Copyright is the exclusive legal right, given to the creator of a piece of work, to print, publish, perform, film or record literary, artistic or musical material. I have written this blog post following experiences in workplaces that made me aware there is a lack of understanding about copyright — in particular a telephone call I took from Getty Images who had found one of their images on my organisations website and wanted paying for it and a conversation with a colleague who thought he could search Google images and use any image he found there.
Just because something appears on the internet, doesn’t mean it is free to use. Any image that you right click and save or any piece of work that you download belongs to the person who made it or a third party who owns the copyright but while most copyright owners want their work to be seen, unless they have expressly given permission for their work to be used, you infringe someone’s copyright by using it without their permission.
The purpose of copyright is to stop others from using your work or copying it without permission and it is the responsibility of creators to defend their work against copyright infringement. Copyright protection starts as soon as a work is created and in most countries lasts a minimum of life plus fifty years for most types of work but it varies depending on the type of work. The protection applies to literature, drama, music or artistic work, including illustration and photography, non-literary written work, such as software, web content and databases, sound and music recordings, film and television, recordings, broadcasts, the layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works.
Copyrighted works are often marked with the copyright symbol (©), the creators name and the year of creation. The symbol is often found alongside a statement saying ‘all rights reserved’, which means you withhold all rights to the maximum extent allowable under law. Legally the phrase is the same as having no statement but the statement is commonly used to emphasise the copyright owner takes take their rights seriously.
The right to be identified as the creator of a piece of work can be traced back to ancient Greece as far as the 6th century before the common era (B.C.E) but it was with the invention of the printing press that the need for statutory regulation was realised. Richard III encouraged printing, while at the same time seeking to limit and censor texts deemed to be harmful to the church and crown.
In 1534 The Printers and Binders Act, banned the import of foreign works, enabling the Lord Chancellor to limit the price of books and in 1557 the Stationers’ Company received its Royal Charter from Mary I, giving the company the power to decree who could print books and the right to seize illicit or pirated works. The Licensing of the Press Act 1662 built on this work with an act for ‘preventing the frequent abuses in printing seditious treasonable and unlicensed books and pamphlets and for regulating of printing and printing presses’ which gave the Stationers’ Company the responsibility to censor literary works. However censorship led to public protest and in 1694, Parliament refused to renew the Act. The Stationers’ Company campaigned for new legislation to restore their role but this failed, leading to them changing their tactics and arguing authors should have a right of ownership in what they wrote.
Parliament was persuaded and in 1710, this led to the enactment of the first Copyright Act, the Statute of Anne and for the first time copyright belonged to authors rather than the printers and publishers. The Statute of Anne begins ‘Whereas printers, booksellers, and other persons, have of late frequently taken the liberty of printing, reprinting, and publishing, or causing to be printed, reprinted, and published books, and other writings, without the consent of the authors or proprietors of such books and writings, to their very great detriment, and too often to the ruin of them and their families.’ The Statute remained in force until it was replaced by the 1842 Copyright Act and was greatly influential in the formation of other copyright laws across the world.
Why is copyright important?
Creativity is the way that writers, artists and musicians make their living and if you use their work, it is important to acknowledge this and pay them if required. Not all creators require payment, some may only ask that you thank them or credit them at the place where the image is used. However, copyright infringements happen every day, so it is important to stay on top of protecting your own copyright but also to ensure you are not breaching others copyright.
If you have an original idea or piece of creative work, it is a potential asset and could end up having considerable value in the future, both to yourself and to future generations as part of your legacy, when passed down as part of an estate. If someone infringes your copyright, you have legal grounds to pursue the guilty party to either pay for a license, or compensate you for any financial loss you may have incurred. Copyrighted works that attract the interests of other parties may also be licenced to make sure the originators benefit financially benefit from their use.
Famous copyright cases
There are many famous copyright cases – Apple versus Microsoft, Dyson versus Hoover and numerous music copyright cases. In the 1970’s Star Wars vs Battlestar Galactica saw 20th Century Fox sue Universal Studios for copyright infringement, claiming it had stolen thirty four ideas from Star Wars, including a character named Skyler and wanting to use ‘Star Worlds’ as the name for the show. More recently, Meghan Markle won her copyright claim against the owners of the Mail on Sunday after they published a personal letter she wrote to her father. A High Court Judge ruled in her favour after deciding the publication of large parts of the handwritten letter was ‘manifestly excessive and unlawful.’
Then there is the tale of British photographer David Slater, who in 2011, travelled to Indonesia, to take photos of local wildlife. Unable to get the shot he wanted of some monkeys, he placed his camera on a tripod as the monkeys were curious about the equipment. One monkey in particular was drawn to the reflection of the lens and went on to take a few ‘selfies.’ Mr Slater sent the images to his agent, who circulated them to a number of news sources and the photos were subsequently published by the Daily Mail. However, in 2014, a dispute between Mr Slater and Wikipedia began when Wikipedia uploaded the pictures and tagged them as being in the public domain, reasoning monkeys cannot own copyright.
In September 2015, the campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued Mr Slater in a California court on behalf of the monkey (named Naruto in the suit) to assert copyright over the picture, claiming the selfie ‘resulted from a series of purposeful and voluntary actions by Naruto, unaided by Mr Slater, resulting in original works of authorship not by Mr Slater, but by Naruto.’ In January 2016, the trial judge dismissed the action on the basis that even if Naruto had taken the pictures by ‘independent, autonomous action’ the suit could not continue as animals do not have standing in a court of law and therefore cannot sue for copyright infringement. However, this did not stop PETA appealing the dismissal. The parties later reached a settlement out of court.
There are exceptions to copyright law, including use for non–commercial research and private study; text and data mining (the use of automated analytical techniques to analyse text and data for patterns, trends and other useful information for non-commercial research); criticism, review and reporting current events; teaching; helping people with disabilities and parody, caricature and pastiche (permits people to use limited amounts of copyrighted material without the owner’s permission for the purpose of parody, caricature or pastiche). As such, you should always check whether someone’s use of your work is permitted before trying to stop them. However, certain exceptions only apply if the use of the work is ‘fair dealing’, a legal term used to establish whether a use of copyright material is lawful or whether it infringes copyright. There is no statutory definition of fair dealing, rather, the question to be asked is how would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?
It is also important to be aware that media, such as DVDs and e-books, are often protected by Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) (also known as copy protection measures or DRM) which prevent unauthorised access or copying. EU and UK law protects the right of copyright owners to use TPMs to protect their works, and circumvention of such technology is illegal.
Another exception are Creative Commons licenses which enable creators the freedom to decide exactly how people may use their work and for what purpose, providing a way for them to grant copyright permissions to their creative work, so providing a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.
In addition, some photo providers such as Getty images and Historic England now allow their images to be embedded on non-commercial external websites. Code can be copied and pasted into a web page and the image will appear together with a title, the author name and clearly states from where the image was obtained, so allowing images to be shared on social media, blogs and websites for free, protecting content creators’ ability to earn through commercial licensing but providing opportunities for rich visual storytelling too.
Need help finding images you can legally use? Here is some useful information to guide you through the process.
- Royalty-free images: in return for an initial licence fee, these are available for nearly unlimited commercial use, meaning you can use the images virtually anywhere, as long as you comply with the terms of the licence agreement
- Stock images: these are images made available for licence by paying a fee to both the originator and the stock agency managing them, while the originator retains the copyright of their work
- Editorial images: these are licensable images but with restrictions on use, such as limitations on size, placement, duration of use and geographic distribution – all images must be used in an ‘editorial’ manner, meaning the usage must relate to events that are newsworthy or of public interest
Not sure where to start your image search
There are a number of websites that offer free images also but always remember to check the terms as these vary between websites and creators.
- Deposit Photos
(select ‘commercial use and mods allowed’ under the “any license’ filter and remember to check the license for each image as they vary.)
- Free Images
- Kaboom Pics
- Life Of Pix
Wikipedia is also a good source for images that are in the public domain and therefore not subject to copyright.
The UK Copyright Services
- British Library: Three reasons for copyright protection
- Creative Commons: About Creative Commons licences
- Getty Images: Copyright – moving the world with images
- Gov.UK: How copyright protects your work
- Independent: Meghan Markle wins copyright claim
- Stock Photo Secrets: What are stock images
- Wikipedia: Monkey selfie copyright dispute
- WIPO magazine: Can the monkey selfie teach us anything about copyright law
- Copyright House: How Brexit is changing copyright law
- Europe Language Cafe: The origin of World book Day
- Gov.UK Intellectual property after 1 January 2021
- Gov.UK: Protecting copyright in the UK and the EU
- Real Business: Copyright in 2021, what’s in store
- UNESCO: World Book and Copyright Day
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