Are You Legal with the Images On Your Website?

Chained CameraA couple of months ago, we got a call from a client. Getty Images notified them to say that one of Getty’s images was being used on the website and they didn’t have record of the purchase. The website in question was built about 13 years ago and we had little documentation about the images used on the site. Neither my team nor the client knew where the image came from. We ended up paying the bill, which was close to $1,000 because the image was a rights managed image.

Rights Managed (RM) refers to a licensing system usually used in photography where the customer must pay for each use or for each year. In the case of the client website above, the invoice was for multiple years of RM, which is why the bill was so high for a tiny, fairly generic image. Ouch.

In the last decade of managing websites, Matrix Group has developed policies and procedures for using, purchasing and documenting images. Here are some of our rules:

  • Unless absolutely necessary, we don’t use Rights Managed images. It’s just too hard to keep track of the licensing and we can almost always find a non-Rights Managed equivalent.
  • All purchases of images for clients are documented in our project management system. We list the image ID, a description, the source and the price. This serves as documentation for when we invoice the client, but it’s also useful should the client ever need proof of the purchase or need to know where to purchase a version at a higher resolution (e.g., if the client wants to use an image in a printed piece).
  • We have a policy against grabbing random images from the Web, especially images.google.com. It’s too risky to grab an image and use it in a comp; if that comp gets approved and then inadvertently implemented to a live site, we’re just asking for trouble.
  • If we ever contract work to a photographer, we ask to own the images and this is explicitly laid out in our agreement. Many times, photographers will give you the right to use a photo once, e.g., in your monthly magazine or brochure. But these days, magazines get put online, brochures get put online, or companies want to use the same image across a variety of marketing materials. If you don’t have the rights to continue using an image, you will need to pay multiple times for the image. It’s not always possible to negotiate this with photographers, but we will only do business with photographers that give us ownership of images outright.
  • We ask clients if they have the rights to use or re-use the images they give us. Sometimes, client will forget that they have one-time use agreement with a photographer and simply asking the question helps set the record straight.

Since we design websites, email newsletter and apps all day long, we need access to high quality images. I asked my team for their favorites and this is what I got:

For paid images, we like:

For free photos, we like:

Of course, nothing beats images you take yourselves and that you have full rights to use everywhere. Matrix Group is in the midst of a redesign of our own website and Creative Director Alex Pineda has banned the use of stock photos.

Anyway, don’t get caught with an invoice the way we did. Have a policy for image use, purchase and documentation. And always ask staff where they got the images for the website, brochure, presentation or email.

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