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Do You Know The Full Picture?

In today’s digital world it is more important than ever to be aware of what photographs and images are being displayed of your company on the internet and on social media.
Over recent months we have seen an increase in disputes between companies over who actually owns the copyright to images and pictures, with copyright being a complicated area of law dealt with primarily in the UK by the Designs & Patents Act 1988.
Around the world in 80…seconds
In today’s increasingly digital world, where a photo can be taken on a smartphone, upload it to social media, and within minutes or even seconds it can be shared around the world. That’s why you need to ensure that you can protect your company’s photographs and/ or images, and have procedures in place to prevent claims being brought against the company, for breach of copyright.
Protection is better than cure
When you are putting pictures or images on-line it is important to check who owns the copyright in relation to these photographs: never display an image without first checking who owns the copyright.
If you do display images without permission then you could find yourself liable to pay a licencing fee and potentially have to pay damages to the person who owns the copyright for the photographs.
Sourcing your ‘stock’ photography
Let us dispel one myth – just because it’s on Google Images does not make an image free, especially by virtue of being in the public domain! All Google Images does, is ‘crawl’ websites and look for photos (often with ‘tags’) that match the search criteria.
There are plenty of images that can be displayed without paying a licencing fee by searching under Creative Commons Licences. Creative Commons is a network that has been set up to log images taken by people who have agreed to waive their copyright; however you may still have to credit them for displaying their work.
When ‘free’ is not free
There are also royalty free images that can be found on sites such as Shutterstock or Istock but beware…the “free” in royalty free does not mean there is no cost for the licence. The “free” instead refers to being able to freely use the image without paying additional royalties. Typically a small business owner, for example, may opt to pay a one time fee for royalty free images to be displayed on the company’s website.
Ownership of copyright
As a general rule, the person who owns the copyright to a photo will be the photographer. However, this is not always the case and there are exceptions to this rule.  The most relevant is that if photos are taken by a person in the course of his/her employment then the first owner of the copyright, subject to any agreement to the contrary, is the employer.
A good example of this would be an employee taking a photograph of a house (he/she had helped construct) on his/her mobile phone when he/she was in the employment of a construction company.  It would be the employer (the construction company) that would own the copyright to the photographs and the employee would not have permission to display these photographs without the permission of the employer.
This can become very problematic when employees leave one firm and either set up their own business or join a rival competitor. The employee can often think that the copyright to the photographs, taken on their own mobile phone, belong to them but this is not, in fact, the case.
However it is important to be careful of services provided by a consultant or a sub-contractor as this may be a different situation and a consultant or sub-contractor may be able to display photographs of their own work (without permission) as the copyright of any photographs taken belong to them, unless the contrary was agreed.
A real-world example would be our own ‘hero shots’ – professionally shot photographs of our own staff where the copyright actually remains with the photographer and we licence them for an agreed period.
Solutions and remedies
If you think that you have suffered a breach of copyright and your images/photographs have been displayed without your permission then we can help. take action on your behalf.
Initial contact can be made with the company or individual that is breaching your copyright and we can demand that the images be removed, request that the offending photographs/images are delivered back to you and seek damages, and an account of profits. Importantly we would also seek to recover any legal costs that you have incurred because of the breach.
If this initial approach does not work the next step is to apply to the Court for an injunction ordering the images to be taken down and for Court to assess the level of damages that is appropriate.

In the first instance if you have an issue with copyright then contact our David Farmer, an Associate in the Commercial Litigation Team, who will be able to help you. David can be contacted by telephone on 01536 410014 or by email