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For a small business starting out, there are many things to consider when creating a company website. Which elements to include, what to write, how to word it and how to best express your brand and visual identity - the list goes on!

When exploring visuals, most of your energy is probably centered on your visual style and how the overall aesthetic comes together to showcase your products or services in the best way possible.

An aspect related to finding and choosing visuals that is often overlooked by companies starting out, is copyright. 

As a company advertising your products or services online, you are considered a commercial actor and the internet is a place with its own legal ramifications.

This also relates to how you use content.

Whether you’re using content that you have created and own or content that someone else has created, the rules of copyright law are relevant to you:

  • If you publish content that you have created, it is protected by copyright and you own the copyright to the content, meaning that you can use it as you please
  • If you publish content that you have not created, it is also protected by copyright and the individual or company that created it then owns the copyright - if you wish to use this content, you must then ask the copyright owner for permission or get a license to use it

If you use and publish someone else’s content without permission or a valid license (or if someone else uses yours without these), you are infringing on their copyright.

And it’s safe to say that copyright infringement is bad for your business - and for more than one reason!

Reason 1: It’s bad for your brand

You’ve probably heard about corporate social responsibility time and time again and you (most likely), agree that companies operating in society have a social responsibility and that they must be conscious of their impact on the world.

Arguably, in our information-sharing age, staying savvy on the rules of copyright law should be considered part of your digital responsibility; and not acting in sync with these rules is not only unfair and disrespectful to content creators, but ultimately it could make your company look bad. 

Reason 2: It’s bad for your content-karma

Let's be frank here:

Using someone else’s hard work without crediting or paying the creator is just plain unfair.

Behind the creation lies time, money, effort, perhaps years of experience and probably also some expensive equipment. So not only is using the creator’s work without permission wronging him or her on a moral level, but it is also a threat to their livelihood as a professional.

'Cause let’s face it; nobody wants to work for free - and neither would you, so why should they?

Reason 3: It’s bad for your wallet

As if you needed more reasons not to infringe on someone’s copyright!

Not only will it cost you to infringe on copyright in itself; additional costs may also come into play, depending on how long you have used the content and the value of the content (i.e. the listing price of the photo).

In the following we will take a look at the five typical copyright mistakes that small businesses make when creating their company webpage.

Avoiding these mistakes will not only help you avoid infringing on someone's copyright, but also set you and your business off to a good start in your endeavours of creating a solid online presence.

So let’s get to it!

1. Believing that copyright law is something that only applies to lawyers 

“So what do you know about copyright law?”

“Well.. Copyright is something about protecting something, I think -but I’m not a lawyer, so...”

Many people believe that copyright law doesn’t apply to them. They know that copyright is a thing - it’s just that it’s one of those things that applies to someone else!

In this case: legal professionals. 

But the truth is that copyright law doesn’t exclusively apply to someone that works with the law on the daily; copyright law applies to everyone that deals with content.

Whether you’re dealing with content that you have created yourself or that someone else has crafted, the rules of copyright law apply.

And when you act as a commercial actor online, there are legal ramifications to be aware of and it is your responsibility as a company to be in-the-know about what these are.

In practice, this could mean making sure that everyone in your company is onboard with the rules of copyright (or at least what it means and how to avoid infringements). making it a part of your content strategy or a key competence among those in your communications department. 

2. Using an image you found on Google

If your idea of finding image content for your website consists of a quick Google Image search, copy and paste, then you’re in trouble.

You’d think it was a no-brainer; but this is one of several myths about copyright that is still very much alive and many companies surprisingly (still) do this. 

With so many images available at your fingertips, and with so many free-to-use services online e.g. e-mail, social media, free apps etc., you could easily get the impression that the internet is a free-for-all buffet of stuff that you can just use as you please. 

And although this may sound nice, it just doesn’t happen to be the case!

It should not come as a big surprise that - as with all images - the one you found via Google Images was created or taken by someone - and that someone owns the copyright to the image.

The problem is not so much the way you found the image, but rather you using it without permission or a license from the copyright owner. 

If you get this, then you can go ahead and use the image, but we don’t recommend finding image content this way, as it can be difficult to track down who the original copyright owner is as the image may have been shared (perhaps in an unauthorized way) multiple times, and the webpage where the image appears may be far away from the original source.

Unless you are 100% sure who owns the copyright and that you have received the green light to use the image, do not use it!

Instead, do it the right way: Find a photographer and schedule a photoshoot for customized images or, for a budget-friendly alternative, try experimenting with stock images by finding a stock photo agency or site online.

Today, a wide variety of stock images are available, ranging from beautifully styled images, to avantgarde, to more authentic styles.

Regardless of what you are going for, it’s possible to go the stock-image-route without looking stocky!

3. Assuming that if there is no copyright symbol or watermark on a photo, then you can use it

A common misconception about copyright is that, in order for an image to be protected by copyright, it needs to have a copyright symbol (the circle with the letter “c” inside it) or a watermark. 

The truth is that when a work is created - that being e.g. a book, text copy or a photo - it is automatically protected by the rules of copyright law.                                                                   

In other words, you do not manually have to apply or register for copyright or add any symbol to communicate to others that a work is protected. 

But if a work doesn’t require a watermark in order to be protected by copyright, then why do people use them?

Although not a requirement for copyright, watermarks can serve the purpose of informing others that a creator owns the copyright to his or her work and intends to enforce it if someone infringes upon it.         

This has the advantage of possibly discouraging infringement, as well as preventing a situation where the infringer claims that they didn’t know that the work was copyrighted.

Finally, adding a watermark to an image may prevent others from using it as the watermark can distort the image, making it less appealing as less likely that anyone would want to use it.

4. Not checking who the real copyright owner is 

Another situation that often occurs is when someone has given an image to you, they have allowed you to use it and post it, but this someone in reality does not own the copyright and therefore is not the person you should really be asking.

For instance, you may be working with a client or colleague that has given you some photos that they have allowed you to use.

Most people would then say “great, thanks” and use the photos without question - ‘cause you got permission.. Right? 

Well, not necessarily. 

Often people get the concept of copyright wrong and believe that, since they e.g. bought an image or have used it themselves, then they own the copyright and therefore, if you get their permission, you can use it too.

In the case of someone buying an image from a photographer, they may be allowed to use the image and publish it on their webpage or other, but it is still the creator of the work, i.e. the photographer, who owns the copyright.

Unless the creator of the work has actually transferred the copyright to someone else, they will always be the copyright owner. 

Also, as with all rules, several exceptions to copyright exist (read more about these here). 

Therefore: always make sure that you research who the copyright owner is, especially if the image that you would like to use has been sent to you from someone else that didn’t create it themselves! (this also applies if they are in the photo!). 

5. Assuming that no one will find out that you’ve used a copyright-protected work without permission

A common mistake that small businesses make is assuming that no one cares about where they get their content. 

They may believe that - since they are not a large corporation - using that photo they found somewhere far down page three of a Google Image search will go unnoticed and somehow doesn’t matter.

After all, they don’t have that many visitors anyway, so who will even see it?

This way of thinking is flawed for several reasons.

For one, regardless of whether you are a large corporation of 400 employees, a smaller organization of five employees or a one-man or -woman show, copyright infringement is still copyright infringement. 

And it's infringement regardless of how many eyes have seen it.

But isn’t a large corporation more likely to be the one getting in trouble?

Probably. This makes sense since the larger the size of the company, the more likely it is to be in the public eye, and therefore more eyes are scrutinizing the good and bad behaviour that it participates in.

It could even put them in the midst of a shit-storm that they could easily have avoided if they had spent that little bit of extra energy to check up on copyright!

But regardless of the size of the company that does it, using an image without permission or license is infringement of copyright and the copyright owner per definition has the right to enforce his/her copyright - and the company will have to compensate for the breach. 

Secondly, in our digital world with content being uploaded, shared and used at a higher rate than ever before, copyright protection in the online realm is more important than ever.

This is something that, quite naturally, has been picked up on by tech-companies and, today, a range of different software solutions exist to protect content creators’ image and text content from unauthorized use online. 

These solutions are designed to identify when copyright infringements have taken place and do not distinguish between whether the company that has done it is large or small. 

In other words: 

Copyright does not care about how big your company is. All it cares about is how you use the content!

A company is never too small to care about copyright or for anyone to care about where they get the content from that they post online.

Staying copyright savvy is therefore your responsibility as a company, regardless of your size.

At Copyright Agent, we help content creators safeguard their content from unauthorized use online. Whether you are (or represent) the creator or you guidance on how to avoid using unlicensed content, we can help - and it’s easier than you think.

See more here.

Key takeaways

When building a solid online presence, there are many things to consider when creating a company website. 

Although growing your business comes with its learnings and a fair share or trial and error, when it comes to using content, it is best to get it right from the start. 

And getting it right means avoiding typical copyright mistakes that too many small businesses have made before yours.

So when finding and using content for your website, keep the following in mind:

  • Copyright law is not just for lawyers! Whether you use content or create content, the rules of copyright apply to you
  • Photos found via a Google Images search are not free and if you wish to use them, ALWAYS go to the original source and make sure you get permission or a license from the copyright owner to use them 
  • You can save yourself the hassle of not finding the original copyright owner to images by choosing a photographer to custom-create images or finding images from a stock photo agency
  • Copyright protection applies as soon as an image is created - regardless of whether it has a watermark or not!
  • People sometimes think that they are the copyright owner, when they in reality are not - so always make sure that the person who you ask for permission actually owns the copyright!
  • Your business is never too small to care about copyright and where you get your content from - copyright infringement is copyright infringement, regardless of how many employees work for you and how many visitors you have on your site!

Get in touch 

In doubt about whether the rules of copyright apply in your situation? Or just interested in knowing more about how to stay copyright compliant online?

Feel free to reach out to us at and get in touch with a legal expert in your area!

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