Sep 7, 2012

A cautionary tale: Copying pictures off the internet can get you sued

Source: Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
People do it everyday, probably millions of times a day.  Bloggers certainly do it.  Do what you ask? Find a great picture of a waterfall, model, you name it--and copy and paste it to their Facebook page, Pinterest, personal blog, etc.

Bloggers in particular, may go to Google Images and find the perfect picture to fit their article.  A simple click, paste, and you're done.  To be on the "safe side" you  might even list a source for the picture.  Being especially cautious, you put a disclaimer on your blog that may acknowledge that you don't claim ownership for all the pictures on your blog and if someone finds an image that belongs to them, they can e-mail you and the picture will be taken down immediately.  That covers you right?

Let me tell you the story of self-described "casual blogger" Roni Loren.  She has graciously given me permission to use her story here as a lesson and warning to others.
Roni did just what I mentioned previously.  Copied and pasted hundreds of images--actually about 700 to be more exact, on her blog over a period of 3 years.  Other bloggers were doing the same thing and she had read their disclaimers and had a similar one.  She didn't think she was doing anything illegal.  

Roni tells her story: "Well on one random post, I grabbed one random picture off of Google and then a few weeks later I got contacted by the photographer who owned that photo. He sent me a takedown notice, which I responded to immediately because I felt awful that I had unknowingly used a copyrighted pic."

"The pic was down within minutes. But that wasn't going to cut it. He wanted compensation for the pic. A significant chunk of money that I couldn't afford. I'm not going to go into the details but know that it was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn't have for a use of a photo I didn't need." 

Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 Roni acknowledged that she was in the wrong--unknowingly. However ignorance of copyright laws may not be a permissible defense, and as Roni's story shows, even taking the image down, after receiving a demand to do so,may not be the end  of the matter.

Roni wanted her story told to warn other bloggers who may be doing the same thing.  Not only did she change all 700 images on her blog but she deleted most of her Pinterest boards amongst other things. 

I found another very detailed account involving a Copywriter. It's worth it to read what happened in this case: Legal Lesson Learned: Copywriter Pays $4,000 for a $10 Photo.  

It is so important that people, bloggers specifically, make themselves aware of Fair Use and Creative Commons, along with areas where they might violate copyright.  If you are using images, you very well better be sure you are within the proper rights of doing so or it may be a legal landmine you're walking into.  Roni learned some very valuable lessons and provides some great ways to prevent getting into a copyright violation issue.  Go here to read her tips.

I again wish to thank Roni for so kindly responding to my request to share her experience.  It was certainly a lesson learned and worth sharing.


Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.  Consult an attorney for specific answers to legal questions or concerns.




14 comments:

  1. I was the same when I first started my blog three years ago. I just googled a pic and boom!

    Before I got serious about blogging I removed all of those pics. Now I just have my own images there.

    Sarah
    http://acatlikecuriosity.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. I've always been paranoid about copying pictures so I spent hours looking for sites where I can properly download pictures. After I read Roni's story, I went back and re-read the Terms of Use for each site I use to be sure I'm following closely. It's better to be safe than sorry!

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  2. Thanks for spreading the word. I've recently started adding google images to some posts cause I thought posts without any pics look a bit boring. Will have to check out some of the safe sites she recommends or take some stock photos of my own like she suggests.

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    1. I'm glad this post was helpful Liz. I prefer a photo with every post if I can, so I know what you mean about posts without any pics. There are lots of free photo sharing websites out there--just be sure to read and understand their Terms of Use! I plan to start taking more pictures to build up my reserves of stock photos. It's just not worth getting sued over!

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  3. Such an important thing for all bloggers to know. I am a photographer myself, and know a little about copyrights, so I'm super careful. :) Thanks for sharing!

    And thanks so much for stopping by and linking up with us! Following you back now! :)

    ♥Nicole @ http://meandthem00n.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi Nicole! Welcome to my little spot. It's great that you are both a photographer and aware of copyrights! It's so important. I'm very happy to put this post out so that it increases awareness--especially among fellow bloggers. I thank you for following me back!

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  4. Wow, I am so blown away by this post! Such an important issue, and I'm sure not a lot of people know about it - I know I didn't! I for one am definitely going to be a lot more careful about where I get my pictures! Thanks so much!

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    1. Jenn I am so glad this post was as eye-opening for you as it was for me when I was working on it! I'm so happy that it was useful to you. Thanks for visiting. :))

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  5. I guess a lot of us don't think about it.. and most don't mean any harm by it. I grab photos occasionally to promote someones product I love, or I do hot topics since I've dedicated my blog to my daughter. Its like a journal where I show stuff.. and sometimes I'll tell a story that just needs that one google searched photo. Its kinda crazy to think about.

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    1. It is crazy to think about, but what's scarier to me is the amount a person can be sued for! I know in the link I posted about the copywriter, they stated that was the first and only picture they had copied from the Internet, so it really is like playing roulette.

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  6. Holy catfish! That is crazy. Very scary I am always scared when I borrow images we always put the url. I hope that is enough.

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    1. Hi Rhiannon. Unfortunately putting the URL/photographer's name may not always be enough. I would suggest getting your pics from a photo sharing site that clearly outlines how to properly use and credit the photo, use photos you take yourself, or get the photographer's written permission before using the picture. It's certainly not worth going through the legal and financial nightmare that can come with violating copyright.

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  7. I'm super paranoid about this stuff, so I only use my own photos. Unfortunately, I don't have a good camera and I know absolutely nothing about photography. But I'd rather have amateur pictures than get sued for using someone else's professional picture! I have considered using one of those free photo websites, but I've even paranoid about those!

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    1. That's actually a good idea Laura. I was so freaked out as I researched this topic, that I went through and triple checked to be sure all the free photos were being used in the proper way. I actually deleted a bunch off my FB and G+ because I wasn't sure and it wasn't worth the risk.

      Even if you're pictures aren't the greatest, at least you don't have to worry about where they came from and such. As I mentioned up top in a comment, I am starting to try to take more of my own stock photos to use.

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