Copyright and Your Website

Copyrighted Material and Your Website
Over the years I have had several conversations with clients about using photos they found on the internet for their websites.  The conversation goes something like this: 
Client – “I have this really cool picture of the lake and I want to use it on my website!”
Me – “Did you take the photo yourself?”
Client – “No, I found it online and I thought if it was on the web, I can use it.” 

Copyright infringement is no minor matter and can cost you money.
Images or other material that you don’t own cannot be used without the explicit permission of the person or business that created the material.  If you do use images or other material without express permission, you open your business (and yourself) to potentially devastating legal action.   For photos or other images, copyright attaches as soon as the original work is created. The author is not required to file special paperwork.  If you do infringe on someone’s copyright, the person who created the material can seek monetary compensation for each infringement.  This can lead to THOUSANDS of dollars in compensation. If you are ever unsure if you can use a piece of content or an image, you should consult your attorney. I am not an attorney, so I don’t give legal advice. Instead, I tell our client this:  if you didn’t take the photo, purchase the photo (with rights to publish), or write the content yourself, do not use it on your website.

How do I get permission if I want to use someone else’s material?
If there is an image that you want to use on your website, you can contact the person who created the image and ask for permission to use it.  Typically, they will want to know what you will do with it, how they will benefit from your use, or they will ask you for a fee to use it. If someone does give you permission to use their images or content, be sure to get it in writing and keep it on file.
Another great way to find material for your website is to use a “Royalty Free” image service.  A nice library can be found at  You can setup an account, browse images (very easy to do), and then when you find a photo you like, you pay a small fee for the right to use it.  There are several other libraries out there, as well. NOTE: Be sure to read the terms of use and the license information.  When you purchase the image, you agree to be bound to these terms … and they do come after you if you violate the terms of the use or license agreement.

What is Copyright Fair Use?
Copyright Fair Use is an exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law.  It allows you to use in a limited manner, copyright material without acquiring permission in situations such as commentary, search engines, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching and a few other situations.  Do a Google search for “Copyright Fair Use” if you want more information, or contact your attorney.
Take a moment to review your website and ensure you are not using material that is copyrighted.  Companies DO look for websites who infringe on their copyrighted material, and they do often pursue financial claims against offenders. It’s definitely not worth the risk.
Bottom Line, Be Safe … If it is not yours to use, don’t use it.

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Mike Waggett, MSW Interactive Designs LLC ~ We put the web to work for you!


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