How do I approach using photographs sourced from the Internet?

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Published on LexisPSL on 04/12/2013

The following IP Q&A provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • How do I approach using photographs sourced from the Internet?
  • Copyright in photographs
  • Find the owner
  • Obtain a licence
  • Exceptions—fair dealing
  • Term of protection for photographs
  • Use without permission
  • Watch this space

Copyright in photographs

The Internet may be perceived as an extensive free photo bank to most lay users but permission is usually required to use a photo obtained on line. Most original photographs qualify for copyright protection as artistic works. Photographs that qualify for protection are usually those where individual choices have been made on visual effects or composition: just pushing the button might not do it (but it might if you are in 'the right place at the right time'). For more information on whether copyright subsists in a photograph, see Practice Notes: The scope of photographic copyright—the Red Bus case and Copyright—subsistence and qualification.

Find the owner

If you see a photograph in a hard copy publication you should contact the publisher in order to check the status of the photograph and as a starting point for licensing its use. For users who find photographs (digital images) online, for example on social networking sites such as Google+, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter, finding the owner can be more difficult. Most digital images contain metadata which embeds into the image file captions, copyright and contact information. This should make finding the owner relatively straightforward however, some social networking and other sites have been found to remove photographers' metadata from images that they host. Your first step for online images is to contact the website(s) where the image is

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