Recently, a friend of ours who owns a business received an email in their inbox that quite rudely interrupted the lovely morning they were having.
The email was sent by the attorney of a stock photo company and stated that our friend (we’ll call him Tom) had an image on his website that was owned by the stock photo company, and the stock photo company couldn't find Tom's license to use it. As a result, the stock photo company required that Tom send them proof that he had a license for use of that photo. If he couldn't show that he had an active license for the use of the image, he would have to remove the imagery from his website.
If the situation had ended there, it wouldn’t have been so bad. But on top of the request to remove the image, the stock photo company also stated that they “require payment of compensation in the amount of $330.00 for the past unauthorized usage of the imagery.”
Now, Tom had known that you can’t just use any image you find floating around the internet. But one of his employees had not. This employee had thrown a small cartoon into a blog post, and this small mistake cost Tom $330.
You might think a $330 fine isn’t going to happen very often, but the fact is that Tom got off pretty lucky. There are many stories out there of people and companies getting fined for unauthorized use of copyright images, and the fines can be ABSURD. One company who writes thousands of blog posts every year accidentally used a copyrighted photo in a blog post, and received an email from an attorney three months later stating that the photographer planned to sue the company $8,000 for unauthorized use of the photo. The company certainly didn't think the image was worth $8,000. But beware – the value of a copyrighted image is determined by the prosecuting legal team.
The company was under the mistaken impression that they could just replace the image and apologize to the attorney and photographer, and all would be well. They thought that before they could be sued, the offender had to ignore a request to take down the copyrighted image. They were wrong, and eventually had to pay up. Luckily, their attorney was able to get the fine down to $3,000, but the warning–and the lesson for all of us–still stands.
Current copyright laws say that you’re financially liable for posting copyrighted images, even if:
- • You did it by accident
- • You immediately take down the picture after receiving a DMCA takedown notice
- • The pic is embedded instead of saved on your server
- • The picture is resized
- • The picture is licensed to your web developer (Getty Images requires that you get your own license)
- • Your site isn’t commercial and you make no money from your blog
- • You link back to the photo source and cite the photographer’s name
- • You have a disclaimer on the site
- • You found it on the Internet (not a valid excuse … surprise!)
So now you understand the seriousness of copyright laws. The question is, what can you do about it, and how can you make sure you don’t end up with a horrific $8,000 fine in your inbox?
- • First of all, read and understand copyright laws yourself.
- • If you’re not the one writing and posting the content on your page, make sure your team fully understands copyright laws, and the penalties that go along with them.
- • The actual text on your page is important, but make sure your editors are paying attention to images as well as copy. Have them check to make sure they’re sourced correctly.
- • We recommend you only purchase pictures from sites like Fotolia, Adobe Stock, and so forth. We don’t recommend Getty Images, because if the picture is licensed to your web developer, you have to buy your own license.
- • Make use of free photography sites like Unsplash and Pexels. These sites offer photos for personal and commercial use that are completely, 100% free, no attribution required.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s unlikely that one mistake or careless use of a photo will be discovered. It pays to be careful, especially when it comes to copyright laws.
We hope this article helps you avoid any crazy fines! Did you know about the severity of copyright laws? We’d love to hear what you think and what your experiences have been – let us know in the comments.