Copyright Issues on Photos for your Website and Marketing…Digital Rights Management

copyright3A common question I get when getting started with new clients is about what photos they can use on their web and print marketing designs. A few times the question was after they had already received a claim for damages for using a photo on a newsletter or website they put together themselves. We will offer our tips and opinions in this article, but this is not intended as legal advice; please refer to qualified legal counsel for specific issues or questions.

There are many U.S. Copyright ( laws in place that protect the creators of intellectual property like photos, videos, art, literary text, music, and more. A small business owner should be aware, and make their employees aware of the importance of respecting these intellectual property copyright laws. Otherwise, they could be paying much more in fines or legal fees than they would on stocking up on a large number of royalty-free stock images.

Be aware that even clip art may be restricted to personal use and that there are different licenses for images depending on your intended use. Make it a policy to use a reputable source of stock images. Some sources we have used include:, and

copyright2Another solution besides royalty-free stock photos are taking photos yourself; of course there are still issues to be aware of there as well. If you are taking photos of people, you need to make sure they have given permission for you to use their image, ideally with a signed release. Even if you are taking photos with friends or relatives as the focus of the images, you will still need to get signed releases if you are going to use those photos for anything other than personal use.

Also keep in mind that photos taken of you by someone else, especially a professional photographer may be the property of the photographer and require permission for commercial use. Make sure if you hire a professional photographer for product shots or other business related photos, that the terms of who owns photographs is agreed upon ahead of time.

There are some exceptions that allow you to use images you find in the public domain under fair use laws. In these instances you are allowed to use the images, but make sure that Fair Use is applicable; or do not use them if there is any doubt.

“A classic example of fair use of an image to use online is product reviews. If you want to review a book, a new piece of technology, a food product or whatever widget, you’ll likely want to include a photo. But not some washed-out, overexposed, shadowy, laundry in the background kind of photo that you’d take.

So you head to the manufacturer’s website and right-click that image and save it to upload to your site. A photo will not substitute for the actual product, so the owner’s rights should be very minimally affected. Therefore, your right to use the copyrighted image would likely be permitted under fair use.*”

copyright1Small businesses need to make sure that each new employee that has interaction with any type of marketing is aware of the copyright laws to keep your business in the clear. Best practice is to spell this out in any employee handbook and to have a system to track usage of images and the source from which they came. Having this policy and procedure in place helps make sure that if and when you get a notice of copyright violation you can document that you in fact do have the right to use that image.

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