April 25

Copyright Infringement of Online Images


I’ve received multiple calls during the past couple of weeks from business owners that have been accused of copyright infringement, even though the images they use on their website are original or licensed from a stock photo website.

It used to be rare for small business owners to be accused of copyright infringement, but with google image search, it’s become easy for copyright owners to find their photos online. 

Some law firms and copyright owners send cease and desist letters for any use of a photo, even if a photo is available through stock photo sites. It could be that the stock photo site is using an image pilfered from the original owner, or there may be a dispute about who actually owns the image. Either way, a legitimate business owner that takes the time to author images online or licenses an image from an apparently reputable source isn’t expected to receive a cease and desist letter. 

Here’s some tips for avoiding nasty surprises. 

  • Have a responsible party review any and all posts to your company’s website(s) and social media before the posts are published. 
  • Use a clearance checklist that requires each image to be sourced, with the source of the image being listed on the checklist, which is stored in your company records.
  • As often as possible, use original photos that are taken by an employee within the normal duties of employment (as written in an employment agreement) or under a work made for hire agreement, properly executed prior to the photos being taken and posted.
  • When photos are sourced from a stock photo site, try to keep the file name the same as the file name that was downloaded, and annotate which stock photo site was used.
  • Copy or download the license terms under which the image was downloaded and used. (These terms can change over time, and it could be important to show that you complied with the terms of the license in place when you downloaded the image.)
  • Carefully read the license terms and note whether the image may be used for commercial purposes and any other limitations or obligations the license imposes, and be careful to abide by any such limitations and obligations, especially any obligation to give credit to the author. (If you fail to abide by all of the terms, the license may not protect our company.)

Where can you go for stock images? Here are some suggestions, but downloader beware. There are few guarantees that you won’t inadvertently use an image that has been pilfered by a third party. 

What can you do with stock images? Well, that depends. Some of the recommendations, above, allow you to create derivative works, which means that you can use your creativity and imagination. Free sites like https://Pixlr.com and https://www.photopea.com/ make it easy to edit and morph images and photos into anything that you want.

A program or app like https://www.canva.com/ can make it simple to design graphical designs for social media and websites alike. This can be a great way for creating banners with just the right dimensions.

https://www.remove.bg/ and https://www.photoroom.com/ offer a quick way to remove backgrounds, automatically, on your laptop or phone.



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