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Why intellectual property law can leave you with a bitter taste!

Posted by Adrian Davis on

Cover photo by

The internet is overflowing with some great, and some not so great, photography. Sometimes it feels like it would be so easy to just ‘borrow’ a photo (God knows we're suckers for a freebie). But why put your business at risk for a photo? Every time we spot a good image, we think ‘that image is perfect for a project we're working on’. But, you won’t spot any of those photos here. Why? Because those photos, that seem so easily available, actually aren’t free to use. They’re protected by intellectual property law! Sounds like it might be official (and expensive), and if you get caught the wrong side of it, it almost certainly will be.

It doesn't matter whether they were taken by John Smith for an obscure personal blog or by Ansel Adams. If we used them, we’d be breaking the law, and leaving ourselves open for fines and legal fees ranging in to the tens of thousands of pounds.

Now, we're not sure about you but we're not in a position to throw thousands of pounds away.

So what is Intellectual Property Law?

Working as designer, photographer, or anywhere in the creative industry, Intellectual property law is your friend. IP (for short) is legal protection that is granted to any unique creation of an individual or organisation. It protects your creations from being stolen and used without your say so. For this reason, respecting other peoples IP is a must.

So what the difference between intellectual property and copyright?

Well in a few words there’s not much. Copyright is a type of Intellectual Property that's automatically granted to the creator. Despite what people may think you don't actually need a copyright symbol anywhere near your work to claim the copyright. The instant you publish it, it’s yours.

Other forms of Intellectual Property include Trade Marks, Registered Designs and Patents. These forms of IP are all for 'unique' or new creations, and if you want to use them you’ll have to go through a lengthy application process to prove you aren't treading on anyone’s toes.

Find out more about intellectual Property here

But I only want to use for personal use, isn’t that okay?

Photo by

Short answer: No! It doesn’t matter if:

  • You run a non commercial website (you make no money from it)
  • You link to the photo source and give attribution to the photographer
  • You did it innocently (honest Guv)
  • You take the photo down after receiving a takedown notice
  • The picture is licensed to your designer
  • You have a disclaimer on your site
  • The photo is embedded instead of saved on your server
  • You resized the picture
  • You found it on a social media site (facebook, twitter etc)
  • Someone else used the photo as well

If you haven’t got permission, you haven’t got permission, and can still fall foul of the law.

When inspiration can turn in to imitation

If you create something new, say a photograph, painting or a song, these new creations automatically become yours and cannot be reused, distributed or adapted without your permission. The most important part of this statement is 'adapted'. While taking inspiration in a piece of work is okay, making a few alterations here and there to an original can still land you in big trouble. If a substantial part of the ‘new’ work is still recognisable as the original you may have crossed a thin blurry line from inspiration into plagiarism.

If you don’t believe me check out this case here

But I really don't want to pay for stock photography, where can I go? 

So you don’t have the time or you haven’t got the know how to take your own photos. Don’t fret, you won't be on your ow and there are websites out there that you can go to. These sites use a CC0 license policy (CC0 stands for Creative Commons zero license)

This basically translates to: contributors have waived their rights and given the works to the public domain, so you and we can do what we wish with the images (aren’t they nice).

You may think that they would be filled with low quality useless photos of strange people laughing at salads, but you’d be wrong. These sites are filled with high quality photography that we can all enjoy.



Jay Mantri

Little Visuals 




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