The internet is a vast resource of valuable and useful content. But is it the right place for you to source information, images or tools for your business? There are some types of online material that your business will need.

However, before you help yourself to digital content seemingly freely available on the web, ask yourself, have I got permission?


See also: Online selling - Be legal


Because internet technology developed at a rapid pace, legislation took a while to catch up. For some years, it was perceived as a virtual free-for-all. Now new laws, including updated copyright regulations, have been established by legislation and through the courts to protect digital content. What does this mean for your business?

What you CAN use

Because much of what you see - and hear - on the internet will be covered by copyright law, we will start by explaining what online material you CAN use.

You can use:

  • Anything purchased from a reputable source that says you can reproduce it
    • In the case of stock images, check licence agreements for terms of use. Some images are licensed for ‘single use only’. You may need to make subsequent purchases to use the same image again
  • Material that the copyright holder has given you express permission to use
  • Free resources where copyright has been waived

See also: An overview of insurance cover for business


The worldwide web is a great place for research. You may want to use official statistics in your marketing and there is nothing stopping you from finding the information you need from Government websites. You can use official statistics obtained from the web, so long as you:

  • Ensure any accompanying text is original
  • You use the information accurately and in a way that is not misleading or distorts the facts
  • You quote your source

When using the web to research specific topics, such as facts to help you write a blog post, be aware that the web contains more than its fair share of inaccuracies.

If you use any information, make sure it is first correct and secondly presented in a unique way with any facts attributed to the source. Never reproduce material word-for-word, or if the content is copyrighted.

Dangers - The basics

Photographs are a particular danger and you should never download images from the web, including social media sites, to use for your business unless you have the permission of the person who took the picture.

Never download and use trademarks or logos, unless you are a member of a trade body and/or you have permission to do so.

Copyright explained

Just because something has been posted on the internet and anybody can view it doesn’t mean you can copy or download it. In fact, most of what you find on the web is as likely to be protected by copyright in exactly the same way as books or CDs available for sale in high street shops.


See also: What do I need to know about GDPR as a business owner


Updated copyright laws mean it is no longer necessary for the author of any written material, for example, to register their work for copyright. As long as it passes three very simple tests, it benefits from automatic copyright protection. Therefore, you should assume that everything you see or hear on the internet is subject to copyright law - unless it is stated otherwise.

What material is subject to copyright?

  • Original written material, non-fiction and fiction
  • Music
  • Illustrations
  • Photographs
  • TV broadcasts
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • The layout of some published editions of written work

Be aware that extracts and samples from copyrighted material are subject to the same legislation as the full works.

Downloading content

Downloading online material is akin to taking a book from a store and photocopying pages from it. The only difference with the web is that you are more likely to be caught out, particularly if you then re-post it on the internet.

Before you download any content from the web, find out if it qualifies for Fair Use. This may include downloading content in order to comment on it. If it does qualify for Fair Use, you won’t need to seek permission. If it doesn’t, you will need the explicit permission of the copyright holder to download it.

The only way to avoid danger is not to be tempted to download anything you are not sure about - or to seek legal advice first. To be on the safe side, it is best to only download material from trustworthy sites that state visitors have permission to download and reproduce.

Downloading business tools

Never download free business tools, such as software programs, from the internet. Downloading tools is the quickest way to introduce malware and other security risks to your computer system, exposing sensitive data to potential fraudsters. Ensuring your system is secure is a requirement of Data Protection laws.

Seeking permission to use Copyright material

From time to time, you may feel particular content is so important to your business that it is worth asking the copyright holder if you can use it. Because of the way the web works, you will often find the same stories, photographs and illustrations on more than one site. In these instances, it is important to establish the original source of the content.

Any approach to an author, photographer, publisher, illustrator, musician, other business etc should be made in writing. You should explain clearly how you intend to use their material, in what context and where.

Only when you have written permission to download and use the content should you proceed. Never mislead a copyright holder.