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Buying image rights: How to avoid legal problems when using third-party images

Whether website or blog - without suitable images, the whole thing looks boring and uninviting. If you want to use them, you either have to acquire the rights of use. Another possibility: Buying image rights.

Buying image rights
Are you having problems buying image rights or have you received a warning letter? Call us on 040 3501 6360 or send us an e-mail to info@kanzlei-bennek.de.

Photos and graphics generate attention and emotions. They arouse the curiosity of visitors and their desire to take a closer look at the content of the respective page.

Site operators who lack their own image material often come up with the idea of simply using images from the Internet.

Such an approach can quickly turn out to be an expensive affair.

Although there are many photographers who publish their images under a free license, most images are subject to copyright.


  1. What exactly are image rights?
  2. Buying image rights: What options are there?
  3. What other image rights can arise in addition to copyright?
  4. What needs to be considered with regard to the legal certainty of usage agreements?
  5. Problems with image rights: A lawyer can help!

1. What exactly are image rights?

These are rights that copyright offers a photographer or graphic designer, for example, as the author of the images they have created.

A distinction is made between the actual copyrights and the rights of use.

The former include the right to decide what happens to an image and the right to be named, while the latter include the right to publish, the right to edit and the right of exploitation.

2. Buying image rights: What options are there?

The most important image right in connection with the publication of third-party photos and illustrations is the right of use. It can be granted in several gradations and restrictions.

This means that it can be individually adapted to the requirements of potential image users.

If you agree a simple right of use for an image, the author may also grant this to other users. They can therefore use the image multiple times at the same time.

If you want to prevent simultaneous use by someone else, you need the exclusive right of use. This means that the image owner may not allow anyone else to use their work.

Here, too, there are two levels. With the "limited exclusive right of use", the author can still use the image for themselves. You can only avoid this by purchasing the complete image rights and thus acquiring the "fully exclusive right of use".

With all variants, there is the option of limiting the time, space and content. For example, a photographer can grant you the use of his photos for a specific advertising campaign or a single newsletter.

3. What other image rights can arise in addition to copyright?

It is not always sufficient to acquire the rights of use from the author in order to be allowed to publish a photo. In addition to copyright, there may be other image rights that must be observed. These include

  • the right to one's own image: Are people clearly recognizable?
  • Design right: Does the photo contain design objects?
  • Trademark law: Is a brand recognizable by design or logo?
  • Artists' rights: Can works of art be seen?
  • Property rights: Was the photo taken in a private place?
  • Co-copyrights: Were other people involved in the creation of the image?

If the answer to one of these questions is "yes", you may need other consents in addition to the right of use. What these are in detail depends on the exact subject and the planned use of the image.

4. What needs to be considered with regard to the legal certainty of usage agreements?

Image rights are usually transferred to third parties by means of contracts.

A distinction must be made between an obligation to pay and an actual granting of rights, also known as a disposal transaction. If there is no effective obligation, the disposal is also ineffective.

In this case, the right of use automatically reverts to the author or the previous owner of the image rights.

No specific form is prescribed for the transfer of rights of use. It can be made verbally, in writing or by conclusive behavior. In terms of legal certainty, the conclusion of a written usage agreement is generally recommended.

This is the best way to prove that a license agreement exists and to what extent the rights of use have been granted.

5. Problems with image rights: A lawyer can help!

Are you accused of using images without permission? You do not always have to "give in". It is not uncommon for warnings to be wrongly issued.

Even if you have actually failed to purchase the image rights, the warning may be ineffective, for example for formal reasons. For example, a pre-formulated injunction may be too broad.

If there is no reference to this in the warning letter, it is invalid. Excessive warning costs or excessively high damages are also frequently demanded.

You should not take a warning due to the infringement of image rights lightly. It is also not advisable to pay the claim directly or to sign the declaration to cease and desist without further examination.

Keep calm and consult your trusted lawyer. They can check the facts of the case and provide you with a well-founded assessment of your liability.

Are you the one whose images have been used by third parties without permission? Even then, going to a lawyer is the best solution.

They can enforce your cease-and-desist claims by obtaining a cease-and-desist declaration with a penalty clause. First, the image thief receives a warning letter.

If he responds appropriately, an out-of-court settlement is possible. Otherwise, the lawyer will enforce your claims with the help of the court by obtaining an injunction or filing an action.

You are also entitled to compensation for the images, which your lawyer will also assert on your behalf.

Do you have any questions about buying image rights or would you like to make an appointment?

Make an appointment now!

Picture credits: shime02 | Panthermedia

Marco Bennek
I started working as a lawyer in 2006 and have been advising clients in competition and trademark law for more than 10 years. Since June 2015 I have been a specialist attorney for industrial property rights and since May 2013 a partner in the firm of HELMKE Attorneys at Law and Tax Advisors and Patent Attorneys. I studied law in Hamburg, Madrid, and Wellington (New Zealand) and hold a Master of Laws (LL.M.).
Rechtsanwalt Marco Bennek
Lawyer Marco Bennek – trademark law, copyright, competition law and IT law in Hamburg
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040 3501 6360
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