Protecting yourself from copyright infringement

Pictures are everywhere. From the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep you’re surrounded by them.

They’re on the websites you visit and in the newspapers and magazines you look at. Pictures are in the books you read, in the adverts you see and on the televisions you watch. They’re on CD covers and DVD boxes, on postcards and food packaging, on calendars, posters and clothes.

Pictures can help you sell products and tell stories. They can evoke memories and make your lives feel better. Pictures play a huge part in our daily routine - but most of the pictures you see, in whatever format that might be, DO belong to somebody and like stealing a car would land you in trouble, so might using an image without asking first. So we want to give you an alternative to copying and pasting pictures from sites like this and other people’s websites and show you just how easy it is to protect yourself from copyright infringement. Using an image properly doesn’t have to cost you the earth, in fact it can start at just a few pounds..... so read on!

What is copyright?
As soon as a work (like a picture, a photograph, a piece of music or a film) is created it has immediate copyright protection.

This gives creators the right in law to prevent others from copying their original work. Original here means that it originated from the author and not copied from somebody else.

Even if you commission a photographer (the creator) to take a picture for you, they will still retain the copyright unless they assign it to you, usually for a fee.

How long does copyright on work remain?
In normal circumstances, the copyright of a piece of work lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator.

How do I know if I’m infringing copyright?
Only the copyright owner has the right to issue copies, show, perform, lend or adapt the copyright work. If you do not have the copyright owner’s permission to do any of these things, then, except in specific circumstance - "exceptions" - you are infringing copyright.

Similarly, if you possess, sell, distribute or import into the UK something which you know or have reason to believe is an infringing copy, then you’d be committing what the law calls secondary infringement of copyright. Sometimes the international copyright symbol © is used alongside the work; this is not essential in the UK and you should not assume that when a work appears without the © symbol that you are free to use it.

What’s a picture library?
A picture library works as an agency, representing creators or the assigned copyright holders of images. In the UK, there are hundreds of picture libraries who between them have hundreds of millions of images from tens of thousands of creators.

Picture libraries sell licenses for the images they represent, which means you can pay to use an image without fear of infringing copyright.

Some of the picture libraries are specialists, concentrating on individual sectors such as historical, works of art, health and even subjects as specific as railways, gardens or boating. Others offer breaking news images, current affairs, sport and showbiz and some offer a very broad general stock of images.

How do I protect myself from infringing copyright?
You must ensure that you have the permission of the copyright owner (whether through attaining a license through a picture library or direct from the creator) before using their work.

How much will it cost me to use a picture and how long can I use it for?
You might be surprised, but some pictures can be licensed for as little as a few pounds. The price will depend on the quality of the file size, the image itself, how exclusive it is and how you’re planning to use it.

Depending on those factors, prices can rise to tens, hundreds and in some cases many thousands of pounds.

Can I automatically use that picture for anything else, once I’ve licenced it?
This depends on the type of license you buy. Some will let you use an image for a number of projects; others will be very specific as to how and for how long you can use it.

Over the last few years, picture libraries have tried to create more flexible licenses to help meet the demands of the 21st century. The different licenses are detailed below, but as a rule of thumb you should always assume nothing and check with the license holder before you purchase!

What are the different types of licences?
There are many types of image licence, but the only type we offer as an agency is ‘Rights Managed’.
The type of usage is covered by your licence:

Rights-Managed (RM) – A good licence to opt for if you know exactly what you’re going to be using the image for (e.g. a brochure, a leaflet or for your website) and for how long. RM can also offer you peace of mind as pictures can be licensed on an exclusive basis, which means you don’t end up using the same image as your competitor (although that may cost you a bit extra). Once you know the purpose and the size needed, you then negotiate a specific price in advance with a picture library or with the creator direct. Prices range from around fourty pounds to several thousand pounds for use in an extensive advertising campaign for example.

What happens if I am found to be using an image without a licence?
Using an image without obtaining permission is likely to mean you’re infringing copyright. Creators or picture libraries will chase you seeking recompense, and you will be billed for the full licencing fee, and additional penalty fees.

How would companies be able to find out if I’m using an image without a licence?
Companies in the business of licensing images use technology to protect themselves as much as possible from copyright infringement. Every time an image is used illegally, libraries and creators lose money.

Over a period of time, this increases the risk of people going out of business which ultimately means fewer images will be available. Tracking software and text embedded in images are two ways companies protect themselves. Both will alert them to illegal use through regular searches.