Hey, that’s my photo on your website 

You’ve just written the best blog post of your life and now all you need is a photo to make it perfect. Since the post is about you taking a short break from accepting new clients, you decide the best photo is of a movie star famous for saying he’ll be back. A quick Google image search and you have your photo.

Or maybe you are a photographer, and you come across one of your photos being used on a company’s social media platform. You’d posted it in your website’s gallery, but here it is without your permission, much less any mention of your name.

If you think either of these scenarios is grounds for a copyright infringement lawsuit, you are correct.

Copyright infringement can be costly

If you commit infringement, you can be liable for anywhere between $750 to $30,000 or up to a whopping $150,000 in situations where the court finds that you were willful in your infringement.

What is copyright?

According to the Copyright Law of the United States, you own the photo you created and have exclusive rights to your image. Without an agreement to the contrary, no copyright protected work can be reproduced, distributed, or downloaded – without explicit permission. Whether it’s on an online portfolio or used in your social media feed, you own that photo throughout your life and years afterward. Displaying the copyright notice (the little c in a circle) is no longer required (but it’s recommended for other reasons).

How do I avoid infringing on others?

Clearly, you need to be careful when using photography for your social media or website. Here are some best practices to keep you out of court:

  • Assume every image is copyrighted. Better safe than sorry.
  • Get permission before using the image. Most photographers are willing to work with you.
  • Receive a demand notice? Take it seriously. Pull the content off your site immediately unless you have permission or you have assurance it’s fair use.
  • Use Creative Commons Licensing. By using creative commons (like Flickr), you might be able to share, distribute, copy, sell or create a derivative work from a copyright-protected work. 

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

If you find your image is being used without permission, there is recourse. Because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), you can contact the hosting Internet Service Provider (ISP) or go to DMCA.com to report the infringement. The copyright act requires the ISP to remove the image from the offending website if it wants to maintain immunity from a copyright lawsuit.

Whether you’re interested in reusing content from others, or trying to protect your own content, knowing copyright law is vital to your business. And remember, better safe than sorry.