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4 Copyright Questions Every Marketer Should Know How to Answer

4 Copyright Questions Every Marketer Should Know How to Answer

Alex Geer

While you’re a trained marketer, the truth is you probably don’t have a law degree or a ton of legal expertise. Your eyes may even start to glaze over when your team members mention image copyrights, license agreements and usage rights

We get it. Copyright is not the most exciting topic, but it’s important — really important. 


You know the value of a photo when you’re trying to engage your audience. In our recent 2018 Report: Engaging Your Audience with Visual Content, we learned that 70% of marketers achieve better results when they share visual assets and over 65% use visuals to engage their audience every single day. 

There’s no question the demand for visual content is on the rise, but the question is, do you understand the cost of using an image you aren’t licensed to use? 

In another recent Libris survey, we found that almost 75% of marketers don’t have a good system for tracking when image licenses and usage rights expire. 

Tracking image licenses is a time-consuming, tedious, yet necessary, task that too often slips through the cracks — at high cost. A recent study by the American Intellectual Property Law Association estimated the average cost of litigating a copyright infringement case ranged from $384,000 to $2 million. Every year, countless companies ranging from small businesses to major retail brands are slammed for using images without permission.

If a million-dollar lawsuit isn’t scary enough, using a photo you don’t have the rights to use can result in a social media firestorm and a PR nightmare for your brand. 

The bottom line: As you race to keep up with the constant demand for visual content, keep track of your usage rights. Don’t risk a lawsuit or your brand’s reputation. 

To keep your organization out of hot water, make sure you can answer these four important image copyright questions:

Question 1: If you source photos from a photographer, what are your usage rights?  

It’s important to keep an organized visual media library, not only to help your team work faster, but also to reduce the risk of violating copyright agreements. In a Libris survey, we learned that almost one third of marketers don’t know how to locate the copyrights or usage rights information on images shared by their company. That’s a problem.

When you source photos, make sure to have a clear legal agreement with the photographer. If your organization works with a freelance photographer, you need to know what rights the photographer has granted your brand. Where are you allowed to share the photo? Is usage restricted to one project, or are you allowed to use the photo in any project you want? Are you allowed to license the photo to anyone else? All of these questions should be answered in your usage rights agreement with the photographer.

Question 2: Are you taking advantage of metadata?

When you add photos to your media library, it’s essential that those assets are tagged with metadata – keywords, captions, the photographer’s name, copyright and any usage rights information. Many common photo editing and photo management software like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and Photo Mechanic allow you to edit image IPTC metadata directly. In Libris, you can also edit these fields easily. Here’s a view of what that looks like: 

Note, if you have a Libris account, you can also the Custom Metadata tool to help customize your image tagging and searching experience, separate from the standard IPTC metadata fields. Custom metadata fields makes it easier for you and your stakeholders to find images with commonly used terms, customized specifically to your organization’s needs. See here: 

Question 3: When it’s time to share images, is checking usage rights part of your workflow? 

When the time comes to share a photo, make sure to have a system (like a metadata structure  or Libris License Alerts) to easily access the usage rights information. This will help you ensure you are using the image according to your agreement. 

You might remember the terms of your agreement in the short term, but it’s important to have easy access to that information in the long term. Preserving copyright information along with an image will help you understand your rights no matter how long ago the photo was taken. Plus, it will help you reduce the risk of using an image after your license has expired (which could result in a costly lawsuit and a PR disaster).

Question 4: Do you understand photographers’ rights? 

Brands should know that if a photographer publishes an image without registering their copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, they can still sue for damages if the image is infringed. Keep in mind that U.S. Copyright Law has two forms of damages: 1) actual, and 2) statutory.

Photographers own the copyright and have some protection from the moment they take a photo, (unless they are an employee or signed a specified work-for-hire deal). But without registration, photographers are only eligible for actual damages which means the “market value” of the image’s license, plus the defendant’s profits directly connected to the infringement, if any. 

Photographers who do register their copyright have the ability to sue for statutory damages. If a person or organization willfully infringes a photographer’s image, the photographer can sue for up to $150,000 per infringement image. Non-willful infringement has a maximum of $30,000. 

Photo Illustration by Allen Murabayashi


In an age of social media where images are freely shared constantly, marketers need a plan in place to manage their image rights. The larger the organization, the greater chance it has of being exposed to liability. In fact, in our recent Libris survey, we discovered that over 25% of teams have dealt with a copyright infringement issue in the past five years.

There are so many instances of companies being sued for huge dollar amounts (see here and here​), and some of these instances could have been prevented with more rigorous rights tracking. 

Make sure you take the right steps to understand your image usage rights and avoid costly infringements lawsuits. At the end of the day, it’s not worth the risk.For more tips on managing image copyrights and license agreements, check out Libris’ on-demand, webinar, Copyright Crash Course — What Marketers Need to Know.