There have been a couple of recent cases in the Diocese of York of local churches being chased by copyright owners for use of pictures on parish websites or social media.

It happens easily - we search for a picture of a person or place we want to mention in a story or a notice, we copy or save it, and include it on our own website. The problem is that pictures we find online are just as likely to be copyright as those we see in print, in a newspaper or magazine.

Sometimes you'll hear someone suggest that 'Google images are free to use' - this is untrue, and actually based on a wrong idea. When you use an internet search engine like Google, Bing or others to search for images, it simply provides you with a visual link to the website or page on which that image appears. There is actually no such thing as a 'Google Image' even if you found it on a search page headed 'Google Images'!

If you use a copyright image on your website without permission, you may get a letter, an invoice or - at worst - even a summons from the copyright owner or their agent. The higher the profile of the subject, the more careful you need to be - there is potential commercial value in a professional photo of (say) an Archbishop or another high-profile public figure, or newsworthy event.

So what can you do?

York Diocesan Communications Director Martin Sheppard offers some suggestions:

  1. If you need a generic picture of, say, a tree, a beach, rain falling in a puddle, a dog... there are some excellent online sources for free-to-use high-quality photography. For diocesan purposes the ones we use most are at www.unsplash.com and www.pixabay.com. You can search for keywords, but be prepared to be creative if you don't find precisely what you were looking for in the first place - a bit of lateral thinking is preferable to being had up for breach of copyright.
  2. If you're looking for pictures of events or people within the Diocese of York - say the enthronement of the Archbishop, or an ordination - the diocesan Communications team makes its photos freely available via www.flickr.com/photos/DioceseofYork. Browse the 'albums' tab and you can use any of the photos there, which are generally taken at 'set piece' services and events. Usually, following an event such as an ordination service or services, the Diocese sends out the link to the new photo album within a day or two, on the website at www.dioceseofyork.org.uk, and on both Facebook and Twitter via @DioceseofYork.
  3. If you can use your own photos then of course you don't have a problem. But otherwise, make sure you have explicit permission from the photographer or copyright owner. If it's someone in your own church or well-known to you, verbal permission may be enough. But never assume that a photo found via a search engine from a random source will be copyright-free, unless you can be certain.

Martin is happy to be consulted if it helps: reach him at martin.sheppard@yorkdiocese.org.