Which images are free of copyright

webdots blog

Since the subject of images and their legally correct use on the Internet is always a topic for us, we asked Dr. Georg Watschinger from the law firm Altenweisl Wallnöfer Watschinger Zimmermann Attorneys at Law
asked for an interview. Thank you for the detailed answers and the time you took!

A good online presence without an appealing graphic design is unthinkable these days. Are there any legal pitfalls that need to be considered?

As a matter of fact. There are a lot of stumbling blocks lurking on the Internet that can be fatal for entrepreneurs. I am surprised that there are increasingly young business people among those affected who actually grew up with the Internet and should actually know better. When it comes to setting up a company, the website is right at the top of the list. Unfortunately, when it comes to “procurement of materials” on the Internet, the selection is often not made carefully enough.

For my website, I got suitable images from Google search. How does it work with the image rights?

Many entrepreneurs have fallen into this trap. The anonymity in front of the computer gives a deceptive security. It is believed that content that could be “snatched” online can now be freely used. In fact, very little online content is freely usable, but protected by copyright. The “Google image search” itself is a borderline case that even recently occupied the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Even showing the images as search results was denounced as a copyright infringement (but ultimately not confirmed by the ECJ). But that shows how delicate the subject is. Downloading and using images from Google Image Search is very likely to infringe the copyrights of third parties. It is strongly discouraged - images from Google are generally unsuitable for a strong online presence.

Does that also apply to image databases? My graphic artist organized the images from a database.

In principle, works protected by copyright (this includes high-quality images as well as the simplest graphics, certain lettering, online articles, etc.) may only be used if one has the appropriate rights of use. This is usually obtained (if that is possible at all) for a fee. However, it must be ensured that the exploitation rights also include the planned type of exploitation (e.g. permanent publication on your own website). Caution is also advised when it comes to your company's presence on social media. For example, on Facebook, you agree, within the framework of the terms of use, that third parties may download and use the images. This is problematic if you have not acquired the rights to sublicensing (this is excluded almost everywhere) yourself. Some image databases (e.g. istockphoto) offer their own "social media packages", which also allow such use for a surcharge. As I said: You should definitely find out what is included in the package, the terms of use and license provide information.

How do you deal with free image platforms like pixabay.com?

The fact that images are offered for download free of charge does not in principle indicate that they can then also be freely used. A large number of databases allow photos to be downloaded free of charge, but the terms of use severely restrict usability. It is therefore essential to read the often very complicated conditions of use carefully or to have them checked and to research whether the planned recycling of the material is covered. "Pixabay.com" offers free "public domain" images, i.e. the platform lets the uploader assign all copyrights and then makes the images available. However, Pixabay does not guarantee that the uploader actually owned the copyrights for the image. So there remains a residual risk for the entrepreneur. In the corporate sector, the paid version (of course, also here, taking into account the relevant license terms) is usually the better choice. The same applies to the Google image search with the option "Rights of use: license-free" - who guarantees me that these images are really license-free.

Can I use the gettyImages embedding mode?

As just mentioned, the question of the usability of the content of a page depends on the scope of the rights of use granted. GettyImages restricts the use of its content to private areas, for example. Any business use is prohibited.

My partner company has given me permission to use the photos on their website. Is this dangerous?

Do you know whether the partner company has the rights to use the material, let alone pass it on? If not, the question has already been answered. What happens if the partner does not want to know anything more about the approval in a year? A written agreement in which the partner company declares the transfer and at the same time guarantees that it owns the corresponding copyrights or rights of use would make sense here. But honestly: who likes to commit themselves voluntarily and guaranteed free of charge? In addition, in the event of the partner's bankruptcy, this indemnification does not help much if it turns out that the information was incorrect.

Can I put the logos of the partner companies on my site and link the sites?

What would you say if your brand or company logo was to be found on someone else's website claiming business contact with your company? The depiction of third-party logos is only permitted with (preferably in writing) the consent of the respective legal entity and only until revoked, as company logos also enjoy copyright protection. Of course, you are not allowed to list any companies as your partners on your website that do not apply to this. Mere links (text line) are in principle not a problem, as the internet link is not protected. However, you must make it very clear that the linked page is not your own, but third-party content. Anyone who gives the impression that the linked page is their own content is against the copyright of the author.

We took all the pictures that we use ourselves.

From a legal point of view, this is probably the safest option. But here, too, there is something to consider: In principle, not only the author of an image enjoys protection, but also the person depicted, provided that their “interests worthy of protection” are affected. As soon as a picture of a person is used for advertising in the broader sense, the corresponding consent of this person is required. In no case may advertising with the portraits of famous people, such as sports greats, be made without consent.

We had the pictures taken by a professional photographer.

Legally, this variant offers a very high level of security. If the photographer actually takes the pictures exclusively and then makes them available to you, the customer generally acquires all rights to the pictures; the photographer himself is not allowed to sell them to others. Under certain circumstances, however, the photographer stipulates that his name or sign must be noted on the edge of the picture or he is mentioned in the imprint. Authors also have a right to this. Many photographers also offer catalog photos for sale. Here it should be noted again to what extent the usage rights (e.g. limited in time) are acquired.

What happens if you violate “copyright”?

As a rule, you will start with a A legal warning, a letter of formal notice, to immediately refrain from the illegal use of the corresponding content and to pay a certain amount of money (lump-sum compensation, legal fees for the intervention, usually totaling over € 1,000). Under certain circumstances, however, you can immediately start with a Claims for damages and injunctive relief from the author are brought. The costs of a lawsuit are much higher, but even the warning can be painful. If you gain a competitive advantage over competitors through illegal use, the situation becomes even more dangerous. In principle, every competitor who is thereby disadvantaged in the competition can issue warnings and also proceed with an action for an injunction.

How can I prevent this?

Careful research and examination of one's own appearance in public are inevitable, both in terms of the materials used and in legal terms. In the internet in particular, we are more visible, more exposed and therefore much more vulnerable than in "analog" business life. Corresponding care in advance pays off, it saves nerves like the business account and brings quiet instead of sleepless nights.

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