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During continued UK social distancing, companies are using social media

Beware of Copyright Law in Relation to Lockdown Use of Images

Jun 2020

During continued UK social distancing, companies are using social media and outbound communications to try to stay in touch with their customers. Putting the right words together may be one challenge but finding an image to bring it to life seems somewhat easier – a case of just going on the Internet and dragging one to the desktop, for some users.

Unfortunately, it is far from being that simple. UK law extends copyright protection to all photos, whether that is a picture of litter on a street in urban Britain, or something arty taken in Arizona. All copyright rests with the photographer who took the shot, unless they previously signed an agreement offering the rights to the picture to someone else.

This copyright rests with the photographer for a significant number of years – their lifetime, plus a further 70. If a photographer was commissioned to take a photo, they own the copyright unless they assigned it or sold it to the person or entity commissioning it. These are the rules relating to all photography taken from August 1, 1989 onwards.[1]

All images, photos and illustrations that a company is likely to want to share on their social media platforms, or in direct communications with customers, are likely to be protected by copyright law as ‘artistic works’. That includes anything taken on digital cameras and there may be more than one copyright owner per image. Contrary to popular opinion, there needs to be no use of the © symbol to denote that an image or work is subject to copyright.[2]

Removing the copyright owner metadata applying to an image is illegal and could land you in hot water. If you commit a copyright infringement, you could face legal action, or be asked to purchase a licence at a fairly hefty rate. If legal action is the outcome of your error, this usually results in having to pay for the use you have made of the photo, plus legal costs and possible further financial compensation on top. You are also likely to be forced to remove it from any websites on which it has been posted.

It is also well worth bearing in mind that deliberate infringement of copyright for commercial advantage, can result in criminal prosecution.

Should you be the injured party in such an instance, as the person who took a photograph or created an artistic work, the Intellectual Property Office offers a mediation service that can potentially resolve the matter without recourse to court action. Should mediation not result in a satisfactory outcome, however, you are well within your rights to take the matter to court. It is advisable to consult a legal representative before taking this step.

Best advice is to be highly respectful when using images, to only buy images from an image library that will allow use of the photo for the purposes for which you intend to use it or, if you can, take images yourself.

If you, or one of your employees are at risk of legal action with regards to copyright, it is wise to get some insurance back-up in place. If you require assistance with this, or need a quote, please consult our ‘Find a Local Broker’ to see which professional may be able to help.





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