Copyright on photos for your website
- Sergej Schuurman
- 13 Jul 2023
- Edited 20 Dec 2022
- 5 min
- Rules and laws
Your new website is almost ready. Now just brighten it up with a nice photo. You have little time or no desire to pay for a professional stock photo. So you quickly grab a shot from the internet. Sound familiar? If so: copying and pasting photos from the internet for your company website is less innocent than you might think.
Want to avoid claims of hundreds or thousands of euros? Be mindful of copyright and citation rights, and follow the rules laid down for these rights.
If you create your own photos, images, or text, you automatically hold the copyright on them. Under the Copyright Act (‘Auteurswet’), only the creator may publish and reproduce their work. If a picture or text of yours is on the internet, you still hold the copyright on it. You can assume that all photos and works on the internet are copyrighted. Copyright on a work remains valid for 70 years after the holder’s death.
Are you still using that one photo from the internet for your company website without permission? Then you are directly infringing on the creator’s copyright, just as you would be in the offline world. Even if you edit the photo, crop it, or put a filter over it, it is still copyrighted. The copyright owner is missing out on revenue as a result. They can sue you for this, and claim damages.
More and more companies are engaged in detecting copyright infringement on the internet. To do this, they use software that is constantly getting smarter through the use of algorithms. An algorithm is a mathematical formula that processes large amounts of data. If there is infringement, the party responsible will get a hefty claim and a demand to remove the photo. A bill will soon run into the hundreds of euros for each photo. Have you used many photos without permission? Then this could cost your company everything.
A photographer uses their professionalism, creativity, and time to take a picture. They also incur costs for materials, travel, and use of venues. Infringement claims protect a photographer's income.
Is text, whether on the internet or elsewhere, original and creative? Then it is covered by copyright. Is text very short, descriptive, or general in nature? If so, it will generally not be covered by copyright. As with photos, you cannot simply copy text. This is considered infringement of copyright. If you want to use existing text, you need permission from the copyright holder. You are allowed to quote text without permission. In such cases, you use a short passage of the original text to bolster the point you are making. Do mention the name of the creator. Also indicate the source or where you found the text, or give a link to the website in question. Be careful with quoting for commercial use. You do need permission to do that.
You avoid high claims, annoying letters, and court proceedings by finding out who holds rights to a photo. Would you like to use a photo? Then come to an agreement with the person who took it or with their representative. If you cannot find this person, do not use the photo.
Make use of image databases or copyright-free databases. You can find these on the internet, where you can use copyright-free stock photos, often under conditions. Some image banks have conditions governing the use of such photos. Look into this. You cannot use everything without restrictions. For some image banks, you pay a fee. That way of doing things is safe, and more often than not, the quality is also higher. You can also use material from Creative Commons (in Dutch). This is an international standard of material whose creator specifies how and under what conditions you can freely use these photos without rights. Pictoright.nl is an initiative that champions the rights of image creators, pays collective fees, and arranges licences with users.
You use an original video by embedding it. If you include the link to the URL in the code on your website, you are not downloading the original work to your site. You may not embed a video that infringes upon copyright.
If you want to prevent others from using your photos, put the copyright symbol © next to them. This has no legal effect in the Netherlands. But it does indicate that it is copyrighted, and that discourages unauthorised copying.
The right to quote
In some cases, you may use a photo or image without permission. But only if this is meant to indicate what your publication is about, for support purposes. This is known as the right to quote (in Dutch). If you use the photo only decoratively, then this is not allowed, because it is not a citation. You also need permission from the rights holder in this case.
When quoting, always mention the source. Put the creator’s name next to a photo or image. A link to where you found it, or to a website, is also allowed. For commercial expressions, the right to quote does not usually apply.
Citation or quote
What is the difference between a citation and a quote? A citation is a longer piece of text, while a quote is just a few words or a short sentence. If a quote has its own original character or the personal stamp of the originator, it may also be copyrighted. It cannot be too general in nature, and the creator will have made creative word choices. In that case, you may not use a quote for commercial purposes, such as putting it on your website or printing it on t-shirts and selling them. In general, the longer the quote is, the more the creator had to make creative word choices for it and the sooner it is subject to copyright.
Pay attention to whether a quote might also be a wordmark that is registered with the Benelux Trademark Office. In that case, you may not use a quote for commercial purposes.
Beeldanoniem (Image anonymous)
Are you using photos even if you do not know who created them? Through a procedure that has been set up by the foundation in Dutch), you can pay a fee for this. As an intermediary, they arrange the rights for the use of images if you cannot find the copyright holder. Photographers also use the foundation’s list of fees as a guideline for determining what losses they have incurred.
Do you use copyrighted work such as photos or texts in the classroom or in a private educational network? If only teachers and students have access to this material, you do not need permission from the rights holder. In addition, libraries, museums, and archives are allowed to digitise everything they have on paper. They do not require permission from the rights holders to do so. These institutions may also make available online what they digitise.
What do you do if you get an angry letter? Check whether you are using the photo legally. If you are not, remove it immediately. Get in touch and find out if the party really has the copyright. Perhaps removing it is enough. Are they demanding high damages? Start negotiating to see whether they will lower the amount. Commit to settling, and try to avoid difficult and costly court proceedings. If you are not cleared by the court, the costs will often be higher, into the thousands of euros. Does the other party not want a settlement, and is the amount involved high? Bring in a lawyer.
Get it right from the start
Designing your website, leaflets, business materials, and more – that is all part of your business. Calculate the costs involved. For startups, it is important to get onto a sound footing (in Dutch) right from the start. Do not make things unnecessarily difficult for yourself. A false start could mean it all ends before it can even begin.
Copyright does not discriminate by age or business structure. It even applies if you are under 18. You stand out from your competition with material you have designed and developed yourself, and that you are using legally. And surely that is also much more satisfying.
Do you have questions on copyright that you find hard to figure out? Just get in touch with KVK. Together, we can explore your situation and see how we can help you along.