EXPERT SERIES – Understanding Copyright and the Imagery on your Website


Written by Rachel List, Photographer & Designer

“Can I use this picture on my website?”

We get this question all the time from our clients, and the answer depends on the image copyright. Websites today are very visually driven and including compelling photos can help your business gain customers.  Making sure that you aren’t infringing on copyright with the photos you use on your site is incredibly important to avoid costly bills and potential lawsuits. Here are some quick tips on determining which photos you can use on your website without committing copyright infringement.


“I took this photo myself, can I use it on my website?”


Copyright for a photo or other creative work is held by the creator of that image or work. If you took the photo, you are the creator and you can use those photos in any way you like.


“A friend took this photo; can I use it on my website?”objective


Did your friend give you permission to use the photo? If they did, then yes you can use the photo on your website. If you want to be completely sure you’re covered ask your friend to give you permission to use the photo in writing.


“I found a photo I like online; can I use it on my website?”


In almost all cases, you can’t just find a photo online and use it on your website because you don’t hold the copyright to that image. This is true for almost all online sources from google to Facebook, and everything in between. Just because someone shares a photo online does not mean that it can be used by anyone. The original creator of the image still retains the copyright and can enforce that copyright, which can result in civil or criminal penalties. There are only three exceptions to images found online being off limits for general use.

  1. You purchased the image from a stock photography agency online, which specifically sells photos with limited copyright permissions allowing you to use the photo on your website.
  2. You track down the original creator of the photo that you found online and get written permission to use the photo on your website.
  3. The image is in the public domain. (There are a lot of rules regarding images in the public domain, which we will address in another article)


“I purchased a photo from a stock agency, can I use it on my website?”


Stock photography agency’s like iStockPhoto or Fotolia are great places to find imagery for your website and you don’t have to worry about copyright infringement because you are purchasing the right to display the image on your website. Each agency has a slightly different policy about usage rights so if you have questions about how you are using an image you can refer to their usage rights policies to make sure you’re in the clear.


“I don’t know where this photo is from, can I use it on my website?”


If you’re unsure where you found a photo and you use it on your website, you could be infringing on copyright and opening yourself up to legal action. It’s better to not use a photo if you’re unsure of where it came from.


In conclusion, when selecting images for your website it is important to know where they came from and make sure you have permission to use the image in order to avoid leaving yourself open to civil or criminal penalties.