We’ve all heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. But when it comes to copyright infringement, a picture can also be worth a thousand dollars—or even more.
I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about companies and individuals receiving expensive copyright infringement penalties—federal law states that proven, willful copyright infringement allows for up to $150,000 per infringement. The story is usually the same—someone writes a blog post, wants to add a photo to it, does a quick Google image search, saves the image, then uploads it to the blog post.
What a lot of people don’t understand—however—is that Google Images isn’t an online shop of free graphics. If you copy a licensed image onto your website (even if you link to the original source for the image), you could potentially find yourself with a copyright infringement penalty. For small businesses, this can be a really devastating blow in particular.
And although you could find yourself with a settlement from anyone who took the time to license their images, photo agencies like Getty Images are well known for persistently enforcing their products’ copyright.
What Is Copyright Infringement?
Some people have a hard time understanding why it’s not okay to take pictures from Google Image Search or from websites like Pinterest. My coworker Michelle explained it well:
“Google and Google Images are like a museum. It’s just a catalog of things. You wouldn’t just walk into the Smithsonian and grab a painting and be like, ‘Yeah that’s mine now. I’m putting it in MY museum. Where I’m charging people to look at it.’”
Alternatively, think how you would feel if a company copied one of your pictures from Facebook and used it in one of its advertisements.
“Well that’s not too bad,” you might be thinking.
Well what if the advertisement was for a phone sex line? Exactly.
When it comes to pictures on the Web, you need the creator’s permission to use the image if the image is licensed. With websites like Getty Images, when you purchase a picture, you’re purchasing the rights to use that property.
What If I Didn’t Know the Image Was Copyrighted?
Unfortunately, ignorance is not going to get you out of a copyright infringement. The way that copyright laws work, both accidental and willful copyright infringement are prohibited. In addition, if someone else—like one of your employees or contractors—uses a copyrighted picture on your website, you’re still liable.
Can’t I Just Delete the Copyrighted Images Off of My Site?
Removing the images (as soon as possible) is a good way to show your willingness to comply and demonstrate the copyright infringement was accidental and not willful. Note: Make sure to remove the image from the webpage it’s on as well as your server. Even if the image is not visible on your site, if it’s stored on your server you are still violating copyright laws.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t get you completely off the hook as you are still liable for “damages.” Essentially, the longer you have had the image on your website, the more damages the owner can claim.
Most sources indicate that Getty Images usually waits months or even years after finding one of its images on your site to file the settlement. This allows the company to claim long term damages.
How to Avoid Copyright Infringement Penalties
I work with a lot of small businesses and understand how devastating a pricy copyright infringement penalty can be. So here are my tips for avoiding a fine:
Don’t use pictures Google Image Search, Pinterest, or any other image directory on your website. Instead, take your own pictures or purchase stock photography. File the receipts for the stock photography you purchase.
Make sure you know where anyone who works on your website, including your employees and contractors, sources his or her images. You are still liable even if you did not know your contractors were using copyrighted images!
If you have questionable images on your website, remove them (from the page and your server) or run the picture through Google’s Search by Image search feature. This will let you know where else on the Internet that image exists.
Of course if you need a new site design with pictures that won’t get you sued, Blue Corona can help. Contact us today.
About The Author: Blue Corona's Editorial Staff is determined to help you increase your leads and sales, optimize your marketing costs, and differentiate your brand by passing on our tribal knowledge. The team vigilantly stays on top of the latest in digital marketing, bringing you the top insights with expert commentary. Want to see something on our blog you haven't seen yet? Shoot us an email and our marketing team will get to work.
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