find on Google should not be used as they may be subject to copyright– you should only use images you either take yourself or are from websites that you are clear on the terms of use. This applies equally to whether it’s used on your website, in an email or on social media.

2.If you share a link that has an image in it – this is fine, as you are not claiming this to be your own.

3.The copyright holder can legally bill you for the fair market value of the image, not just the asking price.

4.While you should always ensure you are not using copyright images here are some steps to follow to be sure:

  • Remove any images you think are owned by someone else and replace them immediately
  • Let your staff know (or whomever is responsible for your social media and marketing) they need to correctly source images and how to go about doing that
  • If in doubt, don’t use the image, either source another one, take a photo yourself or have someone do it for you (and pay the appropriate fee)