What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of “original works of authorship.” By virtue of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, works are protected in all 160 countries that are party to the Convention.

What’s protected by copyright?

  • All of the following, provided they are original and sufficiently creative works of authorship:
  • Literary works (all text, including computer software);
  • Musical works and sound recordings;
  • Dramatic works;
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works;
  • Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, including: photographs, illustrations and computer-generated graphics;
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works; and
  • Architectural works.

What isn’t protected by copyright?

The following items cannot be protected by copyright:

  • Ideas, concepts or discoveries;
  • Titles, names, short phrases and slogans;
  • Works that aren’t fixed in a tangible form of expression, such as improvised speech or dance;
  • Works consisting entirely of information that’s commonly available and contains no originality; and
  • Anything written or created by the US government.


When does copyright begin?               

From the moment it is created, a photo, image, music or video is automatically copyrighted.

Who owns copyright?

Any freelance artist who creates a copyrighted work, or any employer whose employees create copyrighted works as part of their job, owns the copyright on that work.

Can copyright be transferred?

Nonexclusive rights can be transferred without written notice. Transfer of exclusive rights requires written notice signed by the copyright holder or authorized representative.

What rights do copyright owners control?

Rights that allow others to:

  • Make copies of the work;
  • Distribute copies of the work;
  • Perform the work publicly (such as for plays, film or music);
  • Display the work publicly (such as for artwork or any material used on the Internet or television); and
  • Make derivative works (including making modifications, adaptations or other new uses of a work, or translating the work to another media).

Are there limitations on owners’ rights?

Fair Use or Fair Dealing doctrine allows limited copying of copyrighted works for education and research purposes. These very limited uses do not require permission from the copyright owner.

Since allowable uses can vary by country, it’s wise to seek independent legal advice before using any copyrighted material without permission.

What’s copyright infringement?

Infringement is any violation of the exclusive rights of the creator. Examples of imagery infringement include:

  • Use of whole or part of an image without permission;
  • Use beyond the scope of a license or permission;
  • Adapting an image without permission (art rendering);
  • Asking another photographer to recreate the image; and
  • Actual copying.

Why worry about copyright?

New technology enables copyright owners to identify unlicensed imagery and act to protect their rights. Infringement of those rights can result in:

  • The awarding of substantial monetary damages;
  • The infringing use being enjoined (prohibited);
  • Lawsuits and costly attorney’s fees;
  • A ruined client relationship; and
  • Criminal charges, under some circumstances.

Who’s responsible when infringements occur?

Responsible parties include:

  • The company that directly infringed, even if unintentionally;
  • Employees or individuals who participated in the infringement;
  • Anyone who published the infringing image, whether they had knowledge or not; and
  • Anyone who authorized or encouraged infringement.

What are common misconceptions about copyright?

  • If an image is on the Internet, it’s in the public domain and I don’t need permission to use it.
  • If there’s no copyright notice on the image, I don’t need permission to use it.
  • If I don’t profit from the use, I don’t need permission.
  • If I alter the image by X%, I don’t need permission.
  • If I don’t use the entire image, I don’t need permission.
  • If I remove the image after notice, I don’t owe any money to the copyright owner.
  • If I can download it, I can use it without permission.

What’s public domain?

The duration of copyright varies for different types of work and from country to country.

The following are examples of public domain in the US:

  • All works published before 1923; and
  • Works out of copyright or works that have fallen out of copyright for failure to register or renew under the 1909 Act or for lack of notice before 1989.



Images and licenses in general

What are the different types of images?

Images break down into two main types, royalty-free and rights-managed.

For royalty-free images, you get nearly unlimited commercial use. You can use the image in virtually any application, for as long as you like, in as many different projects as you like, as long as you comply with the terms of the license agreement. The image is available to use from the moment you purchase a license. Following payment of the license fee, no additional royalty payments are owed.

With rights-managed images, your right to use the image is typically restricted, with limitations placed on things such as duration of use, geographic region, industry, etc, as established by your license agreement.

Can I use royalty-free images for free?

Although royalty-free images are different from rights-managed images, all the images we represent require an appropriate license for their use. “Royalty-free” means that, once licensed, the images may be used many times for certain uses without paying further fees. But the initial license is necessary to protect yourself and your clients. When you license a royalty-free image, you can use it in nearly any application,* for as long as you like. The cost is based on file size and the number of permitted users.

*Note: Some uses need to be specially licensed at different rates and are limited in scope and duration. An example of this would be images used for website templates.

Working with Getty Images

How does Getty Images license imagery, music and other digital content?

We represent imagery, video and music created and owned by some of the world’s best photographers, filmmakers and musicians, as well as by entities such as National Geographic, Time Life, Flickr, many professional sports leagues and clubs, movie studios and more. Through contractual agreements with all of these contributors, we represent certain digital content exclusively and license these images to companies for certain uses, all over the world. We’re committed to protecting the rights of both content owners and users through appropriate licensing.

Who can license Getty Images imagery and other digital content?

Businesses license thousands of images, video clips and soundtracks per day on our websites, including gettyimages.com. Customers such as graphic designers, advertising agencies and publishers, and businesses and corporations of all sizes license our imagery for a variety of purposes, including but not limited to print advertising, billboards, newspaper and magazine articles, brochures and websites, television commercials and movies.

In addition to licensing content to business customers, we now offer individuals the ability to embed images for noncommercial purposes on websites, blogs and in social media posts. Users simply need to click the embed icon beneath an available image and agree to our terms of use.

Where can I find the license terms and information for Getty Images?

Our license information is clearly available from the License Information link on each page of our website and during the purchase path when licensing. Customers are not permitted to use imagery for any purpose without agreeing to a license. On behalf of ourselves and our represented photographers, filmmakers and other contributors, we’re committed to protecting their imagery and other digital content from unauthorized use.

I’m not a business. Can I use some of your imagery for a personal or noncommercial use without paying a fee?

Yes, individuals may embed images for noncommercial purposes on websites, blogs and in social media posts by simply clicking the embed icon beneath an available image and agreeing to our terms of use. For any other use, individuals may purchase a license at gettyimages.com.

I’m doing volunteer work for a nonprofit, charity or NGO. Can we use your imagery without paying fees if we include a thank-you or credit on our project?

Potentially, yes. If our Embed frame and size work for your communication needs, you’re welcome to use our content for free. If you need a larger size image or don’t want to use the image and its surrounding Embed frame, you’re welcome to license our imagery and we’ll provide a significant discount to help you manage your budget. We value the important role nonprofits play in our society, so contact us at community@gettyimages.com and we’ll be happy to work with you.

How can I learn more about licensing images and other digital content?

Our licensing information, which explains all the licensing models we offer, is available on every content page on our website. Be sure to review all restrictions or other notices incorporated into your license agreement when you license content from us.

I’m a designer. How can I best protect my clients when licensing imagery for them?

  • Read the terms and conditions of the licenses you secure for your clients.
  • Name your client as the “end client” in the purchase path at gettyimages.com.
  • Provide your clients with copies of all licenses for their files and ensure they know the scope of use and expiration date for the content.
  • Don’t share images you’ve licensed for a client with others.