How to avoid using copyrighted images on your website

The other day I was chatting to a business owner who was sent a solicitor's letter demanding £400 for using a copyrighted image on his website. How had this happened, and how can you protect your business from this risk?
19 December 2022 | Digital Business

Apart from the technical stuff, we also help our customers with all aspects of operating a website and a few weeks ago, we audited a website and found multiple instances of copyright infringement. By doing a reverse image search, we could identify the image source – the paid images repository

When the website was initially built, it seems almost all the website images had been sourced from Google. When we pointed this out to the website owner, they seemed genuinely confused and were unaware they had broken copyright law and left their business at risk of SEO or even legal action.

And just this week, I was chatting to a business owner in an online forum who had received a solicitor’s letter demanding £400 for using damages owned by his client without permission.

His client? You guessed it,

Unfortunately, small business owners with websites are a soft target, and some legal firms are retained solely to go after websites using images without permission.

The problem lies with using Google to find the kind of images you describe. As a search engine, Google will find and display these image results. Typically, these images have been published on a website, and Google cannot tell if they are legal for you to use or not – it leaves you to determine that.

And here lies the problem; website owners right-click and save a copy of those images to their computer and then use them to illustrate their own websites, committing copyright infringement in the process.

So what is copyright and what does it mean to my website?

Copyright is a legal concept that protects original works, such as literary works, music, paintings and sculptures, from being used or reproduced without the copyright owner’s permission. When someone creates an original work, they automatically own the copyright to it and have the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and display it.

Copyright law allows creators to control how their work is used and make money from it. Allowing a creator to benefit from their creations fosters creativity and innovation too.

In the United Kingdom, Copyright is protected by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988, which gives copyright owners several rights, such as the right to reproduce, distribute copies, and display the work publicly.

Respecting copyright law and obtaining the necessary permissions or rights before using someone else’s copyrighted work is essential. If you use someone else’s copyrighted work without permission, you could infringe on their rights and potentially face legal consequences.

If you intend to use a picture that you located online, you need to check that you have the required approval to do so. Finding an image on the web does not provide you with the right to use it.

If you use a picture without consent, you could infringe on the copyright owner’s rights and may have to deal with the consequesnce, including:

  • Your website may be blocked or removed from search engines or other online platforms.
  • The copyright holder may demand that you remove the image from your website or pay a licensing fee.
  • Your reputation may be damaged if you are seen as using copyrighted materials without permission.
  • The copyright holder may take legal action against you for copyright infringement. If you are found to have infringed on the copyright holder’s rights, you may be ordered to pay damages and legal fees.

Is it worth it to save a little time or money?

How to avoid using copyrighted images on your website?

If you can – use your own images. Original images can often better illustrate your business on your website and social media than a stock image can. You automatically own the copyright for any pictures you take. We know some very talented photographers if you want an introduction.

If you need to use a stock image, an obvious way to prevent copyright infringement is to stop using Google to find images!

Instead, use copyright-free images such as commercially licensed, royalty-free images. These photos are readily available for use without the need to pay license charges each time the image is used. Creative Commons images are ideal

Some preferred sites offering free royalty-free images we recommend are:

This website supplies a wide choice of high-quality, royalty-free photos that can be used for personal or business.

This website provides a large range of attractive, royalty-free pictures that can be utilised for any purpose.

Pixabay is a website that offers a large selection of free, high-quality images, videos, and music that can be used for personal or commercial purposes. The images on Pixabay are licensed under Creative Commons, which means that they can be used for free as long as you give credit to the copyright owner.

In recap, using images off the web without appropriate approval or licensing can be a copyright violation and lead to your small business facing punitive measures, including legal action. Using royalty-free images or getting consent or rights to use an image is essential. There are many sources offered for finding free royalty-free photos, consisting of websites like Pexels, Unsplash, Pixabay,

Be sure to review the usage limitations for any photo you wish to use to ensure that you have the consent or legal rights to do so.

Want help with all of this website stuff so you can focus on growing your business instead? Check out our Care Plans.