Image copyright standards for GOV.UK

The information in this blog post may now be out of date. See the current content and publishing guidance.

[Back to GOV.UK standards and guidelines]


1. The following standards apply to all images used on GOV.UK, whether published on the site as part of an HTML page, or contained within a publication hosted on the site.

2. Whenever possible, use images which are either:

Buying the right type of image copyright

3. If there is no option other than to use images from third parties, there are two basic rules: buy the right type of licence (with particular attention given to archival usage), and make sure you accredit properly.

4. In particular, be aware that all content on government websites is captured and made permanently accessible online to the public on the UK Government Web Archive. This is maintained by The National Archives, as part of their duty to preserve the public record.

5. Government must therefore only buy images when it is possible to obtain the right for their use to be consistent with this archival usage. This means, for example, not:

  • buying commercial image licences that expire after a set period of time
  • buying usage rates based certain number of page impressions
  • using embeds that remain under the control of the supplying agency

6. Instead, you must either:

  • obtain rights to use commercial images in perpetuity
  • seek an assignment of copyright to the Crown
  • negotiate a special usage fee based on active usage for x months, plus retention in perpetuity in previously published forms within The National Archives

Make sure all images are properly attributed

7. All third-party copyright images on GOV.UK must be credited on the destination page (see our guidelines here), and according to the terms of any agreement with the image owner. This includes images made available under creative commons (see this blogpost).

8. You should also let the user know if any part of your content is protected in other ways or if re-use is prohibited (for example, is the material licensed differently under a Delegation of Authority, and is not free to re-use under the terms of the OGL).

9.  All govt content is available for re-use under the Open Government Licence, unless stated otherwise – so failure to properly attribute content which originates with a third party could also lead to multiple copyright violations.

Using images of people

10.  When obtaining rights to use images of identifiable individuals you should check with the owner of the copyright what the position is regarding the clearance given by the individuals concerned.  (Note: this applies equally to Crown copyright images - if using these, contact the departments that commissioned or arranged for the images to be produced).

If producing images yourself be aware that consent is required from people appearing in images. This consent should be obtained in written form.

11. If you’re buying images to use within an official government  printed publication, make sure you have digital rights too - all publications are published online.

Domain Transfers and archived sites

12. Organisations and websites may need to change ‘ownership’ due to parliamentary or department remits changing. This can mean a new department takes responsibility for a domain, and archiving of old content will be undertaken.

13. Domain transfers will be agreed for organisations and websites both on and off GOV.UK on the basis that the appropriate licenses and accreditation are in place in relation to all content transferred along with the domain.

14. Where a copyright claim is lodged at a later date and it is identified that the copyright infringement relates to content generated by the previous domain owner, then liability for this content shall remain with the original organisation.

15. The department which has taken over the domain will not be responsible for:

  • claims submitted after the date of domain transfer, where the copyright content was generated by the original owner
  • any costs generated by use of copyrighted material on both the GOV.UK and archived site.


Document version history

v1.0 approved by GOV.UK steering group, December 2013

v1.1 minor formatting and numbering changes, and addition of guidance on using images of people, April 2014 (Graham Francis)

v1.2 addition of section on domain transfers, May 2015 (change approved by GOV.UK steering group)

Questions about these standards or guidelines? Use our support form.