This is a lesson I recently learned the hard way, and if you have (or contribute to) a blog, you might want to read our story so that you never, ever make the same mistake I did. It isn’t just the average Joe/Jane that is falling fowl here either I found that companies are being sued for thousands. I must give thanks to Kari DePhillips of http://www.contentfac.com/ who has given me permission to use her own blog content within here to underscore the point and highlights some useful information and links.
If you have been following my blog you will know that I try and write short, ok sometimes long, stories from things I have learned through life. This is one story I wish I didn’t have to write but in the spirit of helping others here goes.
I have been using the internet for years not as a professional IT buff and I innocently believed that if I did a google search for an image as long as it was not water marked or contained a copy write mark that it was public domain. So recently I recounted a tale from my youth about my dislike of Spaghetti Bolognaise (http://www.rosssense.co.uk/1/post/2013/12/learning-from-my-past-spaghetti-bolognaise.html). To use the old adage “a picture tells a thousand words” and to keep my readers interest I searched for an image of the food I dislike, my dislike for it has now increased significantly. I found an image of a plate of Spaghetti Bolognaise with a glass of wine in the background. The picture of the glass of wine wasn’t important so after downloading it I cropped the picture so it was just the plate of the offensive meal. I added the image approximately an inch square to my blog and published it. I was not selling anything and thought no more about it until a few months later I got a letter from a company, for the sake of this story let’s call them Food Stock.
The long-forgotten blog that was posted months ago had come back to haunt me, see I told you I didn’t like Spaghetti Bolognaise. Food Stock sent a formal complaint letter, saying that I was being charged for using their client's copyrighted photo on my website.
I had never visited this company’s website, by this time I didn’t even know where the image came from, it might have even been on a site who had posted it without permission, seriously I don’t know, I try and keep my PC history regularly clean, its good practice after all. I immediately Emailed them and said I didn’t condone copy write infringement and I had taken the image down until the matter was resolved and heard nothing for over a week.
I was informed this time that they were pursing this matter and that not knowing where the image came from and having removed it was not sufficient. When the company contacted me they had printed off my blog page and included a large picture of the image that they claimed was theirs. It was time to do some digging, first I didn’t want to be scammed and second if I was in the wrong I didn’t want to be sued, even if my mistake was perfectly innocent.
The price breakdown stunned me first to use this picture for under a year promotionally was £155 plus tax! I don’t know about you but I would not spend that on a meal never mind a picture. The rest of my charges were under a title of “Unauthorised Use uplift”. A price calculated at a rate of 150% of the unauthorised picture use.
Naturally I wanted assurances that the image was theirs, I mean I didn’t want another company to come after me for the same thing, they assured me it was. I also wondered how many copies of my blog had been made, oh yes my blog is covered under copy write laws too. That information was not supplied to me simply and answer that it had not been distributed outside their company and an interesting comment that if I didn’t want my blog to be used publicly I should password protect my site. Interesting, I have to password protect my site to protect my blog and site content but the same isn’t the case for their pictures, hey ho! I even tried to argue that as my blog was editorial in content that I should not be paying for the picture under promotional (paying for it as editorial is significantly less) but after an apology, when I had to put the person who was responding to me right on the meaning of what editorial meant. I got an apology that English was not her first language. I was told that as my website which contains my blog is promoting my business that I would have to pay under promotional. So the bottom line is I paid.
Current Fair Use image 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 picture is resized
• If the picture is licensed to your Web developer (Getty Images requires that you get your own license, thank you very much)
• You link back to the photo source and cite the photographer’s name
• Your site isn’t commercial and you make no money from your blogs
• You have a disclaimer on the site
• The pic is embedded instead of saved on your server
• You found it on the Internet
I wasn’t familiar with copyright infringement laws. In the legal world, there’s no such thing as common sense, so ours did us no favours. The laws are set up to enrich lawyers, probably because they were written by lawyers. We should have done more research about image copyright laws and copyright infringement penalties, and we should have made everyone on our team aware of the potential damage that can be done if we post the wrong images to blogs.
It can happen to you
I’d like to say that I’m just the unlucky victim of an isolated incident, but I’d be lying. It can happen to you, too.
From what I found by searching online, more and more bloggers are experiencing the same nightmare that I’ve been dealing with.
You might not find a lot of stories about these ridiculous copyright infringement penalties online, because few people are willing to publicly admit that they “stole” a photo - by accident or otherwise. Few agencies are willing to go on record and say that they made a mistake while working on a client’s account, and few bloggers want to risk their reputations by publicizing such a rookie error.
[RELATED: Learn why you need a content marketing plan at our fall content marketing boot camp.]
We want to help spread the word about copyright infringement laws and their potential impact on small businesses and bloggers, because we want the fewest number of people to be victimized by these legal practices. Until we can change the laws, or the way the laws are applied, we all have to be in cover-your-butt mode.
WikiHow’s page on avoiding copyright infringement will help bring you up to speed on image copyright laws.
To be honest, I was fortunate, let’s say for a moment I had done a blog on various foods and posted several pictures that were copy written, I would’ve probably closed up shop. Make no mistake about it, this practice can be a business killer. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security either even personal websites can face the same. My advice is you find a decent site like istock or dollarphotoclub, there are others where you can buy an image and you are able to use it and they will even defend you if someone claims the picture you have is theirs. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of their pictures and their terms the copy write doesn’t expire. Can you imagine if I had left that picture on my site and forgot about it, next year I get another letter claiming the same.
Now I know some of you out there are real cynics. I know you are thinking these companies are probably sending out their pictures across the net and then going hunting for them in order to make a killing, a kind of digital entrapment. You might think that, I however couldn’t possibly comment.