Copyright: How do I use images without getting into trouble?


It has never been so easy to take pictures and publish them. On platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, users can display their smartphone snapshots in just a few clicks for the world public. The funniest thing about it: they often violate applicable image rights.

What is image rights?

Guenseyregistry defines Image rights as the expression of a personality in the public domain. The provision of image rights in law enables the definition, value, commercial exploitation and protection of image rights associated with a person.

“From a legal perspective, copyright infringement is almost the most common right-wing crime today, perhaps along with violations of the Highway Code,” says lawyer Till Kreutzer. He is co-founder of “”, a portal that provides information on copyright in digital.

Common copyright violation mistakes

The most common violation of social media images is to publish them without consent. “The law says, every time I scan someone and post the photo on the Internet, I have to ask the person for permission first, and virtually nobody does that nowadays,” says Kreutzer, co-founder. iRights is a website that provides information on copyright from the digital viewpoint.

In addition to the violation of this right to privacy, copyright infringes many images, explains Stephan Dirks, specialist lawyer for copyright and media law. This is often because people believe what they find freely on the Internet, they can save synonymous with a right-click and then re-upload somewhere.” But it needs the permission of the author. Sadly, this is true!

Is re-transmission of posted images punishable?

That depends on how. If you transmit the photo, for example, using the sharing function of the respective platform, you usually have nothing to fear. “There is a case law of the European Court of Justice that in such cases, as a rule, there is no independent access to the public,” explains Dirks (ECJ, Ref .: C-348-13).

It looks different when you download the photo and then post yourself. Then the author or other authorized persons have no control over it, so you need a license for it.

Can I use pictures involving tons of people?

No. “If there are hundreds of them in the picture and no people are clearly highlighted, then you can exceptionally,” explains Kreutzer. That’s true for demos. Every participant should expect to be photographed. In addition, with such photos, individuals are harder to recognize. “In principle, you do not photograph people, you photograph a mass of people.”

Are there any special rules when it comes to children?

Yes, because there must first be clarification; who may grant the permission at all. For children under the age of 14, both parents need to do that. This is often lost to teachers. “Teachers are constantly breaking all kinds of regulations,” says Dirks. They would often be content with the permission of a parent and make themselves vulnerable.

It does not get any easier from the age of 14: “It depends on whether the children are able to recognize the significance of this decision,” explains Kreutzer. If they were able to do so, a judge will decide in case of doubt. If you do not want to risk any problems with photos of minors, you will get the consent of both parents if possible. Incidentally, the publication of photos of one’s own children can also have legal consequences – if the child one-day self-acts against it.

The difference between the law of the image and the law of the motif

The right to one’s own image is the right of every human person to decide whether or not his image is reproduced in public. Time and again, however, the law is also the subject of the motive.

“That’s more or less a myth,” says Kreutzer. Motifs are mostly free in some European countries, e.g., Germany, so it regulates panorama freedom. “This is a regulation that says that if you can photograph works of art or buildings that may be protected by copyright from the normal street space, then you can put these photos in any form on the Internet and spread,” explains Kreutzer. In other countries, however, such regulations do not exist. Abroad, it may well be that motives are protected. In Germany, too, museums or churches can ban photos inside the buildings.

How can you avoid violations of the picture post?

The easiest thing is to only upload photos that you have taken yourself and that have asked each photographer for permission to publish the photo. If you want to be on the safe side, you can also read the general terms and conditions of the social network in which he wants to post the picture. They are at least in terms of image rights quite unmistakable, says Dirks.

Does it make a difference in which way the photos/images are transmitted?

Yes. Because not all platforms spread images equally. While Facebook, Instagram or Twitter make it accessible to a more or less undefined public, pictures are sent to one or more people by messengers such as Whatsapp or Telegram – but the addressees are precisely defined. This is usually not considered as a publication or distribution, says Kreutzer. Therefore no consent is necessary.

How can a picture be tackled?

Most image rights violations happen in a personal environment. The easiest way is to ask the person who posted the picture to delete it.

If that does not happen, one can turn to the platform: Facebook and Instagram were unable to provide numbers on deletions on request. Both platforms offer complaint forms for the reporting of legal violations.

If you report such a violation, the platform is obliged to investigate. Only if all this does not help, you should consult a lawyer.

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