What follows is a real life example of what can happen if you use images from the Internet that you shouldn’t be using. No, this didn’t happen to me. But it could happen to anyone that uses images on a web site / blog.
Improper use of copyrighted material is a big problem on the Internet. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think, “Well, I found it on the Internet, so it is free to use.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. As one that has had their content stolen (yes, it is stealing) countless times, I understand well the frustration that ensues when content is stolen.
Below is a letter someone I know received from Masterfile Corporation. Masterfile is “in the business of licensing rights-managed images for commercial reproduction and publication”. And they are none too pleased at the improper use of a copyrighted image on a web site (identifying information has been redacted):
If you’d rather not read the entire letter, here is the Cliffs Notes version:
Masterfile found a copyrighted image on a website, an image for which no licensing fee had been paid. They are demanding removal of the image and payment of a “retroactive licensing fee” of $4,020. This offer is in lieu of continuing legal remedies. i.e: pay us or we may sue you.
Yep, four grand AND removal of the photo.
So what happened here?
Was this site designed by someone other than the owner? Where did they (or the designer) find the image? What if they found the image somewhere and there was no copyright notice?
We don’t know the answers to those questions, but those answers don’t matter.
“My designer did it!” is not a defensible excuse. YOU as the site owner are responsible for the content on your site whether you put it there or not.
“It wasn’t labeled with a copyright mark!” Doesn’t matter. The owner of the image (or text, video, whatever) doesn’t have to mark anything or even have to “file” for copyright to be protected under copyright laws.
“But it’s on the Internet, so it’s free for the taking since it is in the ”˜public domain’!” Wrong again. There are very specific rules that must be met for a work to be considered to be in the public domain (here is a great article from the University of California on public domain).
The bottom line is this. You should assume anything on the Internet is protected by copyright. That means text, images, graphics, videos – anything. Unless something is clearly marked as being public domain, or Creative Commons Licensed, just don’t use it.
And be very careful with Creative Commons (CC) licensed material. Not all CC licenses are created equal. The biggest mistake, by far, that I see people making when they use CC licensed content is they aren’t using material licensed for commercial use. You may not think of your real estate blog as being “commercial” use but it is. After all, you are trying to make money with it, aren’t you? Your blog is one big giant advertisement for your services. That’s commercial use folks. The second most common mistake when using CC material is lack of or improper attribution (actually, that holds true with not just CC licensed material. If you quote something under copyright fair use, CC license, whatever, you should properly attribute the source).
Be careful out there folks…