In online communities such as the StackExchange network, many people use images of their favorite movie or comic characters as profile images/avatars.

In the US, this is apparently legal due to the "fair use policy" (cf. Is it legal to use movie frames or actor images as online avatars?). However, "fair use" is a US concept for which (to the best of my knowledge) nothing similar exists in the European Union.

I remember researching this particular question with respect to the legal situation in Austria, and came to the conclusion that the right of Privatkopie ("private copy") does not apply, since making the copy available publicly is explicitly forbidden (§ 42 Abs. 5 UrhG).

This, however, was many years ago, and, in the meantime, a lot of EU legislation on copyright has been passed, which might override national legislation. Hence my question:

In the EU, is it (currently, 2021) legal to use a copyrighted image as a "profile image" (i.e., a low-resolution image shown next to your user name for illustration purposes) in online communities without permission from the copyright holder?

  • The UK has "fair dealing" in its copyright law. EU nations probably have similar rules, but this is not something the EU as a body regulates, so it will depend on the country you are in. Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 18:49
  • Most jurisdictions include a right to cite or quote, and this right is usually extend to both music and movies. Using a still frame from a movie can arguably be counted as "quoting" the movie.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 7:33
  • @PaulJohnson on the contrary, there is an EU copyright directive: eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/dir/2019/790/oj
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 12:54
  • 1
    @Polygnome but that right is typically subject to certain restrictions. Even if it is established that it is a quotation of the movie, therefore, that is unlikely to be sufficient to establish that the use is permissible.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 12:55
  • 1
    @Polygnome I doubt it would. Especially, without any reference to the original. Quoting requires that, otherwise its not "quoting", but plagiarizing or flat-out infringing.
    – kisspuska
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 8:12

1 Answer 1



Any person may make single copies of a work on paper or a similar data carrier for their own use (including for professional use), and on any other data carrier (particularly digital copies) only for personal use and neither for direct nor indirect commercial use.

An avatar would appear to be personal use.

  • 2
    -1 It would rather appear as distribution just like using a torrent client and sending even the tiniest blocks of data back to peers.
    – kisspuska
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 8:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .