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Using images is a great way to make your eCommerce site more engaging and attract customers. However, you need to have the legal right to use certain images, so you should understand how copyright applies. This article will outline what copyright is and the consequences of breaching it. Additionally, this article will outline what images you can use for your eCommerce site and how you can do so legally, including:

  • public domain images;
  • stock photos;
  • your own images;
  • social media images; and
  • creative commons images. 

What is Copyright?

The creator of an original work owns its copyright. For instance, when someone takes a picture or creates an image, they own the copyright of this original work. The copyright owner can choose whether other people can use that image and how other people can do so. In some cases, you can only use certain images for a specific purpose. 

For example, some copyright owners specify that their images can only be used for commercial purposes.

It can be challenging to determine whether or not copyright applies to an image. Sometimes, an image does not have an explicit copyright symbol but instead contains metadata showing the image’s copyright. Therefore, it is always best to play it safe and assume that an image has copyright protection. Given that your eCommerce website will likely be operating in a business sense, you will need to make sure that any images that you choose to use for your site have an appropriate commercial license. 

What Are the Consequences of Breaching Copyright?

The consequences of violating copyright are serious. This is the case even if it is an accident. There are several penalties for a breach of copyright, including:

  • interim injunctions;
  • damages;
  • fines up to $150,000; and
  • criminal charges. 

What Images Can I Use for My eCommerce Site?

Public Domain Images

Some images are “public domain” images. These images likely do not have actionable copyright and can be found on search engines. This could be for several reasons, including the:

  • copyright has expired;
  • work was never truly protected under copyright;
  • holder of the copyright relinquished it; or
  • image was created before 1924.

Therefore, these images do not require any citation when you use them, and you can use them freely on your website. 

Stock Photos

Stock photos are photos that are widely licensed for commercial purposes. In some cases, access to stock photo sites requires paying a fee for a subscription. Then you get access to a massive range of photos on a stock photo site. Sometimes stock photos have specific licensing rules that dictate how you can use them. 

Social Media Images

If you want to use social media images or images that are uploaded on social media, you need to ask for permission. For example, say someone posts a photo of your product on Instagram, and you want to share it. While you can reshare content on Instagram, the owner has copyright for that image. It can be reshared legally so long as you attribute the original owner. Therefore, while you can share the photo, it is always best to ensure that you have permission to use the image before you do so. 

For other social media sites, it is essential to look at the website’s terms of use document to ensure that you comply with any copyright terms or re-posting requirements. 

Creative Commons Images

Creative Commons is an international non-profit organisation. This organisation assists content owners with licensing and sharing their content, allowing other people to use it. Once someone applies a Creative Commons license to their content, you can use it without requesting permission from the author. 

Your Own Photos

You can also take your own photos for your eCommerce site. These photos will be both original and free from any copyright other than your own. You can use them freely, as much or however you want. You should ensure that other people do not use your images without a license. Additionally, if your employees take photos in the course of their employment, then you may own the copyright of these images as the employer. 

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Key Takeaways

You need to be aware of how copyright can affect the images you use for your eCommerce website. You cannot just freely use pictures from the internet, and you need to ensure that you seek out any necessary licensing to use the image legally. Some sites contain a wide range of images that you can use for free. 

If you need help understanding how your eCommerce site can use images, our experienced eCommerce lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 0800 005 570 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if I accidentally use photos that are copyrighted without permission?

Whether or not you intended to use the photos without gaining permission is irrelevant if you breached copyright. You should take all possible steps to ensure that you do not breach copyright.

Can I freely use stock images?

Copyright may still apply to some stock images. Additionally, you may need to pay a subscription fee to access a library of stock images.


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