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Do your client’s websites contain illegal images?

  • In recent years, image search and recognition software has been developed which automatically traces websites which are illegally using images.
  • These software’s recognise not only whole images but part images as well. So cropping a picture won’t fool them.
  • They can also tell if an image has been digitally manipulated or altered, eg. with filters.
  • One example of this software is
  • These can then notify the owner of image copyrights so they can take action in the case of illegal use.
  • Stock photography, ‘choose-your-logo’ business card printers and many online graphics sites use this as a growing source of income.

As a website builder, you need to ensure you are not putting yourself and your client’s reputations (and bank balance) at risk by inadvertently using illegal images on their websites.

So, do you know the right questions to ask a client when they claim ownership of an image they want you to use online?

This checklist will help mark you out as a website builder who knows their trade and wants to keep their customers safe.

By educating them, it will also keep them legal and you worry free.

“Did they personally create the image?”

If their answer is “Yes I Did!” then all is well because if they have drawn, computer-generated or photographed the image from scratch they automatically own all the copyrights. This also means that no one but them can use it legally without their permission to do so.


If the answer is “Erm...No, I didn’t, BUT…” you may want to read on…

“No I didn’t BUT I searched for copyright free images…”

  • Surprisingly, ‘copyright-free’ does not often mean cost free.
  • Acquiring the rights to use any image for business purposes will normally have to be paid for.
  • There are often tiers of pricing depending on the usage, so they need to check they have the correct permissions.
  • Are they allowed to use the image on their website or just in print? Or vice-versa?
  • Are they allowed to use the image on packaging, promotional items, shop signage or van livery?

“No I didn’t BUT all clipart is free anyway…”

  • No, it isn’t.
  • Clip art is often free for PERSONAL use only.
  • Unless the owner states it is 100% free to use FOR BUSINESS there is probably a cost to be paid.
  • See copyright free above.
  • It is so easy to copy-and-paste, but these days illegally using images extends even to clipart.

“No I didn’t BUT I copied it from social media…”

  • The laws that apply to sharing images via social media are a little hazy, but it is generally accepted that it is OK to share images which have been posted by the owner for the purposes of sharing. The person who originated that post should have checked they have the rights to post that image (eg. paid for it or been given the rights to use it in a social media post) so by sharing it others are not breaking the law.
  • HOWEVER, if your website clients are copying images from social media and passing them off as their own without paying for it or acquiring the rights themselves they ARE breaking the law.
  • If such an image is used for business purposes when it has only been licenced for social media use, fines can be quite high.

“No I didn’t BUT I bought it from an on-line business card printer…”

  • This one really does catch many small business owners out.
  • The law states that the copyright of any piece of artwork or photography stays with the originating artist UNLESS it is specifically given to the client as part of the purchasing agreement.
  • There are now many on-line designers, printers and ‘business-in-a-box’ who make their money by selling the same stock designs over and over again. They start off by selling a business card or logo design which the customer happily pays for thinking they now own it and can now use it wherever they want. Not only are hundreds and possibly thousands of other businesses also using that EXACT design, they don’t and they can’t.
  • Because the design or print firm own the copyright and reproduction rights, they lock in the customer and charge for additional usage. By using the logo from, for instance, their business card on their website header, your client may be breaking the law.

“No I didn’t BUT I’ve altered the image so it’s not identical to the original…”

  • If an image is so similar to the original it is an obvious copy (eg. green instead of red) or if you have digitally or they have physically altered bits of it (eg. moving an arm into a different position, cropping, adding an effect or removing a background etc.), they cannot use it for business.
  • When an image is bought from the copyright holder, the copyright is FOR THAT EXACT IMAGE ONLY.
  • The customer does not have the right to alter or adjust the image, change it’s colour or have it re-drawn or traced by another designer in a different position.
  • Reverse image software will flag ‘almost identical’ as well as copies.

“No I didn’t BUT how would anyone ever find out?”

  • Illegally using images on websites and elsewhere on the internet is becoming more of a risk as sophisticated image tracking software is developed.
  • Many companies are unaware of the real possibility of being caught out.
  • Many companies could not afford to be caught out.

It can be a minefield but there is a way forward…

To stay safe, and on the right side of the law, it makes sense for you, the website builder, to recommend your clients commission bespoke designed-for-them graphics and photography from a professional designer whose work they like and whose integrity they know they can trust.

Most designers work hard to build this loyalty and trust with their clients, but before commissioning a designer to work on website graphics for your clients ask the following questions:

  1. Do they also build websites? (you don’t want to lose your client…)
  2. Are they affordable, flexible and available during normal UK working hours? (you want them about when you are..)
  3. Are they qualified in design, marketing AND technology?  (are they geared up to work for website builders or printers?)
  4. Who owns the copyright of the images they design for your website client?  (check out what is included…)
  5. Does my client own the rights to use the image wherever and on whatever they choose?  (check out what is included…)
  6. Do you re-sell designs or does my client have exclusive rights to the image they commission from you?  (you may be surprised…better to find out now…)
  7. Can I read you terms and conditions page on your website?  (it really is worth reading the small print.)

I really hope I have not scared you too much!

It is scary stuff, and while we love our technology, sometimes it can catch out the unwary.

I’d love to hear your views on this issue so please share your thoughts using the box below.

Please note that legalities regarding the use of images can become out of date, or apply differently in other countries.
This guide is intended as an outline only and should not be taken as definitive when making the decision whether to use any image personally or commercially. Wow Website Graphics/Teather Creative Design will not accept any liability resulting from inaccuracies in this blog and advise up to date legal advice are always sort by the user before using any images.

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