Using your photographs without your permission?

Matthew Howe

When you take a photograph, you own the copyright, unless you are taking it in the course of your employment. You (or your employer) therefore have the right to control who uses it. 

If your photograph is used without your permission, you should be able to sue the third party who uses your image. However, as the internet goes beyond national boundaries, there has been uncertainty about where those proceedings can be brought. 

Now, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has given some clarity in a preliminary ruling on the question of where a copyright owner can bring proceedings for infringement when a third party has made the work available online for viewing and downloading without consent. 

The Austrian court had referred the questions from proceedings in which a professional photographer of architecture was suing a conference organiser for placing some of her photos online for people to view and download. The website used the German top-level domain .de and was not directed at Austrian users, and the defendant therefore argued that the Austrian court did not have jurisdiction.

Following its previous case law, the court held that under Article 5(3) of the Brussels Regulation (44/2001/EC) proceedings could be brought in any member state where the relevant website was accessible, although each court could only rule on damage incurred within its own jurisdiction.

The court rejected the defendant's argument that the targeting of the website at German website users was relevant.

In the light of how easy it is to obtain copyright works from the internet and re-post them without authorisation, the clear and unequivocal confirmation given by the ECJ in this ruling could result in a rise in the number of claims for online infringement, particularly as most copyright owners find it easier to sue in their own jurisdiction than that of the potential defendant. (Pez Hejduk v EnergieAgentur.NRW GmbH, Case C‑441/13.)

However, the damages they will be able to recover will be limited to damage in their own country.

If your photographs have been used without your permission, you may be able to make a claim. Contact us for a free no obligation discussion about what you can do.