Downloading and using photos

by Norma

Is it legal to download and use internet photos?

We hear this question from our clients often. The answer is almost always NO!
You cannot download and use photos from the internet unless the site specifically states that you may download photos and specifies the exact conditions under which you can use them. For instance, you may be given permission to use a photo for personal use. Placing that photo on a commercial site violates copyright code.

What if the site doesn’t say the photo is copyrighted?

It’s copyrighted anyway. You may be surprised to learn that when any U.S. citizen creates anything new (original), that work is automatically accorded a copyright. No forms, registrations, or applications required. It just is and the new photograph is protected even when the photographer uses it on a website without an explicit statement of copyright. The creator must be able to establish that s/he created the artwork. The most common way of doing this to demonstrate that s/he snapped or used the picture prior to an infringement by someone else.

So where can I find free or low-cost photos for my website?

Try, or
For other materials to share, remix and reuse legally try

Always carefully read terms of use and if you are still in doubt, email the website administrator and ask permission before using that great photo you found.

If you are a serious artist, writer or photographer, you will want to look into additional protections for your work before risking it on the Internet.

In any legal matter, always seek professional advice.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

brian strand December 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm

7 years ago my sister was working in my office and she worked with a web site company to make a new web site for my medical practice.
subsequently, my sister has died and the web site maker is defunct. we changed our web site completely 6 months ago, but recently received notice from a web company, that sells photos, stating that we’d used some of their photos and they have no records of our be licensed to do so. so they’d like $5900 to settle the matter. am i responsible for the web site maker’s negligence?


Norma December 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm

In my opinion, the owner of the website is responsible for all content that goes on the site. This is not a legal opinion and you’ll want to contact an attorney in order to sort this out.


Norma August 9, 2012 at 11:40 am

We are not attorneys and cannot give legal advise, but that said it’s very likely that ‘as the owner of the site’ you would be responsible for the amount unless you can find the paperwork to back up your claim.


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