Let’s say you start a business. Naturally, you decide you need a website to market your services or products. Maybe you choose to build the website yourself using a template. Or you hire a third party to create a customized website. In either scenario, you are going to want to use some images to enhance the visual appeal. So you search the internet for photos that you might want to use.
Not so fast.
You can not just copy and paste stuff from Google Image Search. If you do, you will leave yourself open to potential lawsuits. When using photos on your site, you have to be careful.
So, what should you do?
In this post, I am going to cover best — and worst — practices for using images, as well as the repercussions you can face if you violate the law and use images without permission.
What You Should Not Do
The unfortunate thing about the “not” list is that it is not only the easy way to go, but also what most of us have become accustomed to in how we search for things online. Follow these techniques for your business, though, and you could end up in a world of hurt.
- Copy a photograph you like from any website and place it on your own. Do this without discerning who owns the copyright for the photograph or obtaining permission to use the photograph on your website.
- Go to the website of a competitor. Copy some of their photos then place them on your website.
- Find a website that advertises stock photos available for free, but neglect to read the fine print which states not for commercial use. Usually a licensing fee is required for commercial use.
While the first two are pretty obvious to most people, the last one can be a bit tricky. That is why I say you need to be careful. Sometimes, even if you are trying to do the right thing it is possible to make a mistake.
What You Should Do
Luckily, there are a couple of options here to keep yourself safe.
- Use photographs that you have taken. This way, you know you own the copyrights for them.
- Go to the website of a legitimate stock photo company and pay a royalty or licensing fee for the use of the photo.
It may feel frustrating to have to pay a fee for any photo that is not yours, but it is not as bad as it sounds. If you will be continuing to use images regularly, there are multiple sites out there which allow you to have access to their entire library for a fee or membership.
The Consequences of Using Images Without Permission
Engaging in bad practices will result in you receiving a cease and desist letter from a lawyer. It will include demands for a significant amount of money for each photograph you are using without permission.
If you ignore the cease and desist letter, you will likely receive subsequent letters every few weeks. Each time, the amount of damages demanded will probably increase. The longer you ignore them, the more money the lawyer will demand. Some lawyers may go so far as to file a copyright infringement case against you in federal court.
I receive telephone calls and emails all the time from business people who get letters like these. In some cases, they knew they were not following the rules, but thought it would not be noticed. In others, they genuinely did not know they were doing wrong. Regardless, they know that they need to act now to avoid problems for their business.
Some negotiate a settlement immediately and stop the event from going any further. Others freak out and envision financial ruin and bankruptcy. They may respond to the cease and desist letter by removing the photo from their website and telling the lawyer who sent it to go away.
Unfortunately, often the lawyer will not go away. Instead, they will demand more money.
Remember, the lawyer who sent the cease and desist letter represents a client whose intellectual property you used without permission. In many cases, this individual is someone who makes their living as a photographer or selling other people’s photos. Even if they are just a regular person who happened to take a good picture, they have the same rights. And in their opinion, you have infringed on their copyright and taken money away from them that they could have earned.
What If Your Web Developer Is the Problem?
Sometimes, as mentioned above, business owners have a third party develop their website. Those third party web developers may use bad practices. Sadly, even if the problem was caused by a third party, the cease and desist letters go to the business owner — not the website developer.
Why? Because the business owner is making money off of the use of the photograph on the website. This means that the business owner is responsible for copyright infringement.
So if you hire the work out, make sure you use a legitimate website developer. Someone you believe you can work with on a long term basis. Someone you trust.
And either way, always stick to best practices when developing a website.
If you have questions about copyrights and other IP on your site, reach out to the Marks Gray intellectual property team.