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)
- Corbis Images
- Jupiter Images
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.