Image Galleries

Images are one of the main causes of copyright issues – and not just in education, but also throughout business and the media.  There are many well-documented cases of alleged infringement of images of celebrities in images circulated far and wide on social media. 

The challenges relating to images are not helped by the major search engines that seem to take delight in aggregating images from the Web and then making them available through their own websites, apparently without asking permission of the image rights holders. 

Granted, when using a site such as Google Images, there is a facility to search the provenance of the image beyond the page they are displayed on and where the comment “this image may be subject to copyright” is included.  It’s quite right that the image may be subject to copyright, but not everyone checks the provenance, before happily cutting and pasting the image to their website or social media – or both.Then comes the nasty surprise when a penalty letter from an image gallery, claiming to be the official rights holder of the image that you have used, arrives at your establishment demanding immediate removal of the image and a strongly worded request to pay the accompanying penalty invoice. 

That’s a worst-case scenario, but they do happen, and the penalties are paid, with no publicity, because the allegedly infringing organisation does not want to suffer reputational as well as financial loss. 

It has become habitual for users, searching for an image for illustrative, marketing and publicity purposes, to be casual in their use of images.  The images usually belong to someone else and the user should, theoretically, ask for permission. However, the quick cut and paste process is carried out without thinking, and, as indicated earlier, could lead to unwanted consequences. 

What’s the solution? 

For marketing purposes in an organisation, images can be commissioned from a photographer, they can be taken by a member of staff, or a student, or they can be acquired from an image gallery.

Commissioning a photographer 

Always, always, ensure there is a written agreement between the organisation and the photographer.  Detail the uses of the images, how long the contract lasts and who owns the copyright in the images.  Do not assume that because a third party has been asked to carry out work such as the creation of an image gallery, that the organisation automatically owns the copyright in the content produced.  This is not the case. Normally, the copyright of any work carried out by a full-time employee belongs to the organisation, but with third party commissions, it is essential to agree all aspects of payment, use and ownership in advance. 

In the academic world, a student is not a member of college staff. If a college wishes to use content created by a student, there must be an agreement in advance.  It doesn’t matter that the student may use college resources – that used to be relevant in photography, but is no longer the case. 

Image galleries 

Image galleries are always delighted to welcome new clients.  They can take the complexity of selecting images away from the organisation and can also offer very high quality and relevant images for all purposes. 

Just as with commissioning, the organisation should ensure that there is a contract in place with the image gallery and that the organisation understands the usage and payment system they are going to use. 

Most galleries operate a form of subscription service that will allow a set number of images to be selected over a pre-determined time period, with either a single payment, or one made on a regular basis. It may also be the case that each time an image is used, that the organisation pays a royalty. 

Doing the right thing in image use can be complicated and time-consuming, so it is easy to see why the “right click” on Google Images (or any other web based image) is so popular. 

It is always worth doing the right thing – the consequences could be painful! 

Copyright free images 

This can be a misleading phrase.  Image galleries use the term as an inducement to new clients, who then find that although the images may be free of copyright, there is still a financial charge to pay. 

Creative Commons Images 

One way to avoid any issues is to use those galleries that offer images covered by a Creative Commons Licence (There is more information about this form of licensing in Appendix D) There are many useful sites offering these images. Look particularly for Pixabay and Unsplash.  They both offer images under a CCO licence which doesn’t even ask for an acknowledgement. 

Be careful when copying images from the web.  It may seem very simple to do and you may ask – “who’s going to find out?” 

In the academic world, with reference to the exceptions permitted in the 1988 Copyright Act, perhaps it would be acceptable to copy images for curricular use (s32 of the Act) as long as they were kept on the VLE.  Infringing copying becomes an issue if the VLE isn’t secure or the images find their way on to a public facing website – either through staff or students’ efforts. 

Suggested image libraries, galleries and websites: 

Pixabay – 

Unsplash – 




Gratisography – 

The Blue Diamond Gallery – 

Your guide to the copyright maze​

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Copyright without the jargon

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