Rights on the image on the Internet

The web pages are completed with images and graphic works. It is through them that the texts are visually convincing and arouse the interest of readers before they have even read the first paragraph. However, web administrators have to take certain principles into account as regards their use, since the use of images on the Internet is governed by intellectual property rights.

What are the rights of intellectual property?

The authorship of artistic and scientific works is protected by the Intellectual Property Law. By “works”, literary and musical works are understood – not forgetting the plastic works or the filmic works and, of course, the photographs . For a photo to be classified as a work in the context of the Intellectual Property Law, it must be a “personal and intellectual creation”. This concerns most of the photos in which the author, through the selection of the location where they are made, of the framing, of the staging or through the opening options, has the purpose of carrying out any form of artistic creation (In legal terms, photographic works will be discussed in this regard). Of the rights on intellectual property, only snapshots are excluded, such as passport photos or technical photographs made in accordance with strictly regulated rules (in legal terms, photographs will be used in this regard ).

In accordance with the above provisions, a photographer becomes the creator of the work and, as such, the author of it. Decide the context in which the work is used only depend on the photographer (ie, he will be responsible for transferring this right). The author of a work is always the one who has made it and not the one who has had the idea for it.


When are image rights violated?

When are image rights violated?

To include images of a photographer on a web page, it is necessary to have their consent. If you do not have the rights of the same, there is a violation of the Intellectual Property Law. This infraction is not applicable to the publication of images on commercial web pages, such as those of some companies, but in general terms refers to the action of hanging these images on pages with free access . Likewise, its use in social networks must be authorized by the author, unlike when it is used privately, for example if the image is published in a closed Facebook group or in a private blog and password protected.


Infringement of rights over image and consequences

Infringement of rights over image and consequences

The fact that the majority of images on the Internet (also videos, graphic works, etc.) are freely accessible, suggests that many users can use them erroneously for their own benefit. Detecting copyright infringement in Internet images has, however, become an arduous task. Large companies, brands or agencies deliberately track the Internet in an attempt to detect the illegitimate use of their works, it is even possible that photographers hire people who are responsible for controlling them. The norms established with respect to copyrighted images are very simple, that is, without the authorization of the author, the diffusion of the image is not allowed, for example, through integration in the company’s own web page. Whoever does not comply with this maxim will have to face warnings and fines and, in the worst case, trials.


Use of alien graphic material


The author of a work must grant the rights to use it so that it can be used, that is, it must authorize the use of said image for the user’s own benefit. However, it is not clear who the rights to the image fall on and how the contact with the author can be established. Web administrators can count on two solutions to solve this problem. On the one hand, they can resort to photographic agencies and, on the other, to images with a Creative Commons license in portals such as Flickr.


Photography agencies

The photo agencies represent photographers in the commercialization of the copyright of the images. These serve as mediators between buyers and authors, and defend the use of their works. If the amount is not very significant, companies, bloggers, organizations and other Internet users can buy the images and use them publicly – whose price 15 or 45% goes to cover the fees and artists. In web pages like Fotolia or Shutterstock you can access numerous photos classified by theme and whose license can be purchased. In this regard, you can differentiate between:

  • Photographic material subject to licensing: in this case the collection of utilization fees is done according to the nature and quantity of the publications.
  • Photographic material not subject to license: through the single payment of the license fee the buyer can use the images without a time limit.

Regarding the use of the images of the agencies, it is necessary to comply with the contract conditions with the maximum accuracy. The incorrect or incomplete mention of the author also constitutes a crime that goes against the law and can be sanctioned.

The rules depend on the photography agency and, while for some it is enough to mention it in the Legal Notice, for others it is necessary to mention both the author and the agency in the Alt Text label, in the title of the image and / or in the caption.


Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization created in the United States that offers several standard licenses to preserve the rights of intellectual property. With them, authors can make their works available to the public and establish the framework of desired use for them. This not only concerns the photographs, but also texts, musical pieces or videos and the use of them under the Creative Commons licenses is partially or totally free. Some authors prohibit third parties from publishing their works for commercial use and their use is often only allowed when the author and / or license are mentioned. Nowadays there are web pages, such as Flickr, that allow you to search for photos that really satisfy the needs of your users and also that are used for commercial purposes in the web pages of the companies.


Use of own images

Use of own images

To avoid paying license fees and preserve the independence of agencies and third parties, you can make the photos that will be hosted on the private website. However, being the author of a photo does not always imply that you have the rights to it. There may be some kind of restrictions as to the choice of motive , for example in the case of wanting to reproduce the work of a third party (architect, artist, etc.).

Here are the most important factors that photographers should take into account:

Images of buildings and public places

Photographs of streets, buildings and monuments are governed by the freedom of panorama , a provision that is applied in many countries of the European Union. In this regard, the photos can be disseminated and used for commercial purposes when the objects of a public place or a street are in view, but this changes when speaking of private land, where there may be some kind of restriction by part of the owners and the freedom of the panorama is not applicable, but the corresponding owner rights .

Photographs of protected works

As mentioned above, intellectual property rights protect all those works of art, which may include paintings and installations, but also handbags or designer furniture. In this sense, it is important to differentiate if said works are the main reason or if they are incorporated into the photograph as irrelevant accessories . In that case, the photographer will not infringe the copyright of the same.

Photographs of people

In principle, the people who make the photos are the owners of them, but these can not be disseminated or published without the consent of the person who appears in them (image rights). In the professional field, the models receive a remuneration for the photos taken and, therefore, assign these rights. Both the consent and the agreement on the purpose of use must be formalized in writing.

However, with regard to this type of photos there are certain exceptions. It is not necessary that the people who leave in them give their explicit consent if:

  • They are mere extras in the same
  • The photo shows a set of people and there are none that appear in the foreground
  • The photo is a significant testimony of a series of important events in contemporary history or portrays important people in contemporary history (politicians, actors, athletes)
  • The photo offers information of public interest
  • It has a high artistic interest

Children’s photos are a case apart. In general, photos of minors are allowed when there is consent by the persons listed therein. However, to publish or disseminate them requires the authorization of the holders of parental authority.

Images of products

Online stores that sell products usually do not work without photographs of them. Thus, it is applicable the regulations according to which photos of the products distributed by the stores themselves can be made and published without the explicit request of the producers’ permission. Therefore, the resulting photographs are constituted as protected works . Photographers, or rather store managers, are the owners of their image rights. Photographs of products from third parties are also subject to intellectual property rights and can only be published if you have permission to do so. If it is the same manufacturer who makes available the photos of the products themselves, the conditions of use thereof must be reflected in writing in the contract.


Orders to third parties

Orders to third parties

If a web page is designed by a third party, p. ex. by a web designer or by an agency, the contract must expressly state in writing that this page can only accommodate authorized photos with clear image rights. This is a condition of important contractual protection, since, as administrator of a web page, one has to take charge of all its content and of the violations of the intellectual property rights that may derive from them. Claims and compensation for damages do not correspond to the web designer, but to the administrator of the website, who must opt ​​for the safest option.


Conclusion: is my page regulated by the rights on the image?

Conclusion: is my page regulated by the rights on the image?

In the field of copyright on images on the Internet, it is convenient to respect the rules of the game. It is essential, in this regard, to have clear documentation and to apply license agreements with accuracy. Whoever works with professional agencies must abide by its provisions and, on the other hand, it will be convenient to get away from not serious sources. It is also advisable not to use images of unknown authors and in the case of self-made photos, you must also take into account the rules that are in force. The administrators of web pages do not usually abuse the use of images subject to the intellectual property rights of the authors themselves when they violate personal and domestic rights. Who does not act with prudence in this subject will have to face consequences such as legal warnings and demands for damages. The advisable thing in these cases is to resort to professional legal assistance and to look for the holders of the rights in order to avoid judicial disputes.


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