The appeal of Unsplash is clear. Their wide database of photos listed as free to use that don’t look like cheesy stock images make it a fantastic resource for anyone involved in communiations. It’s little wonder many churches rely on it. But Unsplash is not without issue, as the UK Government has now discovered. This is because the it could face a lawsuit for using an image posted on the popular stock image website.
Yes, Even the UK Government uses Unsplash
I’m sure you’ve seen some Unsplash images (perhaps even the same one, frequently used) spring up in use from famous companies so perhaps the UK Governments use of Unsplash shouldn’t be surprising. After all, budgets matters and avoiding unnecessary expenses is sensible.
When organisations the size of the UK government use “free” images over paid ones it shows just how the stock photography industry has been affected.
Now they are being sued
The lawsuit for using the photo from Unsplash p appears to be coming from the dance studio and not the photographer. They have taken issue with the image, perhaps partially due to their dislike of the message. It is a campaign to retrain those in creative fields which have been particularly affected by the pandemic, while the studio promotes training creatives in their discipline (dance).
I’m no legal expert and I don’t know the ins and outs of this particular case but I know that this issue is a possibility on Unsplash and not just limited to this photograph.
Just because something is on Unsplash (or creative commons) that doesn’t mean it’s fine
Unsplash promises free to use with optional attribution photos. That sounds perfect except that doesn’t resolve every legal issue with photos. There are image rights of the people in images that are extremely important.
While many people may never notice that you’ve used their image, or have any issues with it, without a signed legal document, you have to trust that no one will decide to sue you. It’s why paid stock agencies like Lightstock require image of identifiable individuals to include an image rights release form.
Could your church face lawsuit for using Unsplash photos?
The safest option is to use paid stock images with the relevant legal documentation. Alternatively, using images without people involved or where they can’t be identified is a safer option.
If you are using a photo with a person in and no documentation, then there is a legal risk which you are exposing yourself to. If the person in the image decided to take legal action, perhaps because they dislike the Church, then that could be extremely damaging.
This doesn’t mean you should never use Unsplash or similar sites, there are some great reasons to use Unsplash. You just need to be aware of these issues and make sure you share them if you tell other people about Unsplash. I’ve seen many others blindly advocate Unsplash and not mention these issues at all. We’re lucky that it hasn’t affected more churches.