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Web Page Images and Copyright

There are millions of web pages, and most use many images. Many such images are home made, and may show it, but many are not. What, as they say is the crack? Are some images Public Domain?

Different Kinds of Links

First, how is an image to be included in your web page? Some ISPs offer a bank of clipart images which you can access. It can make sense with such images, simply to make a direct link from your page to the image file on their site. If held on the same computer, it will probably be better cached, and therefore more quickly available to a visitor to your site. The same technique can be used to incorporate any image available on the web just as easily, but take care. There are two obvious problems. First, the owner of the remote site may remove, or even worse, alter the image. What was last week an innocuous even attractive background, might become a pornographic image.

The second problem is more difficult. It seems at first that you have avoided the problem of having to make a copy of the image on your own site, and that, therefore, you have not infringed the copyright. It is correct that at first blush, no infringement takes place. However, copyright law limits not just direct copying, but also has the notion of 'contributory infringement' I may not actually copy the image myself, but if I contribute sufficiently directly to its copying, then I too am guilty of infringement. When anybody accesses the image, they make a copy of it. That is an unlawful act unless it is licensed. Use outside the expectations of the author may not be within such a licence.

Isn't it Public Domain?

No, it isn't. Public domain has, as an idea, little to contribute to the UK law of copyright, and is best avoided. Strictly it is part of the related law of confidence. An image becomes out of copyright, in general, 70 years after its creator dies. Since a new copyright is created when an image becomes digitised, the chances of any digital image being out of copyright is nil.


At best, you may be given a licence to use a graphical image. If you haven't got a clear one, however, you must assume that you have none at all.

Your Own - Are they?

Many company pages are prepared and hosted by external agencies. The question arises then as to who owns the copyright in the images used? If you change providers, can you take the images with you, and prevent them being used again by your original providers? Do not assume that you can. This matter must be dealt with by proper contracts - and do not assume that a contract prepared by your provider will look to your necessary interests.

Important: Please note that our law-bytes are retained for archival purposes only. The law changes, and these notes are often, now, out of date. You must take direct advice on your own personal situation and the law as it currently stands.
All information on this site is in general and summary form only. The content of any page on this site may be out of date and or incomplete, and you should not not rely directly upon it. Take direct professional legal advice which reflects your own particular situation.
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Copyright and Database Rights: David Swarbrick 2012
18 October 2013 73 18 October 2013