Copying Images on the Internet is Illegal

Everyone has done it. It’s much too easy nowadays to copy images off any internet website. Most people do it without permission from the website owner or stock photo company so if you’re thinking about doing it, think again.

Having been a victim of others copying my work, my design, and words– I understand the feelings and violation of one’s original work taken without permission and credited to someone else. It is distasteful and makes me angry. But what can really be done about it? The internet is so vast and wide, it makes you wonder if someone actually goes around and police the text or images being illegally copied and controlling what is being plagerized or downloaded.

Even when doing my research for this post, I performed a search on google for “copying images on the internet”, all results displayed showed me how to accomplish this but none really spoke about NOT doing it which is what prompted this post. This post is not about the specific laws for copyrighting or the robbery prevalent on the web. It is about real life experience and ethics.

It is better to err on caution and not copy anything from the internet unless it specifically indicates it is okay to do so or if the other website ask for terms asking you to create a link back to the image owner’s site.  You also want to make sure you take a snapshot of that website who gave you the permission for you to download or copy images. You never know if their policy may change in a few years and you don’t want to get in a situation that leaves you without any documentation of their approval. Maybe it’s just me, but I sleep better when I know I have written proof of something in case it comes back to bite me in the rear later!

There are a large number of stock photo companies on the web today. These companies have their terms of usage agreement on the website however, if you’re like me– its often difficult to understand the legal jargon that is indicated on these long contracts. I have known several people who have been fined a large some of money for copying images from these large stock photo companies.

In case your not familiar with why these stock companies allow you to register and then download images which have their watermark on the corner of the photo, it’s mainly to be used for “comping” purposes only. “Comping” refers to the process of only drafting a design and using the image with the hope of purchasing that image when it is distributed publicly.

In speaking with one popular stock photo company in particular, I was informed that they have software to comb the internet a section at a time to find violators of their usage terms. If you have a website that is indexed by Google, it is considered to be a live website to the stock photo company. So if you have unlicensed photos on that website, you are open to being fined and are in violation of their terms.They come up with a list of violators regularly who use their images for websites and print illegally. This is the sophistication of software and internet technology that we are in and continue to head towards. Once you get a letter from this company’s legal department, you must produce written documentation of your license to use the images or pay the fine indicated in their demand letter. If you do not have a license, you need to pay the fine and remove the images within a certain time frame.

The safest thing to do is purchase your images from a stock photo company. There are many inexpensive companies that offer reasonable rates per photo. I have found that www.dreamstime.com offers one of the best packages with the largest amount of variety. If you are unsure of the terms, contact the stock photo company and speak with a representative to make sure you are clear on how you are able to use the photos you purchase.

Another alternative is to take your own photos and use them on your website or print material. Of course, then you risk people copying YOUR images. Make sure you put a watermark or statement on your own website regarding the copying of your images is NOT permissible or if you do allow copying, then state that as well.

Remember, that if you are unsure, don’t do it. It’s not worth the aggravation and headache you later may face down the line.

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58 Comments

  • stj says:

    Yup, as the internet grows, the easier it is to steal other people’s work. These micro stock companies are definately not a new thing. At least images are cheap and legal!

    Dreamstime is awesome.But i personally use http://www.123rf.com

  • Josue says:

    I wonder if taking a snap-shot of old photos, that have never even probably been held under any copyright law, is illegal. I don’t think all images are held under a copy right, i think some are just there for the public, they are not anything special. But when it comes to more serious stuff, you should always watch out and make sure everything is in order.

  • admin says:

    Yes, your right Josue not all images are under copyright law. There are photos on the web that are called “public domain” and are free to use. But of course, the website needs to state that you can use those images for whatever purpose you want.

    The thing about taking snapshots of old photos is a tricky one. I would always heir on caution rather than risk getting slapped with a lawsuit. It’s definitely tempting but its best to walk away.

  • csmith says:

    It is not illegal to “download” pictures, it is illegal to reproduce those images as your own and sell them. I can put your images on my blog and say “See these pictures? aren’t they great? (Made by blah blah)” That is under the fair use (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use) policies of many countries. Just my 2 cents, though.

  • sjohnson says:

    csmith is completely wrong. It is illegal to put other’s images on a website or blog without their permission. Fair use is a very complicated matter and does not generally allow copying of works. It allows some use for educational, or parody, or one or two other matters but not copying generally.

    If something is not in the public domain, it cannot be copied.

  • admin says:

    I agree that for the average person, the legalities of copyright laws are can be complicated. It is safer to heir on safe and always ask permission, unless specifically stated on the website that you MAY copy or if its noted as public domain. Thanks for making that point.

  • joe says:

    is it illegal to take a picture say of elvis and put it on your website

  • admin says:

    I think if the picture your taking of Elvis has a signature or is clearly been taken by someone, then yes–it would be illegal to place it on your website even though you’ve taken the picture.

    I am not a copyright attorney so I am basing my comments on my own knowledge. Better to heir on caution.

  • ownmine says:

    I must dissagree. When it comes right down to it, like with any book you publish, you must COPYRIGHT your work in order to claim any sort of ownership to it. Same goes for the internet. ANYONE can claim that THEY are ones that took that photo or designed that image. Unless you register the image or photo as YOURS you have absolutely NO rights to it. Some RESPONSABILITY must be taken by those posting these unprotected images and photos on the internet. It\’s kind of like me taking picture of a tree and. Then I post it on some public bulletin board in a coffee shop somewhere. Then months later it ends up on the cover of someones book on the best sellers list. Do I then have rights to that photo???? NO!!!!! I would not be able to PROVE that the image was taken by me…either would I be able to claim any rights to it. SAME THING ON THE INTERNET!!!

  • admin says:

    Excellent point ownmine. Let’s look at the recent U.S. family who was on the front page of Yahoo last week. This family’s Christmas photo ended up posted for some ad in Europe! A friend of the family happened to be vacationing in Europe and saw their photo large and posted in front of a commercial business for some ad! I think the family said they had posted their photo on the internet and look where it ended up!

  • Lad says:

    As I have written a number of songs, I can assure you, unless you either file a poorboy’s copy wright it’s open season. A copy write cost $33.00, and you can bundle.

  • marnie Brust says:

    What can you do about someone copy and pasting your image from a website and putting them on their blog without your knowledge or permission? This has happened and the blog is pornographic. Help!!

  • admin says:

    Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to actually stop this from happening. Anyone can copy and paste images from any website and put them wherever they want, case in point the family who was vacationing in Europe as I shared above. You take a few precautions and deter them like, placing a code to prevent the ‘right click’ copy from a website. Not 100% foolproof because they can still do a screen print and capture the image.

    The bottom line is we can see it on the screen, it can be screen printed or copied. Placing a notice on your website such as “You are NOT allowed to copy any images from this website copyright” will make people aware you are aware of it, but again, it really won’t stop anyone if they really want the image.

    You could email that blog and tell them to remove the photo which was taken from your website without permission. Or if its an image you purchased from a stock company, you could notify the stock company and inform them of an illegal usage of their photo and point them to that website. Often these photo stock companies have legal departments who send nasty letters to people who did not purchase images but are using them.

    Hope this helps, thanks for stopping by.

  • john d says:

    is it illegal to use the images if u just use and element from the original?

  • admin says:

    Hey John d, thanks for dropping in.
    I would say that yes, it is not wise to use any part of the image if it is from a stock company or website, unless you have permission to do so. I knew of someone who took images from a stock company and created a collage with various parts of different images. They got caught and paid a huge sum of money for EACH image they used even though it was only a small portion of the original image.

    Don’t use it unless the image is in public domain.

  • allie says:

    can u take images from google and use tehm in a website?

  • admin says:

    Ah, that is a great question because so many people are doing this! Any images from Google generally have a little note on the bottom of them indicating that “this image may be copyrighted.”

    As a general rule, I would say no, it is NOT OK to take images from Google images and use them unless the website states its OK to use them with a link back to them or that it IS OK to use them however you wish.

  • Brittany says:

    Is there anywhere online where you can use free images? i work with squidoo alot, and i try to use alot of pictures for my lenses (webpages); and usually i get them from google images. but after reading this- especially your last comment- i am thinking that i should not do that. :/ however, if i dont do that, then im not really sure where else i could get images for my pages. what do you recommend?

  • admin says:

    Hello Brittany, thanks for stopping by. You can google download free images and see what comes up. There are some sites that will allow you to use their photos for the purposes of posting on a website, like Squidoo. http://www.dreamstime.com is a stock photo company that has a large selection of FREE IMAGES section you can use. Lastly, if you can take the picture yourself, that is even the best option.

  • Brittany says:

    great! thanks! that helps alot :)

  • jessa says:

    Can you pls answer this asap? A friend of mine is in prison and I was thinking of sending him photos of hot girls from the internet? Is it illegal to print the pictures and give it to him? If it is legal then what are the websites I can use to get some pictures. Thanks.

  • admin says:

    I believe some images on the web are OK to print for your own personal use as long as you do not sell or print multiple copies of them. But it will depend on the website and what they say in regards to this. If they have a terms of use, I would check that and see what their policy is or contact them via email and find out.

    Some, allow you to repost a photo on a website or print as long as it references their website or company. They are all different so I cannot say yes or not to this question. The safest thing to do is just purchase the girl photos and print it for your use.

  • Koen says:

    Hi,
    Perhaps one of you guys on here can help. My fiancée runs a small business selling Burlesque clothes. For fun I have started making some t-shirts in the Burlesque style, showing pin-up girls but also images using old Bettie Page pictures that I found on the internet. People really like them so we may sell some of them. To make sure that I do ‘the right thing’ I got in touch with a licensing company who controls a large number of Bettie Page images. For 500 dollars I can get access to 10 high resolution pictures to use on t-shirts for a limited time. If I look on other sites then I can find hundreds of images being used by companies on shirts, bags, lighters etc. I can not imagine that they are all licensed. Also, if an original picture is altered i.e. if only part of it is used and then embedded into a different back/foreground does copyright then still apply?
    Sorry for all the questions but I’m new to all this and can’t afford to pay for something that by law I don’t really need.
    I’d really appreciate some feedback. Thanks.

    Koen (the Netherlands)

  • mamac40 says:

    I recently sold some real estate in Alaska that I ran as a fishing lodge for 5 years. The real estate was sold as a family home and not a fishing lodge. The new owners decided they were going to run it as a fishing lodge and made their own name but copied my old website word for word and took all of my pics of my clients and my family off my website and put it on theirs. I have e-mailed them and asked them to remove all pics and write their own brochure but so far, (it has been 5 months) they have not answered my e-mails or changed their website. Anything I can do? I am very angry at them for stealing what took me years to put together. Photos of myself with my fish are on their website and it makes it seem like I am a client of theirs. These people are either really stupid or just have nerves of steal or maybe I just need a lawyer.

  • admin says:

    KOEN,
    The 10 high res pics resource you mentioned should have a terms of use for their products you order. I can tell you that 10 hig res pics to use commercially seems like a steal which makes me suspicious. What do they mean “limited time?” Normally if you use images commercially, they allow you a certain run, or copies you can use them for. Who create these high res pics? Did this company recreate it? You need to do your homework before selling anything commercially. Are there any “public domain” images of Betty Page you can use? Those are safer since you can use them commercially.

    Some photos state that the images may not be altered in any way, you should check that. If you find some public domain photos of her, changing the background should be ok. Of course, we are NOT attorneys so its always safe to see things in writing. Public domain means These materials are “public property”, and available for anyone to use freely for any purpose. Not sure if it covers modifications, it may depend on the type of modifications.

    The internet has alot of things that are considered “stolen goods” and we may never know how those people got the images to use commercially, unless they used public domain photos of her. Just cover yourself and if they were used illegally by others, then eventually they will get caught by someone who holds the copyright.

    Good luck. Just play it safe to protect yourself and your business. If your still unsure, seek advice from a copyright attorney.

  • admin says:

    MAMAC40,
    I feel your pain. Its infuriating when others take credit for your work when it has been plagerized whether its stealing content from articles or photos you own.

    Did your original website have a copyright notice on it? Generally at the bottom of websites it notes something like “© 2009 Creative Media Web”, if so you indicate that the stuff thats on your site is yours and NO one should be taking it without your prior permission.

    Go to their website and do a screen shot of every page they copied from your original website so you can have documentation they stole your content. Also do you have your original website so you can compare what they STOLE from you? if so, you at least have some proof, these people have violated and plagerized your entire site.

    Sometimes, you can contact their hosting company and if you can prove it is your information, you can have the hosting company shut down the website. Which is what I would try first. Different hosting companies may vary in how they approach this type of issue though. To find their hosting company, go here: http://who.godaddy.com/whoischeck.aspx?ci=8926

    Enter their website and see who they are registered with.

    I would then find a copyright attorney, be it friend or not, and have them write a nasty letter to the new owners.

    I think they are just stupid.

  • Lacey says:

    I have a question that I haven\’t been able to find the answer to either! Is it illegal to foward pictures/ an email that were emailed to you? These photos were sent from the person who owned them. Thanks so much!

  • admin says:

    Hi Lacey,
    I think its fine as long as you ask permission from the person who sent them to you and let them know you are forwarding it to share.

  • mamac40 says:

    Thanks for your response. I will take your advice on this. I agree that I think they are just stupid and as the saying goes, you can’t fix stupid, but maybe a nasty letter will help to smarten them up. I just can’t imagine doing this to anyone and it makes me so mad! Thanks again for the advice.

  • Koen says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for your advice. It’s actually a company called CMG which is one of the biggest licensing companies in the world. I will however also check out any public domain images. Thanks again for taking the time to answer my question. Koen.

  • Andrew says:

    \"I must dissagree. When it comes right down to it, like with any book you publish, you must COPYRIGHT your work in order to claim any sort of ownership to it.\"

    Not true. The moment you create something, it\’s copyrighted. It may be hard to prove it\’s yours, but law states that it is. I can draw a mouse in paint. It would be instantly copyrighted.

  • Marty says:

    Someone took some photos of me at a event i performed in. You had to pay to attend this event. I want to know do i have any rights to copies (digital) of these photos and use of them ( facebook, myspace ). Not commercial.

  • Lilly says:

    Hi! I am thinking of starting a blog about fun websites for children. Would it be illegal to take a picture of the website with my camera and put it on my blog???

  • DL says:

    Typo in last sentence of first paragraph. “Your” should be “you’re.” You are.

  • P.E. Dantic says:

    “heir on the side of caution” should read “err on the side of caution”

    P.S. Great to have a blog on these issues – what about using Google images to find pics to put on presentation slides to be given at a public conference?

  • admin says:

    Marty, always a good idea to ask permission from the person who took the photos, if feasible. Otherwise, as long as its for personal use, you should be okay. Most photos images prohibit you from doing anything with them commercially.

  • admin says:

    Lilly, I think taking a snapshot of your proposed website is fine to post on your blog. Most website owners would be happy to see their website being linked to.

  • admin says:

    DL and P.E. Thanks for the correction! Fixed the grammatical error in my post. :-)

  • encyclo says:

    We are making reference books for Science to be printed,reproduced and sell for the students to use. We need pictures for the book? Can we get pictures, images from the internet as long as they are free for download?

  • Jaimie says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I appreciate your insight that you offered. I didn’t know that copying images was illegal. I never stopped to even think of it as stealing! Thanks for brining that to light. :)

  • Anonymous says:

    If people don’t want their work to be copied or something then just don’t post it in the internet. Or find a way to prevent people from copying it.

  • Lucie M says:

    Is it illegal to copy the a football team logo/helmut and just put it in an email to a friend saying “go Steelers?”

  • I know says:

    The truth of the matter of photographs is this. As soon as u take the picture with your camera and post it anywhere anyone taking the image to reproduce or put on their blog is simply stealing and no court in the land will deny that. so think twice before you think you can go around taking other peoples images. Some like me are professional photographers and if I caught anyone STEALING my images I would prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

  • Dan S says:

    The truth is if you guy’s are not looking at the big picture. Copying a image may or may not be legal depending on the situation but I guarantee you that know one cares its a no nothing abuse. We can’t keep illegals out of our country so what make you think that anyone cares about someone taking a picture which you posted for all to see and running with it. If you are so outraged don’t post your work openly or water mark the image as for the article good job! Thancks

  • seigrt says:

    Hi: If you found a vintage. professional photograph (1800′s)of your ancestor for sale on eBay,could you legally copy and paste that picture to your personal family tree that you are making online and is visible to the public?

  • admin says:

    Lucie M.
    I don’t think its illegal to do that as long as you are not making money by it or using it for commercial use. Emailing a logo of a football team is a form of support you are giving to your team. So just keep it personal and not commercial.

    Dan S.
    I think the person who cares is the one who the image legally belongs to in the first place.

    Seigrt,
    I would be hesitant to do that without permission. Its always best to check with the one who posted it in the first place if you are ever unsure. If they don’t respond, I would find another photo or place where you can obtain that photo either by purchase or permission.

  • Charles Morissette says:

    It is perfectly legal under the fair use act to take a picture, put it on your website, and use it as long as it is for none profit, and you take no claim over it.

    You can make a stint over it as much as you want, but if no one is making any money of it, and no one is defaming you by saying it is their work, you have no case.

    Copyright states you own the item in question, fair-use states you own the item in question, but it is extremely impractical for you to sue everyone over doing more then seeing it (say the like it, print it and put it on their wall – you put it on the internet, they did something legal).

    Fair use is a grey area, and always remember that. Generally safe things including putting it on a none corporate blog (if HP posted a Dell picture on a corporate blog, instead of you posting it on your sunday-morning-brunch-club blog, you can bet there would be a bigger amount of care over that), printing it for home use, or putting it on your personal webpage.

    If you want to believe me or not believe me, just look at all the review websites in the world. If fair use did NOT cover that, every single review that did not get an A-Ok from the company would or could get sued out of their arses. Same with that, without fair use you wouldn’t legally be able to say Mc Donalds without them being able to say your stole their personal property.

    Again, crazyness can take over (look at the US thinking Mc Donalds own the word Mc), and fair use can change all the time – but for the most part, what is stated on this website is all under fair use.

    “blog is simply stealing and no court in the land will deny that.”

    A lot of courts would deny that. Stealing and using are two completely different things – if I say “harry potter”, am I STEALING that or am I USING that? If I write a book called “Harry Potter”, am I STEALING that, or am I USING that? There is your answer. If I try to take credit for your work by claiming it as my own (made by me, taking payment for it, etc), that falls far out of fair use. If I put it on my website and say “look at how pretty this is!” with a link to you, that is generally under fair use.

    I do also believe if no money is being transferred, fair use goes to court if a cease and desist is not followed at which point the court has to go through it on a case by case basis.

  • Josie says:

    I am starting a linen rental company…is it illegal to download and reuse pictures of the products from the wholesale website I am purchasing the products from. I am not selling the actual photo but just using them so clients will know what they are renting. Thanks for your post!

  • admin says:

    Charles,
    Point taken. However, my view is regarding people taking other people’s photos with a copyright. Are you also referring to those photos with a copyright symbol on them as well?

    The whole moral of this story is that stock photo companies such as Getty Images and Corbis have come after people who have taken and ‘used’ their photos on their website without paying for the right to use them.

    Whether or not, those people are using them to make money, it is unclear. But the fact that they have taken them off of these stock photo company websites is the point.

    More often than not, people who take images from another’s site for ‘fair use’ don’t give credit to the owner or link to their site. My problem is that this should be the case. It’s fine if they want to give credit where credit is due but most do not.

    Your right, this kind of thing is happening all over the internet right now. Is there anyone to police this? I think not. So unless the owner actaully finds their images on another site’s the first course of action would be to notify the other party and let them know they have taken the image you created and put it on their site.

    I have seen this happen time and time again with not only my images but others as well. As infuriating as it may be, sometimes there isn’t much to be done.

  • admin says:

    Josie,
    We had a client who had a similar situation. Usually, the wholesale company is more than willing to allow you to use their product photos in that way. If your unsure, you should always pose that question to them and be certain. Always, always, err on the side of safety.

  • stewy says:

    I want to make sport posters and i download from what i think is a public domain(bing). which you said was ok to do. I want to be clear that it’s just for personal use. But people want me to make them copies of my art-work that i have created using these pictures. Before I go any further I thought I’d ask for your opinion.

    thanks

  • admin says:

    Check out the terms of use in the public domain website you downloaded it from. See if there is any stipulation on whether or not you can use it to make copies for other people to use. Personal use means for YOUR own use and not necessarily that of other people you know or want a copy.

    Be clear on that because once you start making copies for others, it could go beyond what the original terms is stating. If you are unclear based on what you read on the public domain website you took it from, email them for clarification. That is the safest way to go and the wisest.

  • Hannah says:

    I have an important question…I write reviews for books and I was wondering if it was ok to post pictures of the front covers of the books? I don’t want to do anything wrong, yet I don’t want write a review without a picture. What do I do?
    Thanks!

  • BD says:

    This whole discussion is way too PC. The Internet is not a bookstore or a library and “stealing” images or content from a webpage is not akin to walking into a bookstore and stealing pages from a book. I know some will argue that that is just the point–stealing is stealing. But I disagree. If you take YouTube, for example, it is full of images and songs and all kinds of material taken from here and there, repackaged, redesigned. It is an incredibly creative and expressive sphere which could simply not exist if the Net were as PC as you argue in your post and comments. So, someone “steals” your images. This is the Net and that is the nature of the beast. I say the Net and the world is a better place for it. I do, however, take your point and that of others that to take someone else’s work, claim it as your own and also to use it for money-making purposes is a different animal which should be fussed about. But for people to become so timid and PC about finding things on the web and using it creatively would do a disservice to the NET experience.

  • Nish says:

    I have seen videos of different people who may take a software program, lets say like photoshop and tutor peopleon how to use it. These videos are all over the Web. Is that legal. If I wanted to tutor somepne on how to use a particular softwar, program, or Web page and I use screen shots to give them more insight on how to use this program, Would this be legal? If I wanted to charge an individual how to use a certain software and I took my time out to teach them and used the screenshots to give them more insight, this would be consider illegal?

  • Rich says:

    can you copy a friends picture from my facebook and put it on th internet free pictures music artist im just carious about that friends sare pics and alwyas say yea you can have a pic its kool ha

  • rich says:

    Can i copy my friends facebook pic and post it on the internet that they took beacuse we are music artist trying to get more exposure we doint take the pic not professional pictures just simple nayone can see it on facebook! so yea let me know i been doing that and friends of me with them is that stile ok aslongest its not a company right.

  • Alan says:

    Is it ok to download images from the internet for your own personal use? If I want to use images from the web solely to use for desktop wallpaper, not for posting online or printing but only for your desktop, can I do so? Or can I only download images under the public domain? I realize this is a common question but I’ve looked all over the internet and can’t find a clear answer. Either people say you can as long as you don’t profit from them or they say you can’t unless you have permission from the webmaster. I’ve also looked at many websites terms of services and can’t always find a clear answer. Will I have to contact the webpage owner for every image I’d like to download? That seems a little excessive. Or should I just not copy anything from the internet? I’m so confused!

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