Small firms warned on web image copyright

SMALL businesses are being urged to check who owns the images they want to use on their websites – or they could face costly copyright claims if they do not have the correct licences.

SMALL businesses are being urged to check who owns the images they want to use on their websites – or they could face costly copyright claims if they do not have the correct licences.

Although many firms use web design agencies to source pictures for their sites, not all have secured permission to use the images, according to a rising number of calls to the Forum of Private Business’ (FPB) helpline.

And although a design firm may have chosen and uploaded the pictures, the liability for copyright infringement lies with the small business which owns the website.

Large photographic businesses, such as Getty Images – one of the world’s biggest stock photography companies – are now pursuing website owners who do not have appropriate clearance to use the pictures. A number of small firms have received letters demanding payment for images they did not know they had to pay for.

FPB chief executive Phil Orford said: “We’ve received a number of calls recently from members who have been notified by Getty that they owe money because they are, however unwittingly, using unlicensed images on their websites.

“I think the digital age has blurred the boundaries of image copyright in many people’s minds and some business owners mistakenly think that because an image is freely available on the internet, it can be reused without permission.

“Additionally, many smaller businesses entrust web design companies with the whole process of registering and creating their website, and presume that their web design company will only use images they are entitled to use. However, this isn’t always the case, so I would urge business owners to check they are legally entitled to use each and every image on their websites.”

Today’s technology means it is increasingly cheap and easy for copyright holders to keep track of their images and where they are being used.

The FPB said it was essential that small firms checked with their web designers where images had been obtained and that they were correctly licensed.

Buying an image from a stock photography website usually means that you do not own the image, but the rights to use it in a certain type of way. Different types of licences exist to cover different types of image usage.

Although free images are available under the Creative Commons licence scheme, they are not always suitable for business websites as many licences do not allow for commercial use.

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