How susceptible are you to legal hassles and even copyright infringement lawsuits? I don’t mean to be trite but I have to say it, because it is for your own good.
It can happen to you. One day you can innocently be creating a rock star business blog post with what you think is a free image onto your blog or in your newsletter and the next thing you know you have a cease and desist letter in your mailbox, or worse.
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How much worse? You could be sued, and even without so much as a warning, written letter or email. The first you hear from the copyright holder could be a letter that was delivered from your local Fed-ex guy who just shows up on your doorstep. Guess what it is — it’s a package from their lawyer demanding hundreds, if not thousands of dollars! Happy Monday!
A Cautionary Tale
One blogging and content company recently wrote about their encounter with what they called “a predatory lawyer.” Though they take full responsibility for erroneously posting a copyrighted image, they still caution all bloggers to be extremely vigilant, because behind the wave in popularity of blogging has followed a wave of lawyers who are constantly on the lookout for unwitting misuse of images.
Even though this photo was not taken by a professional photographer or artist of any kind, and even though they immediately took it down and, even though they could prove that less than 100 visitors had even seen the blog post . . . the lawyer still tried to sue them for $8000 — a figure their own lawyer was later able to negotiate down to $3000, which they were forced to pay. What a costly, scary, senseless mistake.
So how do you protect yourself? It’s important to understand what you can and cannot do online when it comes to posting images. Hopefully, I have caught you before you have even begun to blog and post images.
(If I haven’t, I beg you to read through this post and then look at your site. Go back and remove any images you think might be in copyright violation. Even if you’re not sure, delete them anyhow. Better to be safe than sorry when it comes to possibly making a thousand dollar mistake.)
Here’s a list of don’ts we need to follow
- Assume that ignorance protects you. It doesn’t. Even if you accidentally post an image you should have paid for and gotten permission for, you can still be held financially liable.
- Piggyback on your Webmaster’s licensing. It doesn’t matter if the Webmaster is allowed to use that image, you must be able to.
- Think that taking the image down immediately saves you. Yes, you need to do that if you ever receive a “DMCA Takedown Notice” but that action may not be enough to avoid a lawsuit.
- Resize an image and think that protects you from lawsuit — because no, it doesn’t.
- Think that any of the following can keep you from getting sued: citing the photographer’s name, adding any kind of disclaimer or the fact that you don’t make any money from your blog. None of that matters if you’re working with a copyrighted image.
- Assume that if someone else has already posted them to Pinterest or Tumblr, that those images are fair game. Even if they themselves say “you have my permission to use this image”, how can you be sure that they themselves have permission to use that in the first place? They could have re-posted it from Martha Stewart’s blog for all you know! You want Martha coming after you? Proceed with massive caution on these image-heavy sites.
Here is a list of Do’s that we can follow
- Read the fine print. Even on sites that promise that everything is free, free, FREE! Read the FAQ area, which should point you specifically to the licensing information. Dig. Take the time to protect yourself and do your due diligence.
- Look into paying for a subscription. Shutterstock offers reasonable monthly and annual plans that can help you add some graphical interest to your site and blog, without exposing you to potential lawsuits. The daily peace of mind you’ll enjoy will be worth every penny you spend.
(One quick caveat: make sure you are only using the images that your license allows you to. Don’t assume that if you pay to be able to use a Shutterstock image on your site, it’s okay to print them on your brochures or even include them in your email newsletters! Again I say: check the fine print, people.)
- Make finding the right images as much of a priority as it is to post good copy. You wouldn’t just throw any old words up there, so take the time to find the right images. Don’t take that approach with your image sourcing either.
- Take your own darn photos! Most camera phones are high res and sophisticated enough to let you take great photos. If not great ones, good enough to add a little pizazz to your blog posts. You don’t need to be Annie Leibovitz, but at least you know that cute, if not perfectly lit, photo is all yours!
Finally, A Freebie List:
There are places online where you can search for and use some beautiful imagery. You just need to know where to look and what the limitations are. These stock image sites will definitely come in handy while you are working on creating that popular business website.
Paid subscription sites: I’ve already mentioned Shutterstock, but look into other alternatives like PhotoSpin.com, iStockPhoto, BigStock, Fotolia, and more. New ones seem to crop up every day. Visit each, do some sample searches of blog photos that would fit your needs, then choose the ones that come back with the best results.
Now compare their pricing structures and plans and find your perfect fit. Like I said before, a bit of cash upfront can save you a lot of worry – and possibly cash – down the line.
Creative Commons: Here is the exact language from the Creative Commons website to describe the site. “There is a giant pool of CC-licensed creativity available to you.
There are hundreds of millions of works — from songs and videos to scientific and academic material — available to the public for free and legal use under the terms of our copyright licenses, with more being contributed every day.”
As usual, as always, read the fine print! But Creative Commons can often be a viable option.
Pixabay.com: A great free site. Check out their editor’s choice area for particularly nifty images.
Gratisography.com: A free site that has cornered the market on unusual images. If you want a photo of someone’s cowboy boot stuck to a highway with gum, this is your place.
Startupstockphotos.com/archive: They have the most comforting tagline ever: “Take ’em, these things are free. Go. Make something.” But again (say it with me now! ) READ THE FINE PRINT!
Littlevisuals.co: Seriously stunning high res background and nature photos. They even zip them into a file and email them to you, at 7 photos per week.
Snapwiresnaps.tumblr.com: This site works the same as the one above, but you go online and download them.
Lifeofpix.com: Magazine quality stuff, free to use!
Picjumbo.com: Beautiful photos, cleanly categorized.
Albumarium.com: Great photos and again, nicely categorized for you. Their Black and White section is especially pretty.
Deathtothestockphoto.com: Two photographers started this service and the quality shows. They send you free photos right to your email, every single month!
Unsplash.com: More magazine quality photos, where they post 10 new photos every 10 days
Morguefile.com/archive: Yes, it has an eerie name, but it is really a great site. It is very easy to use and has great categories too.
Freeimages.com: Quality stuff here, but proceed with caution. Don’t mistakenly go for a copyrighted image, because they serve these up here too. This site is owned by Getty Images.
So tell me – where do you get your images? Did I miss any on my list? How about any horror stories with image uses, or any near misses with the law?
Tell me about it below!
**Note: I’m not a lawyer. This is not legal advice and should not be taken as such. These are basic guidelines on how to start protecting yourself online. I encourage everyone to do their own research after reading this blog post.**
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