Few online tasks are easier than “appropriating” an image for your own use. Whether it is a picture of a celebrity on the red carpet for your blog or a still life that relates to your business or industry for your website, simply copying and pasting photos, art, and other images is ridiculously easy. That doesn’t make it any less illegal though. Most business owners know that you cannot violate copyright this way – but there are increasing complaints that websites are using illegal images. While the blame may technically lie at the feet of your web designer, who used the image, you are, ultimately, responsible for what appears on your site or blog.
Phil Orford, the chief executive of the Forum of Private Business says, “We’ve received a number of calls recently from members who have been notified by Getty that they owe money because they are, however unwittingly, using unlicensed images on their websites.” Part of the problem is that images are so easily available. They appear to be free. Why not take them? It is like paying for fruit at the market or simply going to the tree and picking it yourself. But someone owns the fruit on that tree.
Another issue is that business owners assume that web designers will adhere to copyright laws and only use images that are either free under fair use rules or which they have paid for through an image service, like Getty, ShutterStock, iStockPhotos, and others. This isn’t always the case, unfortunately, and your business or site could be held liable for using images that do not belong to you.
It is easier today for copyright holders to track their images online. This means that even if you have a very small blog, with a readership of 1000, the holders can still find out if you’ve taken their images. While some are content to simply let you take it down, and some may even let you use it, others will take legal action.
To avoid this, check out the images on your site. If you entrusted your site to a web designer, ask them where they got the images and if they are free under fair use rules. If you are thinking of putting up new images, don’t just use any one you find on Google Images. Yes, you may be able to get them and upload them, but that doesn’t mean they’re free.
You can find free images, which are often used on blogs, but many forbid commercial use, so watch out for this as well. You can buy stock photos, or more accurately, you can buy the right to use them. Check on the terms of the agreement to make sure you are using the photos correctly.
Or you could always take your own photos or create your own images – just make sure to copyright them.