Be careful with using online images for your business

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

Your business needs to stand out from all other businesses operating with the same goods and services that you offer - correct?

How do you stand out? With images, designs and branding of course!

However, be careful with the images you use for your business. You never know if the image that you use for your website, social media or email campaign is copyright protected.

In fact, nearly all instances of images you find online will have copyright protection. You can see them on Google search engine image results as the results will each have a disclaimer saying:

*Images may be subject to copyright*

Because of this disclaimer it is safe to assume that most images you find online will have copyright protection. This means that you and/or your company must be careful with all the media that is found on your business as the media that you are using might of been from a creator who has copyright protection for thier design.

What do we mean by copyright protection?

Creators enjoy the benefit of copyright protection as it gives them and the work they produce the exclusive right to produce more of the work and to sell it for profit. You will find thier creations often have the symbol (c) meaning copyrighted to indicate that a work has copyright protection. It can therefore be very beneficial to people such as photographers, designers or developers to produce such works for profits as they own the legal right to these works to license it out to the general public.

With this in mind, there have been many copyright infringement blunders from all types of entities who have used images they found online for thier own purposes without knowing the images are copyrighted. Looking at the realm of intellectual property last year, copyright infringement issues range from popular social media influencer Bella Hadid's usage of photographer's copyrighted images, Success Kid's mother demanding US republican Steve King to stop using her child's image in his political campaign and Katy Perry's 2013 song Dark Horse infringing on a Christian choir group's melody.

These are examples from well known copyright blunders in the media, however, businesses can get in trouble far more easily if an image found on a business' website, email or marketing campaign turns out to be copyrighted protected. The reason for businesses' higher susceptibility to copyright infringement is a result of businesses using images found online. Businesses need designs to stand out and it just so happens that there is an endless repository of images found online that is incredible accessible.

An employee for a company tasked with social media, marketing or client communication can just as easily download an image or design online for thier task without knowing that such designs are copyrighted. This is an issue that many companies face because of a lack of awareness or training for thier employees.

To avoid running the risk of copyright infringements, businesses will have to purchase a license from the copyright owner to use the copyright owner's work or else small businesses will have to supply thier own image, design or website. Alternatively, there are websites like Unsplash, Pixabay, Stocksnap, Flickr, Pexes and Snaps that provide free high quality stock images.

What are some copyright infringement penalties?

Copyright is infringed when copyright material is used without permission. There are some situations in which people can use copyright material without permission, either for free or on other terms.

Copyright owners are entitled to launch a civil action against entities who the copyright owner believes has infringed his or her copyright. If the copyright owner is successful then they are entitled to numerous remedies such as financial compensation or an intelocutory order to demand an infringing party to stop using the owner's design while the infringing party will have to pay for penalties. In addition to this it is worth noting that some copyright infringements can warrant criminal offences should an infringing party be deemed by the courts to use the copyright owner's design repeatedly whilst knowing an image is copyrighted.

With this in mind, companies are advised to always be mindful of whatever media that is found on thier business; check if it's purchased from the copyright owner, supplied by the business itself or licensed from the free alternative high quality image websites mentioned above. Otherwise the financial penalties to pay for copyright infringement is quite staggering and infringing parties can potentially run the risk of incruing criminal offences.

The information provided in this article is for general purposes only. It is not to be relied on as a substitute for legal advice. Trinity York Legal + Migration is not liable for losses caused by reliance on the material in this article. Formal legal advice should be obtained.

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