When a monkey stole a photographer’s camera to take a selfie, the photographer in question never imagined he would end up at the centre of a long copyright dispute after posting the image. It went viral because copyright to the photographer was disregarded on the basis that ‘a non-human creator cannot hold copyright’. The question was raised as to who owns the image — the photographer or the monkey?

By Carla Stanton, graphic designer

In recent years there has been an enormous increase in online visual content. Thanks to the increased popularity of social media channels like Instagram, sharing photographs, graphics, designs and products online is second nature to us and we often don’t consider the legality of our actions.

First and foremost, it is never acceptable to take an image sourced online or from someone else’s social media to use as your work or in any marketing collateral without their permission. You must check who the original author or creator is and what terms or fees are associated with the use of the asset.

Photographs, gifs, infographics, logos and videos belong to a creator and they can stipulate and specify use. This is known as image licensing and it exists to protect the copyrights of such material. Image owners can make their images available for free or sell them for reuse.  

People who provide their content for free will usually apply a Creative Commons license, which allows them to make their work available to the public while preserving their copyright. The author may give a user the right to use, share and modify work, as long as the conditions specified by the owner are not ignored.

There are however several different licenses that can be applied to images and each come with different conditions, so you must ensure that you read and adhere to the terms at all times. This could mean that you need to add attributions into your design layout or add a list of sources at the end of your document.

Whilst Google allows you to search for images marked for reuse, it is still best to find and check the conditions of the original. Even Google’s own terms state: ‘Before reusing content, make sure that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse. For example, the license might require that you give credit to the image creator when you use the image. Google can't tell if the license label is legitimate, so we don't know if the content is lawfully licensed.’

Whenever you use an image, it is crucial you know and understand what licensing terms are associated with it. If not, you could land yourself or your client with a hefty fine or, like our photographer friend, a time consuming legal battle.

For more information about how to keep on the right side of the law with image use, call us on 01785 225 416 or   

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