Small Businesses: Check the Copyright of your Web Images

Small firms should check the images they use on their websites comply with copyright laws, the Forum of Private Business (FPB) has warned.

The FPB said it had seen an increase in calls about the issue to its legal helpline in recent months, and that it knew of several small businesses who had received letters demanding payment for unwittingly using copyrighted pictures.

The business group warned that small firms often entrust web design companies to source and upload images to their websites on the presumption that the design company will have secured permission to use them. However, often this is not the case and liability for any copyright infringement lies with the small business.

“We’ve received a number of calls recently from small firms who have been notified by Getty Images that they owe money because they are, however unwittingly, using unlicensed images on their websites.”

said FPB chief executive, Phil Orford.

He added that technology had made it increasingly easy and cost-effective for copyright holders to track the use of their images, so small businesses needed to be careful if they wanted to avoid receiving a letter demanding money or threatening legal proceeding.

An Intellectual Property Office (IPO) spokesman said:

“It’s advisable to assume that every image on the web belongs to someone and using it without permission will be an infringement of the owner’s rights. If small firms are unsure if they can use images on their websites, it’s sensible to remove and replace them with images they know they can use.”

“Use of copyright protected work without the owner’s permission is most likely to lead to civil infringements resulting in damages being paid to the owner.”

The FPB said that SMEs could avoid image copyright infringement by:

  • Not using any old image they find on the internet. The copyright will almost always belong to the person who created the image.
  • Not assuming an infringement won’t be noticed. Modern software makes it easy to track.
  • Checking your design company only use licensed images.
  • Only using the image within its right. When you buy from a stock photography website, you are usually not buying the image but a right to use it in a certain way.

For more information about permitted use of copyright, visit the IPO website or see our business advice article on Basic Facts about Copyright.

Small Businesses: Check the Copyright of your Website Images

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