How to Avoid Copyright Violations on your Website


If you’re looking to establish a presence on the internet, start a business, blog, or website in hopes to turn a sizeable profit and build a reliable brand then you know that ‘content is king’. As cliché as it sounds, but, content drives the internet.

The digital age is all about content. To be ahead of the pack, your content has to be fresh, innovative, creative, and unlike anyone else’s. So, before getting into the lab to whip up that fresh content ensure that you aren’t violating copyright laws.

If your website focuses on content curation, make sure that you remain well within the boundaries of copyright laws. It can be a slippery slope when using content in any medium created by others.

Beyond that you’re content will need to be accompanied by stunning visual content and if you’re not a graphic designer, illustrator, photographer or videographer, you will need to source your visual content from the right sources.

No one wants to visit a website with just words. Even if your copy is compelling and you’re blog posts are cutting edge, provide value and are informative; without visual content, your audience will not engage on the level that will keep them coming back for more. Curating the perfect artwork to accompany your brand’s story is crucial for any website. Without graphic designers, you can easily violate copyright laws if you just take photos haphazardly from Google image search.

In this article we’re going to discuss intellectual property rights, copyright laws in the UK, give our best practices for finding open source content for your website, and how best to credit sources when you borrow.

Let’s dive in.

Can I Use Someone Else’s Work On my Website?

The short answer to this question is no. You cannot simply complete a Google Search and use an image, video, or any other form of content for your website without explicit permission from the content creator. Doing so can lead to Google violations.

However, there is a workaround. In some instances where credit is explicit given, you can use sourced content from search engines on your website. Let’s discuss this further by understanding the laws at play.

Intellectual Property & Copyright Laws

As defined by Wikipedia, “copyright is the legal right existing globally in many countries that basically grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to determine and decide whether, and under what conditions, this original work may be used by others.”

Each country has specific variations to copyright laws but for the sake of this article, we will highlight the parameters of copyright laws as they pertain to the United Kingdom and in some instances the European Union.

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988

According to the UK’s Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the law gives the creators of literary, musical, artistic works, sound recordings, broadcasts, films and typographical arrangement of published editions etc., rights to control the ways in which their material may be used by others.

In fact, rights occur automatically. I’m sure you’ve always been under the impression that you need to register a body of work in order to claim copyright, but, that is not the case.

The act of creating the work guarantees automatic copyright under the law in the United Kingdom. The minute the creator posted that photo to the internet as the owner he is protected by law and thus can decide how his work is used. This applies to all creators of a myriad of mediums, their work is their intellectual property and is protected by law.

Who owns the work?

The original creator, or group, collective owns the work and it is their intellectual property. Thus, in order to use the content on your website, you need to go through the proper channels to ask permission or give credit underneath the work.

In order to use another person’s creation in any shape or form, you must either first ask permission as we’ve stated or you need to credit the creator underneath the photo, artist rendering, video, etc. 

Passing off the work as yours, copying it in any form, repurposing it for your purposes, is strictly forbidden under copyright laws and committing the violation can have dire consequences and land you into litigation.

Best Practices for Curating Visual and other forms of Content for your Website

Reading through all the various types of licensing available for using content under various mediums like music, film, photography, etc, can be very daunting and time-consuming.

One thing you don’t want to do, and we can’t reiterate this enough is, use someone’s work while crossing your fingers and hoping they never find out. The best thing to do is to find your content from sources that offer an open license.

If you want to curate content from creators around the web to add dimension and quality to your own website and its content then here are the best places to do so without violating copyright laws.

For quality Stock Photos

Visual Content is a necessity. Users have short attention spans and you only have so long to grab their attention and hold it long enough to engage them fully. Your best practice for curating photos for your websites is to use quality stock images from sites with open licenses. A lot of sites require you to pay but there are also free sites.

All photos on the following sites have free photos and in some cases videos to use without asking permission or giving credit. They are free of copyright laws in all countries and are open-licensed due to being under a creative commons public domain. Though giving credit is encouraged to help the artists and photographers gain visibility. They can be used for commercial and non-commercial purposes. Most allow modification of photos just double check the license on the website.

  • Unsplash
  • Pixabay
  • Pexels
  • Burst
  • Reshot
  • Gratisography
  • org
  • Picography
  • Picjumbo
  • Styledstock

Creative Commons Domain

This is a global initiative that gives creators a platform to submit their work. It comprises of a variety of license types. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization. So, if you wish to use any content you can do so free of charge. However, credit must be given to the creator(s) or source.

Before using any content from the Creative Commons catalogue you must be aware of the 4 types of licenses that content can fall under:

  • NC: Non-Commercial: Images cannot be used to make a profit. You cannot you them for advertising your products and services, which includes Email Marketing.
  • BY: Attribution: You must give credit to the creator. In this case cropping out their watermark or placing your own on top of theirs is prohibited.
  • ND: No Derivatives: You are not allowed to alter the original work. You should not create something new from the original, or modify it in any way.
  • SA: Share Alike: This is a quid pro quo allowing a very lenient usage. You can modify the work. However, you must in return allow other users to have access and modify the work you create. You hold no copyright to the new modified work.

Trend carefully with content taken from Creative Commons. If you violate the license of the work you are using and use it outside of the stipulated license then your permission is revoked and you are in copyright violation. For example, you cannot use a video that has a No Derivatives license as a Share Alike license.

The Rule of Thumb

Always check the fine print on any website you are using. Do not just take images and videos. First, check if they are from a source with a Creative Commons license or explicitly states that the content is copyright free. Wherever you can give credit to the creators. Adding a tagline under a photo crediting the creator is a great way to help and reciprocate gratitude. There are many sources on the internet to find enhancing work for your own content. Stick to the rules and you will be fine.