$150,000 Pictures. The Hazards Of Using Unlicensed Photos On Your Website

A picture is worth a thousand words, but it could cost you $150,000 if you use someone else’s picture for your blog or website without permission.

Yes, you read that right. That right-click button giving you the option to “Save image as” can lead you down the path of copyright infringement, being forced to pay thousands of dollars to the owner of the photograph.

Now that I have your attention, let me give you a little background.

Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works,” according to the United States Copyright Office’s website.

I got that quote directly from the United States Copyright Office’s website, and because of Fair Use I can use a quote from the U.S. Copyright Office’s website without infringing any copyright because I’m using the quote to teach you. In addition to fair use, I’ve also cited where the direct quote came from to its proper source, protecting me from plagiarism.

Copyright covers original works of authorship such as books, plays, articles, movies, songs, paintings, architecture, and photographs.

Copyright protection exists the moment the creation is fixed in a tangible form. For example, as I am writing this blog article, my writing is being fixed in tangible form and my copyright to the material has sprung into place. SmartFem can publish my blog articles because I have given them permission to do so.

How can you recognize original works that are subject to copyright protections? Simple. Did you create it? If the answer is “No” that means somebody else holds the copyright.

They don’t have to mark it as being copyrighted, it just is. They may have also registered it with the U.S. Copyright Office for the bargain price of $35, meaning they are empowered to sue you or anyone else who violates their rights.

It’s easy for the owner of online images to find out if you or anyone else has misappropriated their photographs by doing a simple Google image search, so don’t think you won’t get caught if you use an image you aren’t authorized to use.

In fact, there are some companies who make a business out of posting photos online and then suing anyone they catch using them for their own business purposes.

If someone sues for copyright infringement, they can collect either actual damages and your profits (I’ve seen them go after proceeds from a Kickstarter fundraiser), or statutory damages of $750 to $30,000 “as the court considers just,” up to $150,000 if the court determines that your actions were willful. There are also criminal penalties.

How can you use images or other content without infringing someone else’s copyright? If you are engaged in “fair use” of someone else’s work “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research” (17 U.S.C. § 107). The other way is to get permission from the copyright owner, sometimes called a license.

Never assume that you have permission, even if you find an image that seems to offer “free” images. Read the fine print on how, when, where, and under what conditions you may use the images, and download and archive that fine print for your records.

It’s even better to buy images from reputable websites (many are quite affordable) and meticulously comply with the licensing provisions to ensure you are only using them in a permitted manner.



DISCLAIMER: Although the author, Melody A. Kramer, is a licensed attorney, the contents of this article are intended to of a general educational nature, and are not intended as legal advice on any particular client matter and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any readers.