Pictures: Copyright, Licensing and Research

Welsh Books Council

Pictures: Copyright, Licensing and Research

UK Copyright Law gives the creators of images (illustrations, photographs, designs, etc.) rights similar to those held by authors, and the use of those images is governed by contracts (licensing agreements) which resemble the contract between a writer and a publisher. The prospective user will need to negotiate the licence with the copyright holder or with an agency (such as the Design and Artists Copyright Society), picture library or other organisation working on the copyright holder’s behalf.

Issues of importance to publishers commissioning pictures or negotiating terms for their reproduction include the following:

  • Copyright in a picture lasts for 70 years after the death of its creator, except in cases described at
  • Copyright covers all media, including electronic.
  • Copyright images may not be copied without the permission of the copyright-holder: it is the responsibility of the prospective user to ensure that they are operating within the requirements of the law, according to the terms of any licence or within the provisions of fair dealing.
  • Licences need to specify the exact scope of permissions granted with regard to form (e.g. intended media, whether the whole or part of the image is to be used, etc.) and use (e.g. as a book jacket or as an illustration in the text). This will normally be detailed in an addendum to the licence, in the acceptance-of-commission form or in the copyright holder’s invoice.
  • Permission will normally be granted for single use only (e.g. on a book jacket, but not for subsequent use as an illustration, or as a cover for a catalogue).
  • Fair dealing provisions are as for copyright books: reproduction is permitted in the context of bona fide review or criticism.
  • Provision for the use of an image (e.g. book cover) in any additional commercial context (e.g. in an advertisement or web catalogue) needs specifically to be included in the terms of the licence; failing this, a separate permission will need to be negotiated for every reproduction. An exception is made of non-commercial information systems and materials (e.g. trade catalogues or Advance Information leaflets) which are not available to the public. DACS usually allows the reproduction of book covers for marketing purposes, as long as the publication on which the book covers are reproduced are not for sale.

Copyright Law and its application to this field are summarised by the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies at

On-line sample terms and conditions of licence are accessible on the websites of the Association of Illustrators; Editorial Photographers UK; The Design and Artists Copyright Society’s own General Terms and Conditions are to be found at



General Guides

  • The standard reference work is Hilary & Mary Evans, Picture Researchers Handbook, 8th Edition (Pira International, 2006) @ £65 (£95 with CD-ROM).
  • Julian Jackson’s eBook, The Photobuyer's Handbook, provides an overview of the industry, rights and licensing, the basics of the digital image, resolution, file sizes and compression, metadata, the internet, image quality control, copyright, orphan works, and many other subjects of vital importance to anyone who uses images professionally. It can be bought for £24.99 via Julian Jackson's website at

Picture Libraries

The internet offers a vast array of picture sources. Main first points of enquiry include:

Date last updated: 11 Jul 2016