I Got a £1000 Demand For Using An Image Off The Internet
Are you willing to risk a fine, just because you like an image?
Back in 2009, I was working as a marketing manager for a University, when I received a letter from Getty Images demanding payment for unauthorised use of one of their photographs. Getty is a big supplier of images across the media. They supply the BBC, magazines, newspapers, and more.
They directed me to a website where this breach had occurred. It certainly appeared to be a website related to the university, but it was not one I’d seen before. When I queried it with my boss, he said he thought the site had been shut down years ago!
Anyway, I was new to the job, and it transpired that a previous member of staff had taken the photograph off the internet, with no concern for licencing, breach of copyright, or whether they had permission to use it. No-one questioned it, so the image stayed up there for years.
That legal demand cost our department around £1000.
Don’t do it!
You can’t just take an image off the internet, credit the source, and hope it’ll be OK. It’s a breach of copyright and it can land you in trouble.
Photo libraries like Getty Images are very active, pursuing legal claims for copyright infringement. Alamy, another photo library supplying magazines, newspapers, broadcasters, and commercial buyers, has just recruited a legal enforcement team for this very purpose.
As a blogger, looking for images, you have to be very careful. You cannot just take an image off a search engine or website and use it legally, regardless of whether or not you credit the source.
Exceptions might be where there’s a download option on the website, with express permission to use the images for editorial purposes.
If you don’t have express permission to use a photograph from the person who owns the copyright, or an agency representing them, then use your own photos. Or use creative commons sites, like Unsplash linked to Vocal Media and Medium. Or Pixabay.
Apart from creative commons images, I only use third party pics when I have express permission — for example, when I’m supplied photos by a PR company, who is asking me to help them promote something.
Obviously it’s every writer’s choice, but if you don’t have permission, or a licence to use the photographer’s photograph, then going ahead anyway comes with a risk of substantial fines.
Videos and screen shots
Don't think videos are exempt. They are also subject to copyright, so its worth taking care with your use of video and film. If you want images of a movie for a piece of editorial, you'll find press images available from the film makers, such as Universal Studios, who have an image library, available for editorial use. The press offices will connect you to their image libraries if they want you to have access to their images.
Why write this story?
I noticed a couple of people I follow on Medium had used images from news websites including photos taken from the BBC, The Guardian, and News Australia. One person was using recipe photos and all sorts from different websites. I was worried that they and others would end up getting a huge fine (like I did). So I decided to write my story, warning of the perils of not staying on the right side of copyright law.
The message is really important, because no one likes a £1000 fine, do they! And it seems to me that using copyrighted images without permission is rife on blogs and social media across the internet, so this really important message could save people a lot of money!
You have been warned!
If you think this only relates to companies and bloggers are exempt, you might also want to read this blog by The Garrulous Glaswegian: How A Simple Blogger Was Sued Over Her Images