In the digital age, images play a pivotal role in enhancing the visual appeal of websites and conveying information effectively.

However, incorporating copyrighted images into your website requires careful consideration of legal implications to ensure compliance with image copyright laws.

This article aims to provide insights into how to use copyrighted images on websites, guiding you through the dos and don’ts to help you make informed decisions while adding visual content to your online platform.

Copyright for Pictures on the Internet

Pictures on the internet are generally protected by copyright law.

When someone creates an original image, they automatically own the copyright to it. This means that they have the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and display the image.

When you come across pictures on the internet, such as on websites, social media, or other platforms, you should assume they are protected by copyright unless stated otherwise.

Using someone else’s copyrighted images without permission or proper attribution can constitute copyright infringement.

However, some images are shared under licenses that allow certain uses, such as Creative Commons licenses. It’s important to understand the terms of use associated with an image and to respect the copyright owner’s rights.

If you want to use an image found on the internet, it’s advisable to seek permission, use images with appropriate licenses, or purchase images from reputable sources to ensure compliance with copyright laws.

How to Use Copyrighted Images on Websites?

When selecting images for your website, it’s important to recognise that most images found online are protected by copyright as soon as they are created.

This means that using these images without permission could lead to copyright infringement, resulting in legal consequences. To avoid this, consider the following steps:

Create Your Own Images

The simplest way to avoid copyright issues is by creating your own creative images.

Whether you’re using a camera, smartphone, or graphic design software, generating your own visuals ensures you have complete ownership.

Utilising Creative Commons-licenced Images

Another option is to explore websites that provide images with Creative Commons Licenses (CCL).

You can use Google Advanced Image Search to filter your results for photos, designs, and photographs with a CCL, or you can visit the Openverse website to find these images.

There are six primary CCL types, all of which automatically grant you fundamental rights.

These include the right to distribute the copyrighted work worldwide for non-commercial purposes without modification.

When an image, design, or photograph carries a CCL, you can confidently use it on your website or blog without concerns about copyright infringement, provided you adhere to the conditions outlined in that specific CCL.

All Creative Commons licenses now function as global licenses that can be applied in most jurisdictions.

Since 2004, every Creative Commons license has required that the original author of the work be given credit when the work is used.

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Purchase Stock Images

In addition to exploring websites that offer images with Creative Commons Licenses (CCLs), consider searching platforms that provide “stock” images, designs, and photographs.

There are certain types types of “stock” images:

  1. Royalty-Free Images: These entail paying the picture licensor a one-time license fee in exchange for the unlimited, unrestricted usage of the image. However, this license is not exclusive, meaning others can also use the same image after paying the fee.
  2. Rights-Managed Images: With these images, you pay a license fee for a single use of the image, within the limits set by the license in terms of purpose and duration. Additional uses require additional payments.
  3. Public Domain Images: As mentioned earlier, images in the public domain are free to use. This could be due to expired copyright protection or copyright owners waiving their rights. These photos can be used without asking for permission from the rights holders and without paying any fees.
  4. Extended or Enhanced: This type of license goes beyond the standard one, offering additional permissions. This might include using the image multiple times, allowing resale, and permitting commercial use (such as on merchandise like t-shirts).

Seek Permission

If you come across an image that you want to use and cannot find a suitable license, consider reaching out to the copyright owner to request permission for usage.

Make sure to get written confirmation to avoid any disputes later.

Examine the Usage Terms of the Image

Before using an image on your website or any platform, it’s crucial to review the image’s terms of use.

These terms outline the specific permissions, restrictions, and conditions associated with using the image.

They clarify whether you can utilise the image for commercial purposes, modify it, or if any attribution is required.

To access these terms, visit the source where you found the image, such as a stock image website or the creator’s platform.

Understand the usage rights associated with the image to ensure you comply with them properly.

This step helps you avoid unintentional copyright infringement and ensures you’re using the image within the boundaries set by the creator or copyright owner.

Best Practices for Attribution

When using copyrighted images with the appropriate licenses, proper attribution is essential.

This means giving credit to the creator or copyright holder of the image. Check the specific requirements of the license, as attribution methods may vary.

Are Stock Images Copyrighted?

Yes, stock images are typically copyrighted. Stock images are professional photographs, illustrations, or graphics that are licensed for specific uses.

The copyright for these images is usually held by the photographer, artist, or the stock agency that represents them.

When you purchase or download a stock image, you are essentially acquiring a license to use the image for specific purposes outlined in the licensing agreement.

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It’s important to adhere to the terms of the license to avoid copyright infringement.

Where to Find Stock Images?

Stock images are abundant online, but the quality of sources varies.

Start by considering your budget and requirements. If you require a large number of stock images or will frequently need new ones, paid stock image services could be valuable.

You may be familiar with these options:

  1. Adobe Stock
  2. Shutterstock
  3. Getty Images
  4. Moose

Why Using Other People’s Images on Your Website May Violate Copyright?

Using images created by someone else on your website without proper authorisation or licensing can potentially result in copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement occurs when you use copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright owner, which is usually the creator of the image.

Here’s why using someone else’s pictures on your website or blog could constitute infringement:

  1. Exclusive Rights: The copyright owner holds exclusive rights to their creative work, including images. These rights include the right to reproduce, distribute, display, and create derivative works. Using someone else’s image without their permission violates these rights.
  2. Ownership: When someone creates an image, they automatically own the copyright to it. This means they have the authority to decide how their work is used and who can use it. Using their image without proper authorisation disregards their ownership rights.
  3. Unauthorised Use: If you use an image without obtaining the necessary licenses or permissions, you are engaging in unauthorised use. Even if you credit the original creator, it doesn’t substitute for proper authorisation.
  4. Commercial Use: If you use an image for commercial purposes on your website, such as promoting products or services, it is more likely to be considered copyright infringement. Commercial use often requires explicit permission or licensing from the copyright owner.
  5. Derivative Works: Modifying or adapting an image without permission can also lead to copyright infringement. Creating derivative works based on someone else’s image without authorisation is a violation of their rights.
  6. Attribution Misconception: Simply providing credit to the original creator doesn’t necessarily mean you have the right to use the image. While attribution is important for ethical reasons, it doesn’t replace the need for proper licensing or permission.
  7. Fair Use Considerations: While fair use can be a defense against copyright infringement in some cases, its application is limited and often subject to legal interpretation. Using others’ images without understanding the principles of fair use can lead to legal issues.

To avoid copyright infringement, it’s essential to use images for which you have obtained proper licenses, and permissions, or that are in the public domain.

If you’re uncertain about the copyright status of a digital image, it’s best to seek permission from the image creator or choose images with clear usage rights.

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In the vast digital space of websites and online content, understanding how to use copyrighted images is essential to avoid legal complications.

By carefully considering license details, crediting images properly, and respecting the rights of image providers, you can navigate the complexities of using visuals in your online endeavors.

Utilising stock photo services, image-hosting websites, and reputable image libraries can provide you with legitimate and safe options for incorporating visuals into your original content.

Remember that seeking legal advice when in doubt and ensuring you have the right to use an entire image are crucial steps toward maintaining a compliant and respectful presence in the digital landscape.


Can I use any image I find on the internet for my website?

No, not all images are free to use. Many images are protected by copyright, and using them without proper authorisation or a valid license can lead to copyright infringement.

What is a Creative Commons license?

Creative Commons licenses allow creators to grant certain permissions to others to use their work under specific conditions. There are various types of Creative Commons licenses, each with its own set of permissions and restrictions.

Do I need to give credit to the author of an image I use on my website?

Yes, in most cases, you need to credit the author of the image, especially when using images under Creative Commons licenses. Always check the terms of use for each image to determine the proper way to provide credit.

Are stock images copyrighted?

Yes, stock images are copyrighted, but they are made available for use under specific licenses. When using stock images, it’s crucial to adhere to the terms of the license and follow any requirements for usage and attribution.

Can I edit or modify copyrighted images for my website?

It depends on the terms of the license associated with the image. Some licenses may allow modifications, while others may not.

Always review the license details to determine whether you can modify the image for your specific use.

Are Google images copyright-free?

Google Images is a search engine that allows people to search for images on the internet.

While Google Images does allow users to find an abundance of images, many of the images presented through the service are protected by copyright laws and should not be used without permission from the copyright holder.

Many people mistakenly assume that all of the images found through Google Images are free to use, but this is incorrect.