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Copyrighted Images And Your Website

by John Hensley


apps-ga1d3c25ac_1920Website designers and contributors must be careful not to use copyrighted images or material without appropriate permission. Not all online images can be used freely. Placing a copyrighted image on your website or in a blog is illegal. But how do you know if an image is copyrighted and should not be used? Protect your website by ensuring all images used are your own or permitted for common use. Learn more about copyrighted images from an experienced digital marketer.

Identifying a Copyrighted Image

There are several ways to determine if an image is copyrighted or available to the general public, and they include the following:

  • Use an image search like Google’s Image Search to identify a copyrighted image. If a picture links to a photographer’s or artist’s website, you may want to contact the owner of the image and ask for permission to use the photo and link to their site. They will often say yes as it is free publicity. However, never assume it is OK to use a photo without permission. It is prohibited by law to use someone else’s intellectual property without their permission.
  • Look for watermarks on images. Photographers and other artists use watermarks as logos. A watermark is a digital signature included in a picture. This watermark means the photo is copyrighted and unavailable for use.
  • Pay attention to captions, the text that appears under a photograph. Sometimes, the photographer or person who took the picture is credited in the text. Even though the originator of the photograph has allowed someone to use their picture, which does not automatically mean that you are free to use it, you will want to contact the credited image creator and ask for permission.
  • Sometimes, an artist or creator will embed their information in an image’s metadata, allowing everyone to see who owns the image and what the rules are about using it. After every download, the image continues to contain its metadata. Metadata can be viewed with a right-click on the image.

Identifying a Fair-Use Image

Sometimes you will come across images and will not be able to determine the copyright status, but you should always try to make sure you do not illegally add a photo to your website or content. A smart way to do a final check regarding the copyright status is to use a reverse image search to identify the source of the image.

You can do this by searching the United States Copyright Database. It is important to note that a creator cannot copyright all images, such as lettering, typefaces, ordinary and familiar designs, symbols, and fonts.

Why is Copyright Important?

A photographer or artist will copyright an image to prove ownership. Copyright protects their intellectual property. No one can use, reproduce, or display a copyrighted image without the owner’s permission, allowing a creator to be paid for their work.

Copyright infringement may result in fines or penalties. Additionally, a copyright violation creates unsavory public relations and can hurt a business’s online reputation. This issue will not help a growing law firm; it will only deter its growth.

Is It OK to Ask for Permission for a Copyrighted Image?

If you find the perfect photo for your website and it is copyrighted, do not give up your creative ideas. You can always ask the owner for permission to use their photo. A polite email might be all that is needed.

Most likely, many photographers and illustrators will welcome the attention and provide permission for use, but asking permission is the correct way to proceed with online images.

Asking permission will prevent creative copyright infringement claims. It is important to remember that an owner has the right to say no. If that is the case, it is wise to move on and look for another image.

When requesting permission, it is best practice to let the owner know how an image will be used. Owners want to ensure their pictures are not used irresponsibly or in ways they did not desire. Sometimes, another law firm has already used an image, and the owner will not sell the image to the competition.

An owner may have stipulations for using their photo in marketing, but they may grant permission for a fee. Terms for using a photo will vary, but an owner could allow you to use the photo regularly, one-time only, or for a specific use.

Using Copy-Free Images

Some images can be used without permission. Some are free to use, and others require a fee. Some of these copy-free images include:

Public Domain
Quick online searches will pull up sites that include free images and photos. Individuals and businesses can use these photos for marketing, but most photos will need to be linked to the artist’s portfolio or profile site.

Scholarly Use
Using some images will not violate a copyright. An example of this is for scholarly use. If a law firm wants to use an image to discuss a case, the creator may allow it for scholarly purposes. Most of the time, the law firm must link the image back to the original creator. While permission may not be necessary for scholarly use, it is always best practice to ask the creator to avoid legal issues.

Creative Commons (CC)
Creative Commons or CC images are copyrighted, but the owner has approved rights to those who want to use the images. Many types of CC licenses exist, and most require the user to credit the owner for the image.

Images Must Be Chosen Carefully
A random search for images does not mean that you have free use of any photograph you like. Using an image without permission can lead to legal difficulties for your business and bad public relations. Most of the time, images are copyrighted, and the owner must permit for use, even if you see them online for free.

Locating the owner of an image and asking for permission can be complex and time-consuming. A digital marketing agency may be able to help manage your image search and help in the acquisition of permission to use certain images.

Digital Marketing Next Steps

You can take your law firm’s website to the next level by adding clean, crisp images. However, you need to ensure that the images are not copyright protected or you may violate another person’s intellectual property rights.


Annette Choti, Esq. graduated from law school 20 years ago, and is the Founder of Law Quill, a legal digital marketing agency focused on small and solo law firms. Annette wrote the bestselling book Click Magnet: The Ultimate Digital Marketing Guide For Law Firms, and hosts the podcast Legal Marketing Lounge. She is a sought-after keynote and CLE speaker throughout the United States and Canada. Annette used to do theatre and professional comedy, which is not so different from the legal field if we are all being honest. Annette can be found on LinkedIn or at at annette@lawquill.com.



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