Much of what you find on the web is free. You can pick up your news, free. You can chat with friends around the world, free. You can even download useful software and apps, completely free.
So, it is perhaps not surprising that some people think that they can also help themselves to the photographs that they find on websites and social media.
But, taking photographs without permission is the same as taking anything without permission. It is theft.
If you work on websites, or social media, you need to know at least the basics of copyright. Infringing copyright could be expensive and could even land you in a court of law.
Many people will glibly state that, since a photograph is on the web it is “in the public domain” as if that means it can be downloaded and used with impunity. This is a dangerous and potentially costly myth.
So, how do you know what photographs are covered by copyright?
Well, in actual fact, it may be easier to consider what photographs are not covered by copyright.
In the UK copyright applies automatically to photographers, writers, composers and content creators. As soon as you click the shutter on your camera, write your first paragraph, or compose the first bar of your music, your work is copyright.
The copyright holder can, of course, decide to give away, waive, or sell the rights.
Some photographers give their permission to re-use their pictures under Creative Commons licensing. Some will offer it with an Attribution licence (requiring users to publish a credit naming the photographer).
For photographs taken during employment, or on assignment, the rights may well be passed on to commissioning organisation. But, let us not complicate things. The net result is the same. You need to be sure you have the right to use photographs.
If you are tempted to risk right-clicking that great photo to put on your website, or blog, and you think your chances of getting caught are very slim, think again.
A new service Copytrack
offers to police a portfolio of photographs at no cost to the photographer. They trawl the internet constantly looking for matches with your photos. If you confirm that your photograph has been used illegally, they will pursue the offender, taking a percentage of any damages paid.
So, where are you going to get the images you want for your website, poster, or social media?
Well, the people at Google have made it remarkably easy.
When you do a Google search for an image, all you have to do is to click the “Settings” menu at the top of the page and in “Advanced search” you can set the “Usage rights” to “free to use or share” or “free to use or share, even commercially”.
Alternatively search for free stock photos on Google, or take a look at stock photo sites, such as Picfair