The European Court of Justice has confirmed that you can't republish a photo just because it’s freely accessible online, and that you need the photographer’s permission to use it first - even if they didn't protect it that well online.
In the recent Land Nordrhein-Westfalen v Dirk Renckhoff case, a secondary school student downloaded a photo from a travel website and put it in a presentation which also ended up on the school’s website. When the photographer who took the picture, Dirk Renckhoff, saw this, he sued the school seeking €400 in damages. The EU court has now ruled in Renckhoff’s favour. “The posting on a website of a photograph that was freely accessible on another website with the consent of the author requires a new authorisation by that author,” according to the Court of Justice of the European Union website. “Mr. Renckhoff claims that he gave a right of use only to the operators of the travel website and that the posting of the photograph on the school website is an infringement of his copyright.”
Even if the photographer has been lax in protecting images posted online, it doesn’t affect this latest EU ruling. “It is of little importance if, as in the present case, the copyright holder does not limit the ways in which the photograph may be used by internet users.”
You can access a PDF of the ruling here.