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Your small law firm is a business, and you want your website to draw an audience, attract potential clients, and generate new leads. However, as a law firm, you have a commitment to stay within ethics guidelines and keep best practices. In order to sidestep ethics violations when adding photos and graphics to your law firm’s website, it is essential to avoid using images which have a copyright, because you could violate copyright infringement.

With all the images circulating and being shared online, it can be confusing to discern which images are copyrighted and which are free for public use. It is worth the time to examine the copyright laws that govern internet images, along with practical guidelines for proper use of images on your law firm’s website and marketing content.

Copyright Infringement and Fair Use

Copyright law is sometimes considered a specialty law topic, and its fair use clause can seem vague to users. In addition, the staff member who is primarily responsible for your law firm’s advertising may not be an attorney, and it is in the marketing materials where copyright law violations happen most often. It is important to explain the following basic rules about copyright laws to anyone who is involved in your law firm’s marketing efforts. 

Copyright

A copyright is the right of creators to use and distribute their original work. The specific rights of a creator according to the Copyright Act include:

  • Right to reproduce his or her work
  • Right to create offshoot works based on the original work 
  • Right to perform the copyrighted work in public
  • Right to display the work in public

A copyright has an expiration date of seventy years after the creator’s death, and there are other limitations and exceptions to a copyright. Even if an individual never takes legal steps to ensure a copyright, ownership is attached at the moment of creation. This is different from a trademark. If a photographer snaps a photo, that photo belongs to the photographer, and they have the intrinsic right to use, sell or distribute as desired. Even if a creator displays his or her work publicly, that does not give the public the right to redistribute it, and nobody else can create a spinoff of the content and call it their original work. 

Fair Use

“Fair use” allows portions of a copyrighted work to be used without permission of the owner, provided the use is reasonable and fair, does not diminish the value of the creation and does not impair the profits that the owner would reasonably expect.

Law Quill’s standard best practice is to never use anything in the “fair use” domain. This is a tricky legal area, and frankly it is fraught with lawsuits where a party unintentionally placed something on their website that they thought was within the standard of fair use. It is always best to avoid placing any free or unpaid photos on your law firm’s website. 

Smart Guidelines for Using Images

Images are essential for online content. They break up text, expand meaning and enhance the user’s experience. However, it is important to use them wisely and avoid copyright violations. To stay in step with the law, use images from the following sources:

Public Domain

Public domain images have no copyright because it never had a copyright, the copyright has expired, or the image was published before 1924. Images in the public domain are marked as such, and they do not need a citation when you use them.

Free Stock Photos

If you insert a lot of images on your law firm marketing materials, you may want to download free stock photos.

We HIGHLY recommend AGAINST posting any free stock photos on your law firm’s website. There are too many lawsuits that indicate that people place their images on these websites, only to intentionally later send cease and desist letters that request large sums of money. Again, it is always best to avoid placing any free stock photos on your law firm’s website. 

Paid Stock Photos

Websites with paid images offer an abundance of photos, they will likely have something that fits exactly what you need. Buying a license to use one of these images allows you to use it only within the agreement, so read the agreement carefully before buying. Here are some of the most popular sites for paid stock photos:

  • Getty Images – one of the largest sites with over 80 million photos and illustrations.
  • iStock – one of the best platforms if you have a specific image in mind. 
  • Cutcaster – a pay as you go stock photo site that is well organized and makes finding your exact image easy. 
  • Fotolia – carries a subscription service, which can save you money if you use the service frequently. 

Permission Granted

You can use another person’s image if they grant you specific permission. A copyright owner should do this in writing to prevent later misunderstandings. There may be unique and specific rules in granting you permission, and if the photographer is a minor, the parent or guardian must authorize the license, since minors may void the license later. 

Your Own Images

If you are the photographer, there is no danger of copyright infringement, and you can be sure that your image will be 100% original. You do not need a bunch of expensive equipment, since modern mobile phones have the ability to take high quality photos. Another option is to hire a photographer to take your photos, as long as you make an agreement to have exclusive rights of ownership.

Image Tips

Once you have chosen your images, consider the following tips:

  • Use only high-quality photos and images.
  • Include images that are relevant to your content.
  • Pick images that your target audience can relate to.
  • When inserting images on social media, follow the platform guidelines for image size and resolution.

How Law Quill Can Help You Avoid Copyright Infringement

When it comes to using images on your law firm’s website, blog or other marketing materials, always assume that each image is copyright protected unless you confirm otherwise. It is easy to justify borrowing online images, because everyone else does it. However, if the copyrighted content is found on your law firm’s website, you would be liable for it, which would damage your reputation as a legal professional.

We are here to help and would welcome the opportunity to visit with you for free regarding your website content! Schedule a free visit with us by scheduling a quick phone or zoom call at your convenience on our calendar today. You can also email us at support@lawquill.com