Image copyright is in the news again – but who has the rights to what we publish through social media?

In the aftermath of the horrendous helicopter crash in central London yesterday, images and videos were shared on social media sites, including Twitter. These photos were then picked up by major media outlets including The Daily Mail, The Sun, The London Evening Standard, The Guardian and Sky News among others, and used in breaking news stories covering the crash. Although there has been a historical acceptance in using so-called ‘user-generated’ content, rules about copyright of images posted on Twitter has changed the stakes.

According to Twitter rules, sharing images on the social media site does not constitute a free-for-all and the owner of the photo still retains the rights to it. News outlets are required to credit the owner and should not use their images without permission and most ethical agencies appear to have a policy which supports this.

So how does this affect you, a web site owner? How can you protect your images online and where should you source your images from in order to protect yourself from potential litigation?

Using your own images

Many companies choose to take their own product or general images for the company web site, either taking a hands-on approach or hiring a photographer to take and edit any images ready for use. This allows you to get exactly the type of image you require and negates the need for lengthy trawling of image banks or seeking permission from other image owners. It is important that if you do use a photographer (whether professional or casual) you discuss issues such as ownership and copyright from the outset. In some cases, you may be happy to share your images but once you do, there is the chance that they could be sold on, leaving you out of the loop. It pays to have a conversation about this and make some sort of formal agreement.

Using other people’s images

In a lot of cases, smaller companies may not have the time, funds or resource to take their own photos and may only need a handful of strong images to populate the web site. It is in these circumstances that you will need to look for images that belong to someone else. Good old Google images makes it possible for us to search for and find a ton of photos which may adequately fit our purpose but DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT be tempted to pinch these and use them on your web site believing ‘nobody will know’. Copyright infringement is big business and it isn’t something you want to get into. Instead choose a reputable design agency who will advise you about which images to choose and will source them ethically for you. Stock images can be bought relatively cheaply (starting at a couple of pounds) and the small investment you will make is pennies in the long run.

The internet encourages sharing, social media is ALL about sharing, but just be careful. Sharing doesn’t mean transferring ownership, so look but don’t touch.

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