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Using commercial images on GOV.UK: draft standards

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Best practice

The information in this blogpost may now be out of date. See the current GOV.UK content and publishing guidance.

We’ve been asked a few questions recently about copyright on commercial images used on GOV.UK. And we’ve worked with colleagues at The National Archives to develop some basic guidelines, as follows.

Licences are forever

Any image you buy will be captured permanently by The National Archives - so you need to buy a license for perpetual use.

All government webpages are captured by The National Archives, who have responsibility for preserving the public record.

This means that all the words and pictures you publish will be permanently publicly viewable in archive form (Eg, remember Directgov?). Any commercial image license you buy needs to reflect this fact.

So if you use a commercial image on a GOV.UK domain - or in official publications published on the site - it needs to be:

The point on attribution is particularly important because all govt content is available for re-use, unless stated otherwise - so failure to attribute an image could lead to multiple copyright violations.

Common mistakes and things to watch out for

As well as the above, if you go shopping at a commercial image library, you need to:

  • make sure you buy the digital rights (not just in print)

  • avoid paying for images based on the number of page impressions

Also, remember to apply these same principles when putting presentations together whether it's for an internal or external audience – copyright applies to the images you use then too.

What can you do instead?

Ways of avoiding these copyright issues - and paying for photo libraries - are to use:

We’d like your feedback

The above standards seem fairly straightforward and sensible to us, and a pretty good way of protecting ourselves from potential legal action due to accidental misuse of copyrighted images.

They are designed to apply to any images used by central government, whether on the GOV.UK site or another domain.

We’re planning on taking these proposals to departmental GOV.UK leads next month - so please shout if there are any issues we’ve not thought of.

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  1. Comment by Lawrence Gibbens posted on

    Some Government organisations have commercial arrangements with photo libraries to sell images acquired in their field. The income from these sales goes a little way to offsetting the cost of acquisition. As these are contractual arrangements the images are not considered part of OGL.

    These arrangements are based on delegations from The National Archives.

    While these images are crown copyright how would users know they are not included in the OGL?

    • Replies to Lawrence Gibbens>

      Comment by Graham Francis posted on

      Hi Lawrence

      'How would users know' is the question. I think that copyright disclaimers like the one used on* and copyright attribution in or near the image in question would have to make the status of any material appearing on a site clear.

      Delegations of authority ( do enable licensing arrangements other than the OGL to apply but it's still up to the publisher to indicate where such arrangements exist.

      * at the bottom of this page it says "All content is available under the Open Government Licence, except where otherwise stated"

      But if there are specific examples you'd like to discuss, really happy to do this.

  2. Comment by Catherine Clarke posted on

    Hi this is interesting,

    I have a query regarding images illustrating 'campaigns'. Quite often when commissioning photographers for campaign work, buying-out inperpituityis although preferable is incredibly expensive. While the campaign itself may cease running within the time frame purchased, obviously there will be reference to the campaign on website etc. Any suggestions for how to deal with issues like this in a cost effective manner.

    • Replies to Catherine Clarke>

      Comment by Graham Francis posted on

      Hi Catherine

      Thanks for your comments - your points get to the heart of the discussion.

      Campaign sites are no different to any other form of government online publishing – if the site is a government one, it will be archived and permanently preserved.

      This must be the starting point for working out costs, we think. Although costs of 'in perpetuity' licenses are more, they should be balanced against the cost to the taxpayer of legal action taken by photographers owing to (even inadvertent) govt breach of copyright.

      Other than doing work inhouse, the alternatives are to insist on the status of any work being undertaken by outside organisation being signed over as Crown copyright, or to attribute it to them clearly and agree the right licence.

  3. Comment by Ela Ginalska posted on

    I've just sought further advice from a commercial image library we use, and the advice is:
    1. If you ask for a licence for perpetual use, the cost will be high.
    2. However, if you ask for a licence for the life of the publication, plus the additional rights for archiving the original publication in perpetuity, the cost is likely to be lower.
    Can I suggest the wording in the text above is changed accordingly, so that the licence is time-limited (e.g. 10 years) with archive rights in perpetuity?

    • Replies to Ela Ginalska>

      Comment by Graham Francis posted on

      Really interesting comments, thanks so much for following up.

      Having a licence in place that you are comfortable with, and keeping it on file for future reference, seems reasonable.

      One issue could be that defining the 'life' of a publication in this context is difficult - so if we went down this route we'd urge people to make sure that the image supplier understands what is meant by 'archiving'. Archiving a site for business purposes only can often just mean keeping a local copy on a server but effectively removing the content from the live web - however, the UK Government Web Archive doesn't just preserve this part of the record and keep it hidden away, it makes it permanently available online too.

      But if there's some potential wiggle room, it would be helpful to see a copy of the terms that you're describing to aid this work.

  4. Comment by Jon Woodcock posted on

    While this useful guidance relates mainly to commercial and licensed photos (ie not Crown Copyright), we also need to bear in mind the status of individual consent from the individuals who are featured in images - if these are 'real' people rather than models. Even if the photo itself is owned by a Department/the Crown, we have to hold valid consent that their image can be used.

    Our Department currently gets consent for image use up to 5 years, although we think we may be covered by a clause on the consent form about not withdrawing products retrospectively (we're awaiting advice from our legal group). Other departments may have similar processes in place for this?

  5. Comment by Trevor Pyle posted on

    I run the video production unit for the Department for Transport. As far as I recall, we have not used a commercial image in any of our productions to date, but may do so in the future so this guidance is useful.

    However, thought should also be given to video production which is now increasingly taking place across Whitehall.

    I have often asked stakeholders if they can supply video footage or stills to supplement our own material for certain productions e.g. Network Rail and Crossrail. In most instances this material is already in the public domain and made available for downloading by whoever wants it without charge.

    I normally check and usually permission to use this material is verbal rather than contractual and done on the basis of ‘helping out’. In turn, we have supplied material to other OGDs and, in some instances to stakeholders, on a similar basis.

    The issue of copyright and usage has also come up for YouTube and use of music and I have found myself having to explain these cannot be plundered without negotiating permissions etc. Even if permission is granted with or without a fee, care should be taken.

    For one production, it was impossible for us to film the required shots. The official sought and found the perfect solution in a video posted on YouTube. There was an exchange of emails negotiating its use, however, when I did a reality check with one of our agencies, I was warned that the scene being depicted was subject to an investigation for insurance fraud! Obviously, plans to use this material were quickly dropped.

    Likewise, in a joint production with another department who were the lead, music had been commissioned for not just one, but five videos. However, the issue of copyright or usage fees had not been factored into their thinking and could not understand why they couldn’t proceed without any contractual agreement!

    • Replies to Trevor Pyle>

      Comment by Graham Francis posted on

      Thanks Trevor, really useful comments.

      I understand that the copyright designs and patents act makes different provisions for the treatment of the various types of artistic works (text, music etc) but for our purposes (i.e. establishing and indicating Crown ownership of web content) the same principles can be applied across different varieties of format. If publishing video footage, documents or images the entire contents of these works should be Crown owned (i.e. produced by Crown servants) or appropriately licensed prior to their publication.

      The comments discussing what that appropriate licence looks like could equally apply to video.

      You mention verbal agreements - it's really important that a hard copy is kept of any licence or agreement. A verbal agreement probably isn't good enough for government - and it shouldn't be too difficult to put an agreement in place and make the status of the work clear.