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Copyright: Can I use someone else’s photo?

5 minute read

Can I use someone else's photos

We have all seen those copies of National Geographic or Time magazine with dog-ears and ripped pages that seem to adorn the corners of waiting rooms in doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries.  The waiting time is running over and you decide to flick through one of these magazines when suddenly a wonderful photograph grabs your attention.  You take out your smartphone and photograph this page.  You then crop the image and decide to use it, either on your Instagram page or the news bulletin page for your firm.

Have you breached copyright?

Photographs, illustrations and other images are normally protected by copyright as artistic works.  This means that you would usually need the permission of the copyright owner if you want to copy the image or share it on the internet.

Who owns copyright in an image?

The person who has created the image “the creator” will generally be the first owner of the copyright.  It may be licenced to another person or organisation giving permission to use the work, often in return for payment.  In the UK copyright on images lasts for the life of the creator plus seventy years from the end of the calendar year of their death, although the length of the copyright period will depend on when the image was created.

What if you cannot find who the copyright owner is?

Copyright simply does not disappear because the owner cannot be found.  One may make a request to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) before making an application for an Orphan Works Licence “Orphan Works”.  You will need to undertake a diligence search for the right holder.  A useful guide on how to check for copyright may be found at

What if you have taken a superb photo that you have uploaded onto a social media website and you want to stop other people using that photograph?

It is important that you check the website’s terms and conditions to ensure that the owner of that website is not permitting something to be done with your photographs that you do not want.

You have spotted an image on the internet and you decide to use a small portion of that image to make or adapt a new image. 

Taking an existing image and making an adaptation of it without permission would usually be an infringement of copyright.  The Court of Justice of European Union has said that what matter is whether the piece has been used (however small) could be said to be the author’s own “intellectual creation”.

You want to use the photograph taken by a professional photographer of you and your family, say at a wedding or a special birthday.  Can you use these photographs?

The professional photographer has created the image. They will be the owner of the copyright. However, notwithstanding that you have paid him to take the photograph you will need his permission if you want to make copies and send them to Uncle Tom and Auntie Betsy who could not make the wedding. The flipside to this is you looked radiant in your wedding attire and the photographer wants to post this photo on his website. He needs your permission to do so.

Social Media

There are so many platforms to view and post photos. When you join one of these you should check the terms and conditions of the website if you do not want others uploading and using your images.


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