Photographers spend a lot of time learning their craft. They invest in expensive equipment to make their images look great. But with a simple click, it’s so easy to grab that image and use it for our own purposes on the web – whether it’s in a blog post, a website header, or a logo. And, since everything seems free on the internet, and it is so very easy, what’s the problem. There is a problem. More and more bloggers are getting into trouble as the border between copyright infringement and fair use turns from blurry line to trip wire.
Recently, one of my clients received a letter from a major licensor of digital images. The letter was not a “cease and desist” letter, as one would expect an aggrieved party to offer someone who allegedly wronged them. It was more of a marketing piece. It’s as though the legal department at this licensor is now a branch of the marketing department.
The client, in writing a blog post, grabbed a simple image from the Google’s Image Search feature and inserted it into his post. He never gave it a second thought. Months later, long after the post was indexed by Google, Bing, Yahoo and all the other web services, the licensor contacted him and demanded $400 for use of the image. They made no request to remove the image. Pay or be sued.
Like most people, my client removed the offending image and ignored the payment demand. A second arrived several weeks later. This one, again from the licensor’s legal department, explained that the blogger could continue using the image and a discount of $100 would be applied to the balance if payment were to be remitted immediately. Plus, as a bonus, the licensor would throw in four more images at no additional charge.
In my life of business, I have never received a letter like that from a legal department. I’ve received a lot of letters like that from marketing departments.
Could the licensor’s legal department now be an arm of its marketing department? What an interesting concept.
For the record, I believe in compensating photographers and illustrators for their work. I use free images and acknowledge the source as per the artist’s licensing requests. I pay for stock photography when I use it. I make my own images, as well. All of these are the right things to do.
My point is the melding of legal and marketing in this case. A threat of a lawsuit to coerce an alleged offender into becoming a loyal customer is a novel idea.
If you’d like to steer clear of copyright infringement issues, pay for the right to use images, buy a camera, learn to use Adobe Illustrator, and download images from free sources such as freedigitalphotos.net.
Generally, when you pay to use a licensed image, you must credit the photographer and the distributor, which is what I have done in the image linked to this post. Simply paying for an image is not enough. And read your rights carefully. Just because you have the right to display the image on your website does not mean you have the right to use it in printed material.