What Happens If You Use Copyrighted Images Without Permission?

Image copyright is no laughing matter. In fact, it can lead to hefty fines and expensive legal fees.

People often assume that if an image is online it must be public domain and therefore free to use. The reality is that many images are copyrighted – even those that appear to have a Creative Commons (CC) license.

Copyright infringement

Copyright is a legal right granted to creators of intellectual property, including writing, music, films, design and photography. It gives the creator exclusive use of the work for a certain amount of time and the power to transfer or license it to others. If you use a copyrighted image without permission, it is considered infringement and you could be sued for it.

A few exceptions to this rule are images that have been published before 1923 or that are in the public domain, which means they are free to use for any purpose. You also have the right to make a fair use of an image if you want to use it for commentary or criticism. But if you use an image for commercial purposes, like selling t-shirts or mugs, that is considered infringement and you could be sued.

If you are not sure whether or how to use an image, ask the author. Most authors are happy to share their work and will grant you a license for it. Some will require a fee, while others will let you use it for free or for a small payment. It is always a good idea to get this permission in writing, though a simple email is fine.

You can also find some images that are licensed under Creative Commons, which allows the creator to set specific conditions on how the image may be used. This is often seen in blogs or on websites that have a “free to use” section with images. Other types of images are in the public domain, which means that the owner has lost or forfeited the rights to the image. This could include paintings or other flat works that were created before the 20th century.

Taking someone to court for copyright infringement can be expensive and time-consuming. However, the Copyright Office has started a process for small claims that can be faster and less costly. It is hoped that this system will be available to small businesses and individuals who need to take quick action against copyright infringement.


If you have an image that is copyrighted, the original image owner has several options to pursue damages for unauthorised use. For example, they can send a cease and desist letter on their legal letterhead or they can file suit against the offending website. In some cases, the image owner can also recover statutory damages. These are based on standard licensing fees and may be awarded if the image has been registered with the copyright office.

Copyrighted images are protected for the life of the creator plus 70 years. They are also protected if the creator created them in the course of business or for profit. In the US, if an image is found on a website without permission, the website owner can be sued for copyright infringement. This can result in large monetary penalties, especially if the website is making money from the unauthorised use of the image.

The best way to protect your images is to add a watermark or copyright notice on every photo you take and keep track of who is using them. This will help you avoid infringements and make it harder for people to remove your watermark or copyright notice. You can also use tools like Pixsy to scan the web and check for unauthorized uses of your photos.

Many people use copyrighted images without permission because they don’t understand the laws or think that it is OK to do so. This is a big mistake because the copyright holder has the right to demand compensation for their work. There are also other types of damages that can be awarded, including lost profits. In some cases, the copyright holder can even be awarded punitive damages.

A successful copyright infringement lawsuit can result in substantial fines and attorneys’ fees. This is why many photographers choose to settle the matter before going to court. A lawyer can help you decide if a settlement is a better option than going to court.

You can find out whether an image is protected by copyright by checking its date of creation and whether it has a watermark or a copyright notice. In addition, you can also check if the image was published online. You can also check if it is licensed and by whom.


If you have copyrighted photography and someone uses it without your permission, you can file a suit for damages. However, fighting a copyright lawsuit can be expensive and time consuming. Some photographers prefer to negotiate with infringers before they take legal action. If the infringer is a potential client, you can ask them to pay a licensing fee for use of your photo or provide a credit and link to your website. You can also request that they remove the photo.

You can also file a claim for statutory damages. These are based on the value of the image as it is used. They are often higher than actual damages. For example, if you have a celebrity photo of a person walking down the street, and it gets used in an unauthorized way, the person who owns the copyright can claim up to $150,000 in damages.

Photographers sometimes try to avoid the expense of a legal battle by sending a demand letter or DM on social media. The letter should include a photo credit and a link to your website. It should also specify that you own the copyright on the photo. Photographers may even offer a discount on the normal license fee for the use of their photos.

In some cases, the infringer will agree to remove the photo. Other times, they will just ignore the demand letter and continue to use your image. If you choose to take legal action, it is important to hire a lawyer who specializes in copyright law.

Copyright infringement can be very complicated, and many people do not understand it. It is important to learn about the basics of copyright and how it applies to the Internet. This will help you avoid copyright infringement in the future.

In one case, a local news website was sued for using photographs that were licensed through a creative commons license. The defendant failed to attribute the photos and did not post a link to the photographer’s website, which were requirements of the creative commons license. It was also found that the images were not “transformative” and thus not fair use.


If you find an image online that looks like it might be copyrighted, there are several ways to obtain permission to use it. The first step is to ask the owner of the image. They can usually tell you if they want to be credited and may be willing to allow you to use the image for free or for a small fee. It’s a good idea to write the request in writing, since that will give you a record of your conversation if it becomes necessary to fight a copyright dispute later.

Another option is to use a search engine to find the contact information for the image’s owner or copyright holder. Many websites also have a “contact” page where you can send an email asking for permission to use an image. If the image has been tagged with a Creative Commons license, you can also check to see if that license allows you to use it under the terms of the license.

Once you’ve found the copyright owner, you can ask to use the image for a fee or with a condition that limits its use. In some cases, the copyright owner may refuse to grant permission to use the image, but you should always try to be polite and respectful.

You can also try to argue that the image falls under fair use. This is a complicated legal argument that varies by country, but in general it allows academics to use copyrighted images for teaching and scholarship without permission. There are four basic factors that determine whether a particular use of an image qualifies as fair use.

The key question is: Is the image used for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), or research? If so, the use is probably fair under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Other things to consider include: (1) how much of the image is used?; (2) is the image used in a way that is likely to affect the value or marketability of the work; (3) does the image substantially differ from the original?; and (4) did you create a new work that incorporates the image?

Similar Posts