Copyright of images

Photos are usually protected by copyright as they are thought of as artistic works. Copyright happens automatically in the UK when a photograph is created, as long as it meets the needed criteria for copyright protection. This means the person who took the photo usually owns it. The copyright of images usually lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years from the end of the year of their death.

There are times when this is not the case. For example if a photo was taken by someone as part of their job. Then the employer would usually own the copyright for the photo. But there might be an agreement in place to say otherwise.

The owner of the copyright can also transfer ownership or licence the copyright to other people. Then the original photographer may no longer be the owner of the copyright.

If anyone wants to use a photo that someone else owns copyright for, they need to have the permission of the person who owns it. This includes posting it online.

If you think someone has been using a photo you own the copyright to without your permission, you could contact them. You could let them know that you own the copyright and you would like them to take it down. If they do not agree to this, you could ask the website operator where your photo has been posted to take it down. If this also doesn’t work, you could think about taking legal action for copyright infringement. Copyright laws can be complicated. For example when they relate to older photographs taken when the law was different. You should speak to a legal adviser 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, you will still own it, but you'll be agreeing to the site's terms and conditions. These may give the website operators a licence to use copyright photos. This means the site could use, copy or edit your photo for different things without you knowing. You should always check the website’s terms and conditions before you upload photos if you are worried about your photos being used without your knowledge. 

Other people may also be able to share any posts you upload with your photo without your knowledge or telling them they can. 

Publishing images of you without your consent

As images are shared more and more, there is a good chance that a picture of you could be posted without your consent or knowledge.

If you took the photo, you usually own it. But, if you didn’t take the photo but you are in it, someone could breach your rights (such as data protection or privacy rights) by posting it. This can be true even if you do not own the copyright to it. If your rights have been breached will depend on how the photo has been used. It will depend the person posting the photo had a legal basis to do so. If you don’t know if your rights have been breached, you should speak to a legal adviser. Things that may be considered are:

  • if the photo was taken in public or on private property
  • who took the photo
  • if there are children in the photo 
  • what is happening in the photo.

If someone has posted a photo of you that you do not want to be shared, you can ask the poster to take it down. If they don't agree to take it down, you could think about speaking to a legal adviser. You could also try using mediation to try and fix the issue.

You could also ask the social media site where the photo is posted to take it down. If the social media site will not take it down either, you could think about speaking to a legal adviser. They can tell you what legal steps you can take to have the photo taken down. This may change depending on the situation. 

Revenge porn

'Revenge porn' is unfortunately happening more and more often. This is when someone shares an intimate sexual photo or film of someone else without their permission. This is intended 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.

Help is available from a legal adviser. Support is also available from the Revenge Porn Helpline and Victim Support. You can call Victim Support free on 0808 168 9111.