How to tell if an image is copyrighted?

For example, I want to say that my client uses a product for their hairdressing service.

Can I use images of the product directly from the product website?

What are some general ways to tell?

And who gets sued, me or the hairdresser?

  • 4
    Basically every image is copyrighted. Any work, including images, is automatically copyrighted by the person who made it, even if they never file for a copyright officially. To use an image you, or your client, didn't make get written permission from the owner to use it on the website. Do that every time for all images. If you think an image has been released into the public domain, find proof of that. Keep that proof as documentation with the rest of the documentation for the site. Who gets sued? Done right, nobody,. otherwise, eventually you - either directly, or by the client later. – Gypsy Spellweaver Apr 16 '17 at 5:25
  • When you say "directly from the product website", do you mean doing an IMG SRC with a remote URL? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. might be relevant case law (I'm not a lawyer). You would be sued, not the hairdresser. See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_v._Arriba_Soft_Corp. (which is probably what I should've cited first). – user9872 Apr 18 '17 at 17:22

I am not a lawyer, and none of the following should be seen as legal advice.

While it is always best to assume every image has a copyright....

In your scenario... traditionally if you are selling a product, there's generally no harm in using images of that product to assist in the sale. But even then photographer copyrights should be considered. Images of products may not only contain copyrighted material within the photo, but the photo itself is probably also copyrighted by the photographer.

Just blankety taking images from other web sites is a poor practice in general and will customarily just get you into trouble. However, many manufacturers or distributors will actually provide resellers with product images. You can check the product manufacturer's web site for a "press" or "media' section. There are often downloads provided in those areas.

I don't know hairdressing.. but as an example, General Motors has a special web site known to GM car dealers where the dealers can download high resolution images of the cars and products for ads, etc. I've done work in the past for a GM dealer who provided me with the web site and log in details so I can get product imagery.

In addition, few manufacturers will take umbrage that you are using their images to sell their products. They want their products to look as good as possible wherever they may be displayed. In many cases, they may prefer you use supplied images rather than use your own.

Customarily you would include a disclaimer in the footer somewhere:

The product names, company names and product images used on this web site are for identification purposes only. All trademarks and registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Note, I am referring to images from the manufacturer's web site, not from competing businesses. If you are building a site for "Bob's Hair Styling" it's unethical to take images from "Kate's Hair Dressing" for your use. Stick to the manufacturer... if selling Paul Mitchell products, check the Paul Mitchell web site for available product images.


How to tell if an image is copyrighted

(in the United States)

Does the image exist? Then someone owns copyright to it unless:

  • The image was published in the United States prior to 1923. If so, it is now considered in the public domain.
  • It's been 95 years since the date of first publication of an image published between 1923 and 1978. Such images pass into the public domain 95 years from the date of first publication.
  • The image was an unpublished work created before 1978 and never published, and the author has been dead for 70 years.
  • If the author died over 70 years ago, the copyright to an unpublished work created after 1923 lasted until December 31, 2002. (But if such a work was later published before December 31, 2002, the copyright will last until December 31, 2047.)
  • If the author or subsequent owner of the copyright explicitly assigned the work to the public domain via an instrument such as some types of creative commons licenses. Under such circumstances, technically the work is still under copyright, but the owner has granted an irrevocable license for its use by anyone.

Items which would not have yet automatically passed into the public domain:

  • For works published after 1977, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years if the author retain the rights to the image at the time of their death.
  • If the work was a work for hire (that is, the work is done in the course of employment or has been specifically commissioned and the rights were assigned to another party by the author) or is published anonymously or under a pseudonym, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date the work is published.

"Published" would include any means by which the work would be available to the public on an unrestricted basis. This would include, among other things, posting on the internet, printing in a book, or selling posters of the work.

  • 1
    @MikeClark You forgot 40 years of unrenewed copyrights. >80% of created: 1923-1964 items passed into the PD due to lack of required renewal. 1965+ got auto renewal. Search newer copyright office records online or older records not yet digitized in the huuuuuuugeeeee pdf CCE, a scan of every copyright entry by year old school phonebook style. Learn the codes and the anno volume breakouts before trying to wade through the 8000? IIRC volumes...500-800 pages per volume or so. Sux to realize u spent 4 hours looking at titles of 1939 plays, not 1939 movies cuz the codes. Or lyrics vs sheet music rec – SharePoint'Ai v2'09 Jul 20 '17 at 11:38

Don't put yourself in a position where you can get sued.

Use licensed stock photography or images which have a license that allows you to use them in a commercial project.

Any other material: have your client supply them, and include in your contract that you assume that any material is obtained in a correct fashion with respect for copyright and licensing. That should take care of liability issues.

  • How does this address the question asked: "How can you tell"? – user6726 Apr 19 '17 at 19:27