It’s usually around this time of year that we get some institutions asking us about invoices they’ve received from image bank companies, which state that a copyrighted image has been used on the institution’s site without permission or an appropriate licence.

We’ve noticed more of these questions this year, likely due to a lot of teaching moving online under the lockdown. We can’t advise definitely on this issue – only offer general guidance for reasons given below – and we’d encourage you to seek independent legal advice if you do find yourself in receipt of an invoice. But better still, read on if you’re even thinking about putting images on the internet!

Firstly, how does this issue work with the CLA Education Licence you hold? The CLA Education Licence gives you permission to copy images from the publications covered by the Licence, but for internal circulation within your institution only. So it’s fine to put materials on a secure VLE or intranet for instance, and for registered students to access these. The permissions of the Licence cover internal copying only though, so the moment something goes public facing, for instance your website, then the activity is outside the CLA Education Licence. This is why we can only give you general advice – it’s now up to your staff to check that what they want to put on the website is copyright compliant and they have appropriate permission or a licence.

The second key issue is, where has the image in question come from? Using a search engine will return loads of results to you, but those results are getting pulled from another website. Just because the search engine has given you a result, doesn’t mean that it’s ok to use. And just because something is on the internet, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ok to use. You need to go to the source site, and check the terms and conditions. It might be fine to use the image for the purposes you have in mind, it might not be. But it’s important you check before going any further. 

Finally, remember to check anything going on your site. That means not just site content that’s used on a page itself, but also images that might be used within Word documents, PDFs and PPTs. 

We’ve created a Guide to Using Images that you can share with your staff to help protect them against the risk of copyright infringement.