This post serves as a two-way warning, to photographers online and to online publications that use copyrighted photos.
Tiny House Listings LLC, a company whose founder is based in Wilmington, NC, faces a copyright infringement complaint for use of a Texas photographer’s images without permission on the Tiny House Listings website.
The photographer, Alexander Bayonne Stross, has taken the steps to mark his intellectual property assets. He displays his work on his website with clear watermarks and prices.
Stross did allow the magazine Country Living to use his photos in 2015. They are captioned “Courtesy of Alexander Stross” (except for one misspelled “Strauss”). It is possible that Tiny House Listings derived the copyrighted photos used in their ads from this or a similar article.
In this case, we see how the internet tends to operate on two principles that do not mesh well with copyright law:
- Can I get what I want instantly?
- Is it free?
For those of us with rapid search know-how, the answer to the first question is often “yes”. And, in the age of Instagram, Pinterest, and screenshots, the answer to the second question frequently turns out to be “yes”, too – but it should more frequently be “no”.
This is not Stross’s first rodeo (pun intended for the Texan). He has filed several lawsuits against publications who used his photos without permission, including media conglomerate Hearst Communications.
Stross filed the current complaint against Tiny House Listings LLC on October 26, 2021, requesting damages and attorney’s fees. We have yet to see how this tiny house photo bungle will unfold.
What Does This Case Tell Us about Copyrighted Photos and the Internet?
We have two morals in this story.
For photographers: it is a commercial necessity to show your work online. So, make your ownership evident. Use watermarks, create clear licensing agreements, make sure your credits are listed, and pursue infringements when they occur. It is up to you to defend your intellectual property.
For publications and advertisers: just because you can right-click and hit “Save Image As” does not mean you have permission to use a photo. It is still someone’s intellectual property, and it is worth the extra time to search, find the source, obtain permission to use a photo and sometimes pay a licensing fee.
Following the legal process to get the licensing or permission means that you do not get to use a photo instantly or for free – but it does save you the trouble of a potential lawsuit.