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The short answer is ‘Yes, it’s illegal,’ even for private use. The UK Law is very clear when it comes to the illegality of copying songs, films or images from the internet.  Copying images from the internet without permission is illegal under Britain’s copyright laws.

Although this seems to be a known fact, we still see a huge amount of copyright issues relating to images on the internet. We are going to give you a short overview of copyright law in the UK and information on what to do to protect your images on the internet.

Copyright in images

Photographs and digital images are almost always protected by copyright as artistic works. As soon as an image is created, provided that it’s someone’s original creation it is granted copyright protection.

Copyright protection basically means that if someone wants to use or share your work on the internet, they need to ask for permission first. The images that can hold copyright protection include digital photos, photographic film and images created from them and illustrations.

Who owns the copyright in an image?

The person who created the image is the owner of the copyright. However, in some situations, this might differ, for example, if the image was created as part of the creator’s employment, the employer will own the copyright.

In some other circumstances, the creator can choose to allow an organisation to license their work or transfer the copyright to another person. This will usually happen for a specific period of time or specific use of the image.

How long does copyright in images last for?

The length of the copyright depends on when the image was created, but in general, the UK copyright in images will last for the creator’s lifetime plus 70 years after their death.

Essentially, images less than 70 years old are still in copyright and images more than 70 years old might still be in copyright depending on the year the creator died.

How to stop someone from using your work:

If someone is using your work without your permission, there are a few things you can do:

  • Try and talk to the person you think has used your work.
  • If you cannot resolve the matter with the other party, then mediation can help you solve intellectual property disputes including copyright without going to court.
  • Finally, for certain situations, taking the case to court can be the best solution.

How to use online images without violating copyright:

Although the rule of thumb is that you must receive authorisation from the creator in order to use his/her image, nowadays billions of pictures on the internet are used without being authorised.

Specific images on the internet have certain permissions, for example, some pictures can be used if you credit the creator. There also many websites online that provide free of copyright images that you can use and share.

We would still advice you to always read the terms and conditions of the website supplying the image. Make sure you use freely licensed images and comply with the individual image’s licence terms for attribution and usage.


Copyright infringement can be a serious criminal matter so please contact us if you require legal advice.