If you have an e-commerce website, you understand that photos grab customer attention. However, chances are that taking custom photographs of every item you sell is out of the budget. You can use legally use photos taken by other people, but to do so, must have permission. This article explains when you can use other people’s photos for your e-commerce website.

The Basics of Photo Copyright

Copyright is an exclusive right granted automatically to the creator of an original piece of work. Therefore, when a person takes a photo, copyright immediately protects the photo. The photographer can also license or assign copyright. For example, if the photographer is an employee, the employment contract will generally assign the photo copyright to their employer. 

This means that any photo you find online is protected by its owner’s copyright. In some cases, you may be able to use the photo. For example, where you request permission or pay for a licence. However, if the owner does not grant permission, you do not have the legal right to use the photo. This could allow them to take legal action against you. Therefore, it is essential you verify that you have the legal right to use any photos.

When You Can Use Photos on Your Website

There are nine situations in which you can legally post photos on your e-commerce website. 


Photo Source When You Can Use the Photo
Taken by yourself As you created the photo, you own the copyright
Taken by an independent contractor You own the copyright as long as the contract assigns it to you
Taken by your employees If taken during the course of their employment, you own the copyright as the employer
Taken by your suppliers If the terms of the supply agreement grant you a licence to use the photo for commercial purposes
Taken by someone else If the terms of the licence agreement grant you to use the photo for commercial purposes
Stock website The licence of most stock photos allow them to be used for commercial purposes
Public domain Photos are free to use in the public domain after 70 years have passed since the photographer’s death
Creative Commons If the terms of the Creative Commons licence allow you to use the photo for commercial use (you may also have to attribute the photographer if the licence requires it)


When You Can Use Photos on Facebook and Instagram

In addition to your website, you may have a social media presence. You may want to use photos to promote your site using networks like Facebook and Instagram. These social media sites have terms and conditions that dictate how you can use others’ photos. 

For example, Instagram’s Terms of Use state that when a person uploads a photo, the owner retains copyright, but grants Instagram a licence to use the content. This licence then allows Instagram to allow others to re-post the photo legally, as long as they attribute the original owner and make it clear that the photo is not their own. Facebook and other social media sites have similar conditions. However, you must always give attribution — it is still illegal to regram a photo without identifying the original owner.

Therefore, when sharing someone else’s photo, you need to give the owner credit. You also need to consider whether it would appear to others that you are presenting it as your own. Provided that you make it clear that it is someone else’s photo that you are sharing, you will avoid breaching photo copyright. 

However, it is important to remember that you can only do this because of the licence granted by Instagram’s Terms of Use. This licence does not extend to your e-commerce site, so you cannot avoid breaching photo copyright on your website by attributing the owner.

Key Takeaways

Before using any photos on your e-commerce website, you need to ensure that you have the rights to do so. To ensure that you do not breach anyone’s photo copyright:

  • determine whether you already have rights to use the photo;
  • obtain permission through a licence; or
  • if posting a photo on social media without permission, give attribution to the copyright owner and make it clear that the photo is not your own.

If you need advice on whether you can use particular photos to market your business, call LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

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