Be REALLY Careful Where You Get Your Images

Online images and photographs, and the appropriate use and licensing of those images is an important topic.

Recently, my friend and fellow copywriter Ryan Healy wrote a blog post covering a series of letters he received demanding payment in settlement for use of images that claimed he allegedly violated copyright law.

Read the linked post at http://www.ryanhealy.com/getty-images-extortion-letter/ to get his explanation of what happened.

In short, folks… if you use images of ANY type online, in blog posts, articles, on websites… whatever… you have to be extremely careful you understand the rights surrounding the use of images.  You also have to be careful from whom you purchase those images, and who controls the rights to those images.

I’m not an attorney, so consult one if you feel you need to… this is that important.

Now for my opinion on the topic…

In short, there are a few companies Ryan listed in the blog post I linked to above where he recommends you do NOT shop for images.  I will be following his recommendation.

EDIT:  I’ve gotten a few emails asking those recommendations be posted here, so I will quote Ryan’s post where he placed those recommendations in a nice listed format:

A List of Photo Resellers to Avoid

If you disagree with the use of settlement demand letters that ask for extortionate amounts of money from innocent infringers, then you can vote with your dollars and take your business elsewhere.

The following companies are known to issue tens of thousands of settlement demand letters every year, many of which are sent to innocent infringers:

  • Getty Images
  • iStockphoto (owned by Getty)
  • Masterfile
  • Corbis Images
  • Jupiter Images
  • Superstock

Regardless of the outcome of my particular case, I will no longer support these companies. I recommend you avoid them also.

That being said…

I think photographers who publish their images online with the expectation to profit from said images deserve all the profit and credit from these images that the law allows.

But the law, in my opinion, needs to be clarified and more specific so NO ONE can set damages received for inappropriate use of these images (not the accuser or the accused).

Instead, the law itself needs to get really clear about what damages can be awarded, so clear that there is NO argument about who pays, and who gets paid… then what is paid when something like Ryan’s situation happens.

Here’s an idea that is circulating in my head, and it is by no means complete:

  • When a photographer sets a price for their image they need to be clear in their pricing… and if there are royalty payments, those need to be crystal clear as well.
  • These figures need to be listed clearly somewhere where the photo is being sold or published for use (not all images are sold for profit, but for purposes of law, these figures STILL need to be published to establish value).
  • If someone uses a photo without proper paid license, or does not obtain proper documented permissions from the photographer, then this published value becomes the basis for damages set.
  • The published value needs to be set ONLY by the photographer, and changed ONLY by the photographer, and MUST be set in order to claim damages.
  • The damages for inappropriate use are set to a specific (and reasonable) multiplier of the base figure set ONLY by the photographer.
  • Also, the photographer cannot sell the photo for profit at a different rate than would be expected to be paid if someone simply used their photo inappropriately (e.g. they would price it at a sale price, and a “value establishing” price, and both are the same).
  • And finally, a watermark establishing licensing rights, or use rights would need to be placed on the base image uploaded by the photographer in order to claim damages (if someone pays for a license, this watermark would be removed… so it’s easier to determine if the images are used correctly).

Obviously, this isn’t a perfect system… but the discussion around this sensitive issue will continue, and is an important one… but the bottom line is…

Be very careful about your use of images and photos (e.g. don’t just search Google blindly and use images freely).  Also be careful from whom you purchase images, keep your documentation on file (offline) for proof etc…

For me, from this point forward, I will either be using a Creative Commons search to find images licensed for use without the baggage of the license (see the linked website for details)… or taking my own photos for use myself.

It’s easier that way… sheesh. :)

8 thoughts on “Be REALLY Careful Where You Get Your Images

  1. I think that there is an incredible double standard here. I am guessing that the person who constructed the blog in question found the image from a “Google Image Search”. Why is there no legal action against Google?

    I doubt there is legal precedent here, but big G’s hands are just as dirty here as the bloggers in question. The image is in their database, and more than likely listed in their search engine.

    Pretty damning indictment of legal shield though.

    • Kurt,

      First, thank you for stopping by and commenting.

      And second… I think I agree with your point. I think that some sort of standard needs to be set where it’s clear how online author’s works (text, images, video etc…) are indexed and used.

      You bring up a good point when you ask “Why is there no legal action against Google?” That question, while the answer may not bring legal action against Google… might help set the standards I’m referring to.

      In short, we need clarification going forward. The problem lies in the balance of clarification and the freedom of choice, as they cannot both exist 100% in the same context IMO.

      Great addition Kurt :)

  2. I think that there is an incredible double standard here. I am guessing that the person who constructed the blog in question found the image from a “Google Image Search”. Why is there no legal action against Google?

    I doubt there is legal precedent here, but big G’s hands are just as dirty here as the bloggers in question. The image is in their database, and more than likely listed in their search engine.

    Pretty damning indictment of legal shield though.

    • Kurt,

      First, thank you for stopping by and commenting.

      And second… I think I agree with your point. I think that some sort of standard needs to be set where it’s clear how online author’s works (text, images, video etc…) are indexed and used.

      You bring up a good point when you ask “Why is there no legal action against Google?” That question, while the answer may not bring legal action against Google… might help set the standards I’m referring to.

      In short, we need clarification going forward. The problem lies in the balance of clarification and the freedom of choice, as they cannot both exist 100% in the same context IMO.

      Great addition Kurt :)

  3. I think that your suggestions would deal with only one type of infringement. None of the infringements I have found of my photos has been from the web. They have all been from scanned copies of published work. Some of the images I do not offer for sale as stock because I exploit them exclusively myself.

    I have had two cases, (one settled for £1500), where infringers have found my images on Flickr with Creative Commons licences. Just because an image says it is Creative Commons does not mean the person who put it there did not steal it.

    • Hi Bob, and thank you for stopping by.

      Great addition, and you’re right, I didn’t think about the “offline” possibilities. As to the Creative Commons idea, that would be a reason to add a watermark of some type to identify the image IMO. If the photographer was the “gatekeeper” of whether or not an image was licensed and used properly I could see it doing three things:

      1) Theft would at least be reduced, I don’t know how much… but adding a watermark isn’t too complicated as a deterrent.

      2) Photographers could identify if their images were stolen more easily (or the company representing them).

      3) And perhaps most importantly, the “ignorance” factor gets reduced because the image would have a mark that clearly identifies the need to license it (pay or link etc…) before someone could use it. As it stands, it isn’t easy to tell, as you pointed out with the fact a CC image could in fact still be stolen.

      And I’m NOT claiming this to be a perfect system, like house security, if the thief wants your photo… they will get it. :)

      I appreciate your addition to the conversation Bob.

  4. I think that your suggestions would deal with only one type of infringement. None of the infringements I have found of my photos has been from the web. They have all been from scanned copies of published work. Some of the images I do not offer for sale as stock because I exploit them exclusively myself.

    I have had two cases, (one settled for £1500), where infringers have found my images on Flickr with Creative Commons licences. Just because an image says it is Creative Commons does not mean the person who put it there did not steal it.

    • Hi Bob, and thank you for stopping by.

      Great addition, and you’re right, I didn’t think about the “offline” possibilities. As to the Creative Commons idea, that would be a reason to add a watermark of some type to identify the image IMO. If the photographer was the “gatekeeper” of whether or not an image was licensed and used properly I could see it doing three things:

      1) Theft would at least be reduced, I don’t know how much… but adding a watermark isn’t too complicated as a deterrent.

      2) Photographers could identify if their images were stolen more easily (or the company representing them).

      3) And perhaps most importantly, the “ignorance” factor gets reduced because the image would have a mark that clearly identifies the need to license it (pay or link etc…) before someone could use it. As it stands, it isn’t easy to tell, as you pointed out with the fact a CC image could in fact still be stolen.

      And I’m NOT claiming this to be a perfect system, like house security, if the thief wants your photo… they will get it. :)

      I appreciate your addition to the conversation Bob.

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