Using an image without permission can cost thousands of dollars
The online world is bursting with photos that anyone can download in seconds with the right click of a mouse.
If you are building a website or creating a poster or a Facebook post for your business or an organization you volunteer to help, it can be mighty tempting to use that photo you find online that is just perfect for your purpose.
But using those images is a crime, with few specific exceptions, and could cost you thousands of dollars.
That’s because every image is automatically protected by copyright law the instant it is created. U.S. copyright law says no one can use that image without permission. Period. Breaking that law probably will not land anyone in jail. But it can result in civil suits seeking compensation, usually ranging from $750 to $30,000 — plus attorneys’ fees.
The owner of a website might just get a letter demanding the removal of unauthorized images, but settlements or lawsuits costing $5,000 are not uncommon.
As professional web development companies know, the only images you generally have permission to use are ones taken by the company, an employee or client; ones you buy from the photographer or a stock image agency; or ones you obtain from a few sources that offer some images for free. Some exceptions include images available under Creative Commons principles and those with copyright protections that have expired. Such works said to be in the public domain are those created in 1925 and later, after a 95-year copyright term. Under the laws that were in effect until 1978, thousands of works from 1964 are in the public domain.
If all of this seems like an unnecessary hassle or over-regulation, think for a moment about the people who spend years and thousands of dollars learning how to make the best images and paying for the necessary equipment. Copyright protection helps creators make a living and has been around in one form or another since people started worrying about the theft of their intellectual property — the painting, not the paintbrush; the words, not the book. The first U.S. copyright law went into effect in 1790.
And for those who are tempted to take a chance that no one will notice you are using their images without permission, companies like Pixy now exist that use advanced technology to find photographers’ images and determine whether they are being used with permission.