How To Tell If An Image Is Copyrighted (BEFORE You Put It On Your Website)

Copyright sign - conceptual illustration made like collage of tr

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A picture can say a thousand words. What may look like a great photo to add to a website can land someone in trouble. Not all online images are available for use and placing them on a website or blog post is prohibited by law. How to tell if an image is copyrighted before putting it on social media platforms, blog posts, or other online sites? Here are several ways to know if the image is available for free use. Working with a professional digital marketing agency can prevent these serious issues in the first place. Schedule a consultation with Law Quill to avoid problems with copyrighted images. 

How Do I Check If Something Is Copyrighted?

Many people use an image searcher, like Google, to look for a photo. Results will show a wide range of pictures, but not all are free to use. Identifying a copyrighted image is not hard. If the image is linked back to a photographer’s portfolio or an artist’s page, chances are that it is a copyrighted image. Never assume that you can legally use an image. Some individuals do reach out to the creator to ask for permission. In a few situations, the person may be happy for you to use the image – as long as you link back to their website. Other vital indicators may determine whether the image is copyrighted or not, such as:


Creators, photographers, and artists use watermarks on their images. A watermark is a digital signature or logo placed on top of a picture. With that, someone cannot use the photo without tracing it back to the original creator. Any image or photo with a watermark is copyrighted and not considered fair use. 


Usually, an image has a caption underneath the photo. In some instances, an individual credited the picture to the original owner. While you may think the photo is free to use, remember that the initial photo user gained permission from the image creator. If the creator permitted someone to use their image, they are more than likely to allow someone else to use it. Make sure to ask the credited person for permission before adding to a website. 


Often, a creator will embed their information in the image’s metadata, allowing anyone to see who owns the image and rules for using it. The image continues to contain its original metadata after every download. If someone uses an image without permission, the metadata will continue to hold the creator’s data. With a right-click on the image, anyone can view the metadata information in the properties tab. 


How To Know If an Image Is Fair Use

While the above methods can help determine the copyright status of an image, they do not always work. How to tell if an image is copyrighted? The answer is not always clear. Some images do not have clearly defined information about their copyrights. With that, take a few extra steps to check the photo before adding it to a marketing campaign or website. The most popular ways to prevent copyright issues include:

Keep in mind that a creator cannot copyright every image. According to the United States Copyright Office, the photo or image must be “fixed, original, and work of authorship.” Some works are not copyright protected. They include:

  • Lettering 
  • Typefaces
  • Ordinary and familiar designs and symbols
  • Fonts

Why Copyright an Image?

A creator copyrights an image to protect their intellectual property. With a copyright, no one can use, reproduce, or display the image without the holder’s permission. Whether a creator drew the picture or photographed it, the image is still their creation, and these individuals have a right to protect their works. Often, a creator copyrights the image so that a user adheres to their intentions. For example, they may not want a picture of a child used for a law firm representing accused child abuse defendants. Also, a creator wants to be paid for their products. 

A copyright guarantees that the initial owner or creator can create other works based on that piece, reproduce the image in different forms, and display it on their website. A copyright violation might not seem like a big issue, but it may result in penalties and fines. Also, stealing content will create bad public relations, which is never good when trying to grow an audience and build a brand. When you work with a professional marketing company, they use images that will not run into any copyright issues. Find out how Law Quill uses high-quality photos for your website. 


Can You Ask for Permission?

Finding the perfect photo for your website does not have to be complicated. Even if the image is protected, request permission to use it on a website. First, always contact the creator of the picture. A simple email to the owner might surprise you. Many individuals will be happy to allow someone to use their photos. Asking permission is courteous and keeps a person from violating any copyright laws. Remember, the owner always has a right to refuse. If they happen to deny a request, look for another image. 

To help negotiate permission, always include how the law firm will use the image on a site. Copyright owners want to ensure someone will not use their pictures for other undesirable purposes. Sometimes, the image may already be in use with another law firm, and they cannot sell the image to a competitor. The individual owner might even have their own terms for using the photo in marketing materials. However, you could have some luck and get permission from the owner – for a fee. Terms of use can vary. Before agreeing to use the image, a creator could allow:

  • Regular use
  • One-time use
  • Specific use 

All these terms specify how the image can be used by an individual requesting permission from the owner. 

Which Images Are Copy-Free?

Researching an image and reaching out to the owner can seem like a lot of work. Fortunately, there are images that anyone can use without permission. These images can be freely placed on a website without any worries about copyright violations. Some are free, while others require a fee. A few of these copy-free images include:

Public Domain Images

Many images are found in the public domain. A quick online search will pull up many free image sites. Individuals can use these images for marketing and other purposes. However, most photos require a link to the creator’s portfolio or profile page on their site. Other images may have fallen into the public domain, which means that the original copyright ended 70 years after the death of the last surviving creator. 

Scholarly Uses

The usage of some images will not violate a copyright. One example is scholarly uses. For example, a law firm might want to use an image to discuss a case. With that, the practice could use an image for scholarly purposes. Many times, the user must link the image back to the original creator or source. While receiving permission is unnecessary, it is better to ask the creator to avoid legal issues with the image.

Creative Commons

While these images still are considered copyrighted works, the owner has provided rights to those who want to use them. There are several types of CC licenses, with most requiring credit to the creator. Those who want to use CC images need to check the specific image type.

Choose Image Carefully

Finding a random image with an online search does not guarantee you can use it for your law firm. In most cases, these images are copyrighted, and the owner or creator is the only individual who can guarantee use. Searching for the owner and requesting permission can be complicated and lead to a dead end, leaving you searching for another photo. Working with a digital marketing agency can take the hassle out of the elusive image search for your marketing materials. 


The very best practices are to either take the images yourself, or to pay for images on websites that will allow you to use them. Some websites such as DepositPhotos charge you to use their images, but that gives you the security to know that your images will never be subject to a copyright infringement claim. 

How Law Quill Can Help

Everyone wants a nice photo for their websites but dealing with legal permission can be challenging. Images can make or break the appearance of your blog posts, landing pages, and other areas on your websites, but you do not want to run afoul of copyright law. How to tell if an image is copyrighted? There are many factors. Partnering with a digital marketing agency can help you get the right image for your website without requiring you to deal with owner or creator permissions. Remember that images are essential for your SEO, and you do not want to leave that task to just anyone. Now is the time to contact Law Quill. 

We are here to help and would welcome the opportunity to visit with you for free regarding your law firm website’s content, and how we can take these tasks off your plate! 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