It?s tempting to see the internet as a big open box of Quality Street, just waiting for you to dip in, rummage about a bit, and make your choice. This is particularly true of online images, where many people seem blissfully unaware of copyright issues. In an age of social media, where people simply share what they find, often regardless of the source, the temptation is to see all images as up for grabs. But there are very good reasons why this isn?t so.

Who Owns the Image You Want?
For many people photography is a hobby. For many professional photographers, it?s the way they earn their living. When images appear online they are still protected by copyright law, unless specifically stated otherwise. The same is true of illustrations and other kinds of images.

There are two main categories of images made available through online image libraries: royalty free and rights managed. When an image is royalty free this means there may be no or few restrictions on its repeated use, so it can be used on several different projects without having to keep paying more for it. It does not mean you can simply take the image and use it without paying. You will still require to purchase a licence to cover it.

Rights managed images require the user to pay for a licence which states where and how long you can use the image for. This image will be exclusively yours for the duration of the time.

There are also images in the public domain that are designated as completely free to use, donated as such by a photographer, illustrator or designer. These are classified under creative commons.

Its Your Choice, But Choose Wisely
It shouldn?t be just about the money
. Simply choosing the cheapest and most convenient option may seem economical but in the longer term is it really? Because if you?re using a non-exclusive image for your product, service or campaign, how distinctive will that be?

If you?re publishing regular blog posts or articles, it may make sense to simply use the cheapest, most convenient image to hand. But if you?re commissioning something that is commercially significant and market-sensitive, or is a flagship communication item that will help shape your entire brand, the use of imagery is going to be crucial.

If you commission your own photography or illustration instead of choosing one from a stock library, it?s like the difference between having a bespoke suite tailor-made for you or buying one ready-to-wear from a shop.

One final thing to note: if you do commission images from a third party, under copyright law, they will hold the intellectual property rights to them, so you?ll need a licence agreement setting out the uses for them. The same is true of the subjects in any professional photographs used for commercial purposes: they will need to sign a model release to allow you to use their likenesses in any image.

This might sound like a lot of effort, but Reform Creative will handle the complicated stuff on your behalf, including commissioning the images and ensuring you have the right licences for their use.

Think of what you?ll get out of it in the end and keep your eye on the prize: a campaign that will make you stand out from the competition.

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