By Laura Haight
A picture is worth a thousand words. And maybe thousands of dollars as well.
Today’s communications are often driven less by language than by visual images – photos in blog posts, on web pages, Instagram, Facebook and, of course, videos. You may write a brilliant blog post, but readership will lag without a strong photo to draw attention to it.
Statistics bandied about on various websites say 85 percent of blog post photos are being used illegally and subject to fines for copyright infringement. I can’t prove that number, but I don’t doubt it either.
There are a many ways you could be violating the law and not even realize it. But that will not protect you when Getty Images, iStock or a photographer come after you for infringement. And don’t think you’re too small to be noticed. Small businesses and even nonprofits are squarely in the sights of image licensing agents. For grins, you can Google “Gettty Images Letter” and you’ll find story after story – from companies maybe like yours – of lawsuits, fines, negotiations and, ultimately, payments over unlicensed use of images. Those payments can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.
Rather than dwell on how widespread the problem is, let’s focus on how to make sure you are doing the right thing and how to fix a problem you may already have.
Obviously, one of the best ways is to subscribe to a service. Getty Images and iStock are the biggest and the most expensive. With most of the big services, plans are set up so you can download a certain number of images a month. That’s great if you are a designer. But if you’re a small business writing a couple of blog posts a month, you don’t need that expansive a service. For us, there are services like 123rf.com, which is one of the few that enable you to buy credits and use them at any time.
Still that won’t cover you completely. There may be photos that are limited to non-commercial use, or editorial use, or additional expenses to use a photo for sales purposes, such as in ads. Even if you purchase a photo, you can still be subject to infringement charges if you violate explicit use exceptions.
You can find free photos that are licensed for public use. One way is from Creative Commons, a non profit organization whose mission is to enable the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. They have developed a series of free, easy-to-use copyright licenses that offer a standard framework for sharing creative content.
License limitations vary so you need a general understanding of the legal use of each. For example, some licenses permit use with attribution, meaning you must cite the source of the photo. Others allow only non-commercial use. Still others limit derivative versions, meaning that you can’t manipulate the image with your logo, text or other artwork; you must use it as is. Learn about the licenses and what they mean. And you can use their search engine to search for photos, videos and text by license type through a number of services including Google Images, Flickr and YouTube.
Are you thinking you should go back and review the photos on your website (or ask your website developer for proof of licenses)? Good thought. If you find you have unlicensed photos, you should definitely remove, replace or purchase them. But don’t think that will protect you from the long reach of Getty Images or other major photo services.
There are services that crawl the Internet and capture copies of web pages. I found 14 archived versions of my portfoliosc.com website going back to 2010 on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Those archives are crawled by Getty’s (and others’) bots in search of their photos. And there are plenty of stories of websites hit with fines, fees and lawsuits for use of photos they had already removed.
Remember, your website, your blog, your Facebook page is legally your responsibility and when copyright infringement is at issue, it’s you and not your designer or marketing agency that will be fighting the lawsuit and stuck with the bill.
More Posts on Best Practices
Photo copyright: faithie / 123RF Stock Photo