A picture is worth a thousand words – so the saying goes.
Billions of photographs are uploaded to the internet every day. And because social media use is on the rise, so are the number of images being shared.
People like to share photos of themselves, their friends and things that they do.
But who owns the images you post? What can you do if someone posts images of you without your permission?
Copyright of images
Photos are generally protected by copyright. This means the person who took the photo usually owns it.
If anyone wants to use that photo, including sharing it online, they need to have the permission of the person who owns it.
But there are some exceptions. Perhaps the photo was taken by someone as part of their job. In that case, the employer would own the copyright.
Copyright of images lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years from the end of the year of their death.
Copyright laws can be complicated, such as when they relate to older photographs taken when the law was different. Speak to a legal advisor if you need help.
Ownership after you upload
Ownership doesn't change once an image is uploaded to the internet, but the rights to use it might change.
For example, if you post a photo (that you took) on a social media site like Facebook or Twitter, you will still own it, but you'll be agreeing to the site's terms and conditions. This means the site could use the photo for another purpose.
Publishing images of you without your consent
As images are shared more and more, there is a good chance that a photo you took could appear on the internet without your knowledge. Or a picture of you could be posted without your consent or knowledge.
If you took the photo, you own it. If you didn't take the photo but you are in it, someone could breach your rights by posting it.
It all depends on when and how the image was taken.
For example, if you asked someone not to take your photo and they did, it could be harassment if they publish it.
What can you do if you don't want a photo of you to be shared?
- Ask the poster to take it down. If they don't agree straight away, consider mediation.
- Ask the social media site to take it down.
- Get help from a legal advisor.
Going to court could be expensive and take a long time. But if you win, you could get the pictures removed and be awarded compensation.
People who deliberately breach copyright for commercial gain can be prosecuted.
'Revenge porn' is unfortunately becoming more and more common. This is when someone shares an intimate sexual photo or film of another person without their permission, intending to cause them distress.
It could be shared on the internet, by text message or in person.
Revenge porn is a crime. Victims should call the police on 101. It is important to keep any evidence, such as messages, images and screenshots.
Good to know
Legal Choices is a free website run by legal services regulators.
The information here is independent and just the facts. We're not trying to sell you anything.
We just tell you about things that are good to know to help you make better choices about legal issues and lawyers.
Try our dictionary
Search our dictionary for definitions of terms related to copyright.