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The Importance of Paying for Images by Darren Strudwick

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, however if the owner of that picture (be they a photographer or stock photo agency) has not been properly compensated for its use, then you'll discover a picture is worth a lot more than that!

Images are an essential part of any informational media, not just websites but newspapers, magazines and so on.  Many people, especially my website design clients, are totally unware of the laws governing how and where images can be used and more importantly the financial consequences of not following these laws.

Such laws are quite numerous but the ones we need to be concerned with the most are the laws of copyright, or copyright infringement.  To simplify, image copyright law is concerned with the prevention of images being distributed and published (usually for financial gain) by people other than the owner without the expressed permission of the owner. In other words if a photographer takes a photo and you want to use that photo on your website, you need to ask permission first.  To not do so, is in effect stealing and can carry large financial penalties.

Many of my clients will give me images to use on their websites, and I don't know where those images have come from, but what I do know is that my clients are not the photographer or original owner of those images, they are therefore giving me someone elses images. When I raise this point and suggest we need to pay for any images used, they often respond by asking the question Why?

So, why pay for images?  Seemingly images are available to take free of charge from many sources - Google Images, Facebook profiles, other people's websites, Celebrity websites and the list goes on.  And it's so easy to take these images - do a simple right click save as with your mouse or use free screen shot software and the images are yours. Where is the harm?

Legalities aside for a moment, it all comes down to morals. Lets say you spot a nice picture in Google images that is perfect for your website, it's very easy to take it. But think for a second of the effort and expense that has gone into creating that image.  Depending on the image itself, it might have been taken using a camera that cost the photographer several thousand pounds, or maybe a cheap camera was used, but to get the perfect shot, the photographer had to risk life and limb and climb to the top of the mountain.  Or maybe the photographer spent serveral years studying photograhy in order to be able to take the perfect shot which you now want to use.  Imagine running a relay race, and you are the last person to run in your team and you cross the finish line first.  Then imagine taking all the credit for the win, when infact you couldn't have won at all without the other members of your team working very hard.  Where credit is due, it should be given.  And sometimes all a photographer requires is a small credit.  Just put their name under the image and perhaps a link to their website and that will be compensation enough for them.

In most instances, a simple credit won't be enough. Many photographers are in it to make money.  They will use stock photo agencies as a means of giving their work as much exposure as possible. Typically the stock photo agency will sell the non-exclusive right to use a photographers' work on a website.  Money is paid to the stock photo agency who in turn pass it onto the photographer whilst keeping back a percentage for themselves.

To not give credit or pay a photograher for use of an image when the photographer in question is a hobbyist is morally wrong but not such a crime, however to repeat this behaviour when the photographer in question is doing it for the money and relying on the sale of the rights to use his/her images for the purposes of making a living, then the situation is far more serious.

Unknown to the general public,  a large percentage of images floating about the internet are the property of photographers using stock photo agencies - in particular Getty Images who supply to major vendors such as Alamy and iStock. In this respect,  Google Images is a legal death trap.  People will take pictures from Google Images not realising the rights to use those images must be bought from the likes of companies like Getty Images. These stock photo agencies are able to track the use of their images, and as soon as one of their images ends up on your website, if you've taken it from Google Images and paid no money, then you've infringed copyright law and can be sued. People have no idea about this until it happens to them.

All images in Google do have a little disclaimer at the bottom stating the image is subject to copyright law, but most people either don't notice this, don't know what it means, or just ignore it.

It is quite common that an image pinched from Google Images and put on a website can remain on that website for months or even years without problem, but do not rest assured as eventually it will be tracked by the stock photo agency from whom you should have bought it from in the first place.  Once this happens you will typically receive an email from the stock photo agency with an attached screen shot showing the unpaid for image on your website, along with a bill. Charges are retrospective meaning if the said image has been on your website for 10 years, you'll be charged for 10 years worth of use.  You might have an image on your website right now which is not paid for. In 20 or 30 years time when you plan to retire, you could get a bill asking you to pay for 30 years of use of the image and there go your life savings!

The amounts of money involved are not small.  For a single image, you could be asked for several thousand pounds, and if it goes to court you will lose.  One of the very first websites I ever made I was unaware of all of this. I took a picture from Google Images, put it on a client's website. One year later my client was sent a demand for £1500.  I settled it out of court for a slightly lower amount.

The point to all of this is that you must pay or be able to prove you have paid for any and all images on your website - unless they are your own personal images.  It's so easy to pinch images from Google and other places,  but you won't get away with it.  There are a large number of stock photo agencies,  and whilst they are only to happy to sue you, you can just simply pay the asking price and buy the images from them in the first place. It may cost a little to buy images, but it will cost a lot more if you don't.

At the Quality Website Design Company, we charge extra in order to purchase all images on your behalf.  If you choose not to pay extra for images and instead provide us with your own images, it is your responsibilty to ensure you have the legal rights to use those images on your website.