As you may know, I’m a photographer who licenses stock imagery.  This license that someone buys, allows them to use a certain image in a certain way.  However, there is a large group out there on internet who may be using my and others’ images illegally, so I wanted to discuss image usage on blogs today.

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This is not a subject that is new to my writings.  In the past, I’ve written other articles on the subject, but it has been almost a year, so maybe it is time to revisit, as the subject has been making the social media rounds.  I’m going to speak specifically to the United States laws, but these are ideas that are generally in force in other countries as well.  There are some exceptions, but I’m going to stick with a general discussion.

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What Is Copyright?

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When someone creates something artistic, including most any photograph, they are the ones who determine who has the right to display or make a copy of that content.  The creator holds the copyright at the point the “thing” is created, whether it is a photograph, a statue, music, or something else.  No one else gets to decide what happens to that content unless the creator licenses some of the rights.

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License?

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As a stock photographer, I license my images to buyers for use in their designs.  A license is a set of permissions on how the content can be used.  For advertisements, articles, or whatever.  If it were fine for someone to just take my work and do what they like with it, without compensation, that would harm the my ability to support my family, and my ability to further create more useful content.  So, it isn’t fine to do that.  That is what copyright laws protect.  You may not use my work without my permission, in some form.

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But I found it on Google, so it’s fine for me to use it!

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Google is a search engine.  Google goes across the internet and indexes content it finds so that you may search and find something that interests you.  It is up to you to further investigate how, if at all, you may use content you are led to by Google.  You may not simply download and use an image you find using Google Image Search.  This applies to internal work documents, your new web page, a personal or commercial blog, or whatever the current project is.  As I discuss in this post, you must do some investigation to find the creator of the image and how to properly secure a license.  If you use Google as a source to grab images, it is highly likely you will be caught and may face a monetary penalty.

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In addition, just because you find an image on the internet, whether it’s on Facebook, a business website, or someone’s photo album or blog, does not mean it is free for use, or in the “public domain”, even if it says it is.  People will take images they find online and put them on their website and state they are “public domain” because they feel that protects them somehow.  This is where you need to do your due diligence on the content.  If you don’t find concrete and reliable evidence of the status of the content, stay away!  Using “free” images from sites that do not provide you with proof of your licensing of that content is a recipe for disaster.

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Photographers will put images online to provide a showcase for customers to look at.  This does not mean the images are free for anyone to take for their purposes, and many people who do feel that way have found themselves “outed” as thieves.

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I’m OK, because I used a watermarked image and credited the creator.

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It is a misconception that you can use any content you find, as long as you credit the author or use a watermarked version.  Adding a “credit” is not a free pass to use copyrighted works.  This is still against the law, with some exceptions for “fair use”.  However, just saying “I don’t make any money from my blog” or “We are a non-profit” does not qualify as a fair use exception.  All of the factors listed on the US copyright site are weighed together to find if something qualifies as fair use.

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watermark_credit

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The above image is from a blog where the article was a collection of images the writer had found on a certain subject.  This is not within fair use guidelines.   An example of fair use could be an editorial article discussing something about Stocksy or how to watermark an image, but not an article that uses the image merely as an illustrative element because the content is on theme for the writing.  Here’s the story of a blogger who got in trouble following the advice of other bloggers.  As she learned, taking images from Google, thinking something like a simple “disclaimer” can get you in hot water.

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To review (and to add a few things), the following things do not protect you from violating copyright:

  • a disclaimer
  • crediting the creator
  • linking back to the original image
  • using a watermarked image
  • belief that you innocently used the content
  • downsizing the content
  • not claiming you are the copyright holder
  • hotlinking (not having the image on your server)
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Better to play it safe

Using a copyrighted work, planning to apologize if caught, is not a good plan.  You would still be liable for monetary damages, even if you remove the content immediately, even if you thought it was free to use.  If you are the person responsible for the web site, brochure, or whatever, you are the one who is going to get the bill if the lawyers come calling.

This is why it is best to use a reputable designer who can provide documentation for all the 3rd party work they are using.  Or, if you are the designer/writer, you use a vetted source for the content, such as a large stock photography agency, like Stocksy United, Shutterstock, or GL Stock Images.  These companies verify their contributors and will provide you with a record of your image licensing if an issue arises.

If you have any questions on this subject, feel free to post below.   Thanks for considering the rights and property of artists across the internet!

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16 Responses to Copyright And Blogs Review

  1. Brian Schweitzer says:

    So you are saying that if I take an image from Wikimedia commons where it states the image is in the public domain, I can still be sued for using it on my website? In this case I can go buy the copyright to a bunch of images, let people use them for years, and even let Wikimedia commons say these images are in the public domain, and then go back and start suing people. Nice new business model – Copyright Troll…

    • Sean Locke says:

      What I am saying is that you can’t be assured that something is in the “public domain” just because some random person you don’t know says it is. Anyone can upload anything they want to WikiMedia. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Problematic_sources You have to do your own research and find the creator, or verifiable fact that it is truly public domain due to age or something. If you can’t, you’re just better off not using it.

      • Brian Schweitzer says:

        So I need to receive a copy of their copyright documents and then somehow go and verify that the copyright documents are legit before I start using anything on the Internet, even from Wikimedia commons? How many people do you think are actually doing that? If this is the case then 95% of the world has probably infringed on copyright…

        • Brian Schweitzer says:

          Oh, and I need a certified written letter from them that gives me permission to use the image.. So much work it is not even worth doing. Cheaper to hire someone to take pictures for me.

          • Sean Locke says:

            A: Yes, hiring a photographer or doing it yourself would be a sure fire way to assure yourself and your client that there would be no issues.

            B: There are no “copyright documents”. Also, that 95% of the world is doing something doesn’t mean it is right.

            Now, I don’t use Wikimedia for anything, but looking at it, you can see that some content is more “trustworthy” than other content, and screenshots and such documentation, should provide enough defense against any claims. For instance, this page:
            http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Louis_night_expblend.jpg
            seems to have more documentation, information and licensing terms than other pages. It has a user, “dscwhen” whose photo can be found here:
            http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:User_Dschwen_SF.jpg
            A little googling can lead you his G+ page which shows it is the same guy:
            https://plus.google.com/+DanielSchwen
            At that point, it should be fairly easy to contact him with a friendly email and just confirm the image was his and the license posted on Wikimedia is valid.

            A little work, vetting and research would probably help out greatly in a legal case, even if something changes in the future. And if you can’t find the information you want, avoid using it.

          • Brian Schweitzer says:

            There are no copyright documents? – http://www.ehow.com/how_5078848_copyright-image.html

            This article says there certainly are.

            Again, I think I will start getting copyright to various images, letting them be freely used on the Internet, letting websites offer them for download, and even let some sites say the images are in the public domain. After a few years I will just go back and start suing everyone who is using the image, without any warning of course, because that is the way the law works in your opinion.

            There is no consideration of whether the user of the image had real intent to break copyright, there is no consideration of whether they made money from the image, and there is no consideration of whether the infringing company could have reasonably assumed the image was in the public domain. Not even a warning to take the image down. Just straight to the lawsuit, black and white, pay a large monetary settlement. I am going to be rich if I follow your interpretation of copyright laws.

            Just because you want to defend your copyright on your images doesn’t mean the law is working properly. It is so easy to abuse the system based on your interpretation of the law. Thanks for making me rich Sean!

          • Sean Locke says:

            Sorry Brian, you didn’t mention you were referring to US copyright office _registration_, which is completely optional, but allows you to gain larger punitive damages http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf :
            “In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copy right. However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration. ”

            However, if you read further, you’ll find that your registration must be made before or soon after publication, so your “get rich scheme” won’t work:
            “If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. ”

            As I said (aside from the above), there are no “copyright documents” aside from any legal contract you enter into to purchase the rights from someone.

            I suggest you go ahead with your plan and see how it works out.

        • ScottS says:

          Brian – eHow is incorrect. Copyright is automatic, no need to fill out a form to gain a copyright. What they are referring to is copyright registration – one more step a person can take to give them additional remedies when an infringement occurs.

          Additionally, buying the copyright to images can be a very expensive proposition. You are basing your words on a very superficial and flawed interpretation of the law.

          Yes there may be some copyright trolls out there but that in no way should affect a legitimate copyright owner from defending and protecting their copyright. The point Sean is trying to make is that the actual owner of the copyright may not have given permission to put the image in public domain and they may not even know it is out there being used in that manner. It is just like if you purchased stolen goods. The police will take the goods away from you and give them back to the rightful owner but neither the police nor the rightful owner owe you any money. Your beef is between you and the person who sold you the stolen goods.

  2. Carissa Peck says:

    I spend SO Much time teaching my students this and they don’t believe me. Hopefully they learn before they get in trouble.

  3. ScottS says:

    Brian,

    It almost sounds like Sean did something to you. All he is doing is providing information to help keep people out of the type of trouble you and your client got in. You make him out to be the enemy when all he is doing is trying to help.

    You say: “There is no consideration of whether the user of the image had real intent to break copyright, there is no consideration of whether they made money from the image, and there is no consideration of whether the infringing company could have reasonably assumed the image was in the public domain”.

    There is something under copyright law called an innocent infringement. The fact is if you infringe an image it is infringement. But the court does look at the situation and should properly apply the law. Copyright laws are not in place for people to scam the system although I am sure that they are out there. Before you keep going off the deep end you should understand what it is you are talking about. Since you feel that copyright trolls are unfairly taking advantage of copyright law I will ask you to provide some solid facts to back that up. Can you cite an instance where this happened? A real case that can be looked up? I would be interested to read about it.

    You also seem to be upset that someone can be sued without any warning. Try and apply that logic to shoplifting, car theft, murder or any other crime. If you break the law you break the law. A store owner is not required to give you a chance to put an item back on the shelf that you just tried to steal before he calls the police.

    • Brian Schweitzer says:

      Stealing and murder are different than us innocently taking an image that is being used all over the Internet with no mention of any copyright and that we have taken from a website that says it is in the public domain since 2007. So now out of the woodwork a copyright troll sues my client for an initial amount of $8 billion dollars because we used this image on our site to tell the history of St Petersburg, Russia. We didn’t sell it, we didn’t want to infringe on copyright, and we have very reasonable cause to think it was in the public domain. But the law says he can go straight to a lawsuit, it is black and white, and we lose?? This is wrong.. Here is a nice example of what is happening to my client at the moment – http://www.naturalnews.com/040800_copyright_trolls_lawsuits_intellectual_property.html#

      And I must say, Sean didn’t do anything to me and has been very helpful explaining his interpretation of the law. For that, I thank you Sean….

      • ScottS says:

        Brian,

        My point about the crimes is that if there was a need to ‘warn’ before any wrongdoing became punishable then any law would have no teeth.

        Nobody has to mention that there is a copyright in place – it is assumed and it would be smart for you to assume the same thing.

        Your beef is with the website that you took the image from. No one else. You call the owner of the copyright a copyright troll. What right do you have to assume this? I have seen no facts from you showing that this is not a legitimate person who owns the copyright to the image that you used. How do you know that he baited you in some way and then decided to claim ownership later on? Someone may have illegally copied the image from someplace and then placed it on the site you found it on. That would make the copyright owner an innocent victim – not a copyright troll.

        You say that your client is being sued for $8 billion dollars. Has an actual lawsuit been filed in court? Is it actually asking for $8 billion dollars?

        I completely understand that you did not mean to infringe the copyright. Again, your beef is with the site you got the image from.

        As a photographer I work hard for my images. It has taken years of making images, traveling, buying equipment, and spending time processing those images. There is more than a simple click of the shutter that goes into making an image. Copyright law gives me the exclusive right to decide what can be done with those images

        If the law is in fact black and white then there would never be the need for a court. If your client has already given up then have they offered to settle?

        When I asked for solid facts, not a link to a website with an agenda.

        • Brian Schweitzer says:

          So why can’t I pass the liability to the website where I took it from which has been saying it is in the public domain since 2007 and clearly infringing since 2007? Yes the lawsuit already had the first hearing and the troll was asking intially for $8 billion dollars. Sorry your equipment, time, etc, is not worth that much. I call him a troll because I read the legal documents about the case and found it to be a joke including an expired patent on the image as well. You can copyright and patent an image at the same time?? And why is it that all the Internet is using this image but now, after 8 years this man decides to target just my client? Most normal people at list send an email asking to remove the image. So considering all the information I have I consider him a troll..

          • ScottS says:

            You used the image without permission of the copyright owner. That is copyright infringement. As Sean said before – it is up to you to make sure that you have the right to use the image. Regardless of what you relied on you did not have permission.

            If you were damaged by misinformation of the website then I do not see why you wouldn’t be able to take the owner of the website to court. One good thing is you will have an actual amount of damages to pursue.

            You don’t know my situation so please refrain from pretending that you do.

            I would be interested in seeing the actual court papers that shows he is asking for $8 billion dollars. Since it is a public document can you post it here?

            I don’t know anything about patents.

            As you have been told before – it doesn’t matter who else is using it or how many people are using it. Do you know for a fact that those uses were not permitted by the copyright owner? Even if they were not please understand one thing – if you do not have the permission of the copyright owner to use their property then you are infringing on their copyright. I don’t know how to make that any more clear.

            “Most normal people….” Again – you do not understand the economics of licensing images. Please read up on it to educate yourself and then you may understand why someone might legally choose to take the case to court. Assuming that someone who exercises their rights after being infringed is not normal is childish on your part.

            You still haven’t shown how he is an internet troll. You are basing your name calling on pretty flimsy information and anger. If you would stick to the facts and respond in a rational manner you may be more credible.

          • Brian Schweitzer says:

            Your equipment and time is worth $8 billion dollars? I was a photo model in the US and I know EXACTLY how much your equipment and time cost, so I don’t have to pretend. I know…

            The court case is in Russian language, so unless you can read Russian I don’t see the point of posting it here.

            So again, even if I take something from Wikimedia Commons that says it is in the public domain, a copyright holder can sue me and win, because “Regardless of what you relied on you did not have permission.” So how can they operate in this case? I guess I could go back and sue Wikimedia in this case right?

            The funny thing is that this image was also being sold on 123RF and I contacted them, and they listed ANOTHER owner of the copyright, who lives in Ukraine. So there is even a question of who the actual owner is.

            Again, this image has been all over the Internet since 2007 or earlier and only now this copyright holder has decided to start suing only my client. If I can get copyright to an image, let all the Internet freely use it and say it is in the public domain, and then go back some years later and start suing everyone who is using it without any prior notification, this seems like a very easy way to abuse the copyright laws.

  4. Ken T Lim says:

    To even further Brian’s ideas…what’s to prevent a foto pro from having someone (anyone!) upload & say it is in Pub Domain. Then foto pro goes suing claiming it is NOT P.D.? How does ANYONE know what a web foto’s actual status is? I’d say the only solutions r to not upload at all OR to have huge watermark thru the middle of the pic and print copyright and attribution and contact info right in the pic! This makes pic uncroppable and impossible to photoshop (for a good 98%+ of the world!)
    If you don’t do this u r inviting people to steal. It’s like putting your valuables on your front yard and then complain got the police. Any judge would find that ludicrous and u won’t be granted a trial. In fact, yr complaint wouldn’t even get past a court clerk and you’d never find a lawyer to take yr case!

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