I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV. But I am a business man and entrepreneur with over a decade of online commerce and publishing experience.
As the web gets bigger and bigger, online copyright and intellectual property seems to become clearer in some ways and more complicated in others. If you think I'm an idiot for saying things are getting more complex, then let me explain. As newer and different forms of social media, search engine, advertising, and sharing platforms are created, the rules are constantly updated and clarified. Take the viral rise of Pinterest as an example for image sharing and cases of supposed and actual copyright violations etc. Also consider the "Fair Use" laws for online property and the rise of syndication, linking, sharing, and scraping sites such as the Huffington Post that have gone legit. So suck on that one legal know-it-alls!
This means that a lot of the rules of the internet are not black and white, and grey / constantly evolving. It's becoming even more of an issue with photos being easier to take and share, being much higher quality, and generating an enormous amount of traffic and money for many companies and individuals. I'm not saying that you it's ok to be poaching images from other sites, or taking all your images from the first thing you find on Google search. There are plenty of royalty-free photo sites, and I suggest just investing in a smart phone or $75 HD digital camera at least if you are going to be posting a lot of photos to your websites. If you do take a picture, make sure to cite it correctly and completely. All I'm saying is, although there are exceptions to the rule and a moral darkish grey area, you probably won't serve 10 years in prison because you used a picture of Will Smith on your tiny blog. The FBI probably won't be showing up at your house for that Lebron James post you made where you posted a picture of him photoshopped with a dress.
I personally have never had anyone request that I remove a photo from one of my websites for copyright violations. I've only had a few of my owned pictures be used without my permission on a completely unrelated site, and it didn't bother me so I didn't even bother taking any action. If there ever is an issue, I expect to be contacted, presented the correct legal documentation that this site owns all the rights to the picture, and I will remove my photo immediately with an accompanied apologize. If somebody does not remove a picture completely and in a reasonably expected period of time, then a Cease and Desist Letter should be expected. If that is not adhered to, then the person with the full legal rights to the picture can take further legal action. That's my understanding of the whole process and I don't know anyone who has run into a problem.
If your site is worth a million dollars and you are making big revenue off stealing pictures from random websites, then you might get a little more attention and legal ramifications. To me it seems like a matter of cost-benefit analysis. If a company thinks they are losing a lot of money because of your misused or stolen picture, or they think they could get a big settlement out of you (you have big pockets), then they might press charges. If not, nobody will probably care.
Feel free to tell me your thoughts and experiences. A lot of people might think they are an expert in this field, but unless you've participated in legal matters directly related to this topic or specialize in intellectual property in relation to the internet, you probably don't know jack and you are just speculating.
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