Are Photos on Your Church Website Legal


A Church was told by a website advisor that it needed to add photos to its site to make it more appealing to site visitors. The Church IT person found some nice pictures that would add tremendous appeal. The pictures did not have a web address connected to them so the site manager assumed it would be okay to copy and paste them to the Church site.


He had located the pictures with Google search and assumed they were free to use. Unfortunately, the images belonged to a stock image company.


The Church was very excited about the new look of its web page. However, shortly after the pictures were posted, a third party contacted the Church on behalf of the company. They threatened further action if the Church did not pay a $550 fine and remove the pictures. The Church negotiated a settlement of $300 and removed the pictures.


What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You!


Stock image companies are cracking down on people using their pictures on websites. Some companies are sending out thousands of letters like the one this Church received – they are attempting to claim revenue owed them for use of their licensed information.


Google has a “fine print” disclaimer that they do not have to reveal license information. Just because no license information is listed for an image does not mean it is not licensed and using the image without permission is illegal. The fact that the Church did not see the licensed information or was not aware that it was not free does not release them from liability. Ignorance is no excuse.


Size Does Not Matter


Small Churches often feel as if they will be granted some type of immunity or forgiveness for violations – civil or criminal. Please understand the fact that you are a small ministry will not elicit sympathy from those whom feel you have violated their license agreements.


Do not place yourself in a position to pay fines that you are not financially able to afford.

The Bottom Line


Almost any use of a photo from an Internet website violates copyright laws. A simple rule of thumb is, “If you did not take the picture, do not use it without photographer’s permission.” Photographers’ permission usually includes a cost.


What is sad is that some of the photographers stole the picture from someone else, but you will still be liable for the fine, unless you get a release from the photographer stating that he or she will take full responsibility for any violations and fines.


Frank Sommerville, an Editorial Advisor for, reminds us that the same copyright rules apply when a Minister or Church Staff Member uses pictures in their sermons or presentations. Unless your Church has a release for any pictures it uses, it can be liable to those individuals for misappropriation of their likeness.


How We Can Help


Chitwood & Chitwood has been protecting Churches, Ministries, and Ministers for 78 years. We are able to assist you in areas that may initiate potential problems for you.


It would behoove every Church and Minister to attend one of our Church and Clergy Conferences and connect to us to stay current on issues that could prove devastating to their ministry.


Visit us at or call 800-344-0076 to attend a conference in a city nearest you. You will not regret it.


For us it is “A Ministry – Not a Job!”