How to Use Pictures Found Online: The Do’s and Don’ts for Funeral Homes


The internet is an interesting place. How it’s used can be vastly different from person to person. In the same way, regulation and compliance on the internet can be perceived differently from person to person. With the large amount of resources available, and quickly increasing, it can be tricky to figure out what’s OK and what you could be penalized for. These grey areas are particularly prominent with media, such as music and photos. Most media is very accessible to the public online and is very simple to download and reuse. So what’s the harm in doing so? If they didn’t want people to use it, then why would they put in online in the first place? This is sound logic on paper, but unfortunately just isn’t the case. The worst of it is, it’s up to you to find out what’s wrong and what’s right.

When it comes to online memorials, photos are a key element and making sure a memorial is filled with beautiful and meaningful photos will enhance a family’s experience. Because of this, some funeral directors may be inclined to grab whatever photos they find off the web and put them in a memorial. Unfortunately, in some cases this can lead to a case of copyright infringement from your funeral home. On top of this, it’s difficult to tell whether you’ve made a violation until it’s too late. Your funeral home may be contacted by the rightful owner of the photo asking you to take it down or, worse yet, handing you a fine.

Many people are inclined to grab a photo off of the web as it provides them an easy solution to fill a specific gap they may have in a memorial or provide a bit of extra service for a family with this personal touch. However, this is a quick way to being fined, something that everyone no doubt wishes to avoid.

Man with a Laptop Figuring out Bills
When you think about it, every photo posted online has an original owner. Although things are not distributed in conventional ways online, and media is passed around rapidly worldwide, it still belongs to someone. In the same way that you can’t redistribute someone’s artwork without permission, you aren’t allowed to use or modify someone’s photos unless otherwise stated. This “otherwise stated” comes in the form of a license, of which there are many different levels.

The safest practice when dealing with the reuse of pictures online is simply don’t do it! As stated before, it is difficult to determine which license is attached to a specific picture. In many cases, a license will not even be specified, in which case you have to assume it’s not yours for the taking. For these reasons, we recommend that you don’t use photos you find online in any of your online memorials or any other location on your funeral home’s website.

Of course, not all pictures online are off limits, and there are some which are allowed to be redistributed and modified even for commercial purposes. The problem is tracking down which ones are OK to use can take lots of time, which is probably what you were hoping to avoid in taking a picture from the internet in the first place.

If you find that you’re consistently needing stock photos for your website or other purposes, you may want to look into purchasing them from a royalty-free image website. ThinkStock is an example of one of these. Here you can purchase whatever pictures you need or pay for a subscription and take comfort knowing you won’t be violating any copyright laws. Alternatively, many of your state/province associations or NFDA will have music or photo licensing packages included in your subscription fees. So be sure to look around for some different options. You can always lean on your funeral home website provider as well.

By paying for the photos, these agencies are essentially giving you rights to the license and ensuring that you don’t have to pay royalties on them. This is how you’ll avoid any potential fines (or royalty collection) from these companies who may own the rights to the photos.

online memorial photos

If you’re adamant about using a particular picture online, then make sure you contact the original owner and obtain written permission to do so. But again, it can be difficult to track down who the original owner of the photo is, much less to get their permission to use it. The same practices should be applied when a family asks you to use a picture which they found online. You should educate them on the dangers of this and inform them that it will be you who takes the fall if someone comes to collect for the picture being used. This is why the best choice is to go straight to the source and ask families to provide you with their own original photos. This way you’re guaranteed to avoid unsuspecting fines online and are  providing the deceased’s memorial with photos of which the family approves.

On top of protecting yourself from fines, using original pictures help make your website a more unique experience. Having a memorial filled with pictures which belong to that family will really make it feel like their own and personalize it in a way that will keep them coming back.

Many funeral professionals know about the copyright risks surrounding music, but fewer are aware of the risks of picture reuse. As a FrontRunner client, you can rest assured that all of the graphics or artwork we provide on your funeral home website, Funeral DVD intros, and Book of Memories Tribute Pages are properly licensed. Using pictures you find online may save you a bit of time in the moment, but in the long run it can lead to headache and a wallet-ache if you’re not careful. So be sure to stick to your own original pictures and further add some unique elements to your funeral home website and online memorials!


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