Online Image Copyrights, Creative Commons, & Fair Use

As the web gets bigger and bigger, online copyright and intellectual property is becoming clearer in some ways and more complicated in others. 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 legitimate. 

This means that a lot of the rules of the internet are not black and white, and are actually pretty grey. The rules are 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 alright to be poaching images from other sites, or taking all your images from the first thing you find on Google search. When it comes to having an image database to use on your websites, it can end up costing a small fortune and ruining your small business budget if you go with Getty Images, Shutterstock, or any other service. That's why using great free royalty free sites with no image attribution needed like Pixabay, Pexels, and Canva can save you a fortune.

There are plenty of royalty-free photo sites, and I suggest just using a smart phone or affordable DSLR 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 personal blog or side business. 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, or that Donald Trump meme you posted on Reddit.

I personally have never had 2 email requests in nearly 10 years that I remove a photo from one of my websites for copyright violations. One of them I used in 2009 which was my own error and the other was submitted via Guest Blog Post without including a URL credit. I resolved them both within 2 minutes by deleting the images, replacing them with royalty free ones from Pixabay, and apologizing to the owner. I've only had a few of my owned pictures be used without my permission on a completely unrelated site, and it didn't affect me in any significant way 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, the potential legal fees wouldn't make sense to pay and most individuals and entities probably won't make that next step. I'm just being honest and realistic about the situation.

Feel free to tell me your thoughts and experiences @MikeSchiemer. Obviously if you're a photographer or graphic designer your perspective will be much different than a blogger or web designer. 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 the landscape and you are just speculating.

I hope you enjoyed this article on the current status of online image copyrights, creative commons, and fair use for pictures on your business website.

Interested in more articles about digital media?

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Published By Michael J. Schiemer
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