As you browse online, you’re often inundated with images. In many cases, you may come across an image and think, “That would be great for my website!” It could set the tone for your homepage or fit perfectly with your latest blog post. 

Often, when you come across images online, they’re copyrighted; using them without permission is prohibited by law. But how can you tell if an image is copyrighted before using it on your law firm’s website or your social media sites like Instagram or Facebook?

And how do you find images that will fit your needs without violating copyright standards? 

Read on for a look at the reasons people have for copyrighting images, how to determine whether an image is copyrighted, and when you may have permission to use an image in spite of copyrights already in place.

Why Are Images Copyrighted?

Images are copyrighted for essentially the same reason as any other type of intellectual property: to prevent others from reproducing, using, or displaying an image without the owner/creator’s permission.

Image creators — whether they are photographers, graphic designers, or artists — put extensive time and effort into their work.

They may have specific uses for their images and may want to prevent usage that isn’t in keeping with their intentions. Or, they may just want to get paid for their work.

When an artist, creator, or company has a copyright over an image, they have the exclusive right to decide what happens to that image, including:

  • Displaying it on websites
  • Reproducing or recreating the work in any form
  • Creating works based on that piece
  • Distributing any copies of that piece, including copies that might appear in newsletters, articles, and websites

Copyright violations can result in fines and penalties to the person or business that violates that copyright–and that’s a consequence you likely do not want for your law firm.

How Do I Identify If Images are Copyrighted?

Sometimes, identifying copyrighted images is simple. If you find an image on an artist’s website, chances are that image is copyrighted.

When in doubt, you should always assume that you do not have legal permission to use an image until you identify the image creator and determine whether you can reasonably use the image for your purposes.

You may notice several key indicators on the image itself that will let you know whether it is copyrighted.

In other cases, you may need to dig a little deeper to make sure an image is available for you to use.


Often, artists and creators mark their images with a watermark: a specific logo or signature placed over the top of the image to prevent others from distributing the image without acknowledging the artist. If you notice a watermark on the image, you can assume it is the property of the party named on the image.


Often, the captions associated with an image will let you know who owns the rights to the image. Captions are often used to note who took a picture or created a specific piece of art, including digital art. If you see a caption on an image, it will likely include a photo credit for the photographer. 


In some cases, artists will embed information in the metadata that will let you know to whom a specific image belongs and what steps you might need to take in order to use it. Metadata is also usually transferred with an image, including an image that has been stolen from another source. 

To access metadata, right-click and select the “properties” option. This simple step will give you a quick look at whether the creator’s information is contained within the data for the image. 

Other Strategies

Sometimes, you may find an image on the web that does not seem to contain clear copyright information. If you’re planning to use the image for marketing purposes, it’s important to make sure the image is free for you to use before you attempt to use it. 

You may want to try:

  • A reverse image search, which will let you see the image’s original source or whether it has been used in other locations
  • Searching the US Copyright Database

Keep in mind that images do not necessarily have to be listed in the Copyright Database to be protected.

How Do I Request Permission to Use a Copyrighted Image?

If you’ve found the perfect image for your attorney website, you may not want to walk away from it — even if it’s copyrighted. Fortunately, you can use the copyright information to request permission. 

The same information that lets you know that the image is copyrighted may provide you with the data you need to contact the image creator or copyright holder.

Contact that party to let them know that you would like to use the image. 

2. Share information about how you would like to use the image

Often, image creators and copyright holders will be willing to share their images with you. In some cases, they may offer it for free or for a nominal fee. In other cases, you may have to pay a larger fee to use the image, especially if you intend to use it for marketing purposes. 

The permission you receive may depend on how you intend to use the image, as well as who else has used the image in the past. For example, if the image has been sold to another law firm for similar purposes, the creator’s contract may specify that they cannot sell that image to another firm.

3. Negotiate terms of use 

The image creator will help negotiate a contract that will determine how you can use the image. 

You may want permission for:

  • A single, one-time use
  • Regular use of the image
  • Use of the image on specific types of materials (printed, virtual, etc)

Make sure you clearly define what permissions you have regarding the image and stick to the terms of the contract to help protect your business. 

When You Don’t Need Permission to Use an Image

When in doubt, it’s usually a good idea to assume that you need permission to use a specific image for your attorney website. However, there are some cases when you may not need permission to use an image. 

In order to be copyrighted, the image must be original, fixed, and a work of authorship. 

The US Copyright Office notes that some types of work cannot be protected by copyright, including:

  • Common, familiar symbols and designs
  • Blank forms
  • Typefaces
  • Fonts
  • Lettering

If the image you’re considering falls into one of those categories — e.g., a specific type of lettering that you feel perfectly fits your brand — it may not have copyright protection.

Public Domain Images

Some images are deliberately placed within the public domain. In fact, you can often find free images on sites like Shutterstock or iStockPhoto. Other images fall into the public domain for a variety of reasons.

For example, the original term of a copyright usually ends 70 years after the death of the last surviving creator. 

Scholarly Uses

In some cases, you may intend to use an image on your website in a way that is not intended to violate copyright. For example, you might intend to use a specific image for commentary purposes: discussing legal challenges displayed within the image.

In that case, you would need to link back to the image’s original source. However, it is usually practical and prudent to ensure that you have received permission to use the image so that you do not run into any legal snares down the road.

LawRank Can Manage Your Website and Create the Perfect Images for Your Law Firm.

Dealing with images on your website, including legal permissions, can be complicated. As a lawyer, your focus likely isn’t on photography or image creation. Nevertheless, you likely need those images to give your website a great visual design and user experience.

At LawRank, we build law firm websites from scratch; we choose and create bold and dynamic images for your content that grab readers’ attention and make them want to pick up the phone and call you.

We can manage the process of gaining permission to use copyrighted images, so you don’t have to.  But more than that, we can help your website rank on the first pages of search engines like Google, so that your attorney website gets the traffic it deserves. We have a demonstrated history of doing just that.

Are you ready to learn more about legal marketing and lawyer SEO? Contact us today to learn more about how our SEO agency for law firms can help you make your website look its best.