Image misuse can be a very expensive mistake


posted on 4th of may, 2012

While browsing the Internet, I came across an article from February 2011 about a company that made a costly mistake when they used an image without permission on their website, and that image was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. This mistake ended up costing the company $4000. According to their story (which you can read here), most of their images come from stock photography sites, but this one slipped through the cracks. The company is now trying to educate others about image copyright and how using stock imagery sites can help provide legal protection.

How do I avoid the same mistake?
Make sure you own the rights or have permission to use all material for anything you do. This includes images, music, fonts, sentences, and many other things. When getting permission to use someone else's material, make sure that permission is in writing. Stock agencies provide license agreements for the material provided. These licenses provide explicit information on how the material can be used. If you get permission directly from the material's creator, make sure that you only use the material in a way that matches the permission given.

If I buy rights to use an image (or music, or a font, or whatever), do I own that material?
No. Buying the right to use something is not the same as buying the copyright. The copyright remains with the material's creator. You are only allowed to use the material in a way that matches the agreement. For example, Dreamstime provides several different types of licenses. Some of these licenses allow you to use an image in a publication, other licenses allow you to sell prints of the image, and others let you use the image as a company logo. None of the licenses allow you to claim an image is your own creation. Make sure you are covered for the type of usage that you need.

Can I sell photos of anything I want to as long as I am the one who took the picture?
We're getting deeper and deeper into copyright law, and I am not a lawyer. (Besides, laws vary from one place to another.) The bottom line is that in many places the original creation (statues, paintings, buildings, even a person's face) is protected by various laws, and you probably need permission to sell images. This is why Dreamstime (and other places) require property and model releases. Get permission. Get it in writing. Protect yourself.

What if the law gives me permission to use the material with-out explicit permission?
There are "fair use" clauses that legally allow you to use material for certain purposes with-out a license or other written permission. However, if there is any question what-so-ever, is it worth the potential legal battle? Even if a court rules in your favor, is it worth the time, expense, and hassle? It is simpler to make sure that you are covered with a written agreement.

The company mentioned at the beginning of this blog is one that specializes in copywriting, but this experience has made them more aware of laws about copyrighting. Have you had any experiences that have opened your eyes to copyright law that were new to you?

Comments (4)

Posted by Linushutz on May 24, 2012
ouch
Posted by Enigmacypher on May 11, 2012
Brad, good point about the zoos. These are the types of things that are so easy to not think about. It's interesting how many places prohibit selling images taken in that location. Many of these places mention this in fine print on the back of the ticket purchased to enter.
Posted by Bradcalkins on May 05, 2012
This may be an area that we often tend to overlook as we go about our creative photographic endevors. Thanks for reminding us. Maybe that is one reason there are so many nature photographers.... you dont need a release form for a tree, a mountain, or a woodpecker.

Unless it is from specific zoos :)
Posted by Sunguy on May 05, 2012
This may be an area that we often tend to overlook as we go about our creative photographic endevors. Thanks for reminding us. Maybe that is one reason there are so many nature photographers.... you don't need a release form for a tree, a mountain, or a woodpecker.



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Photo credits: Sashkinw.

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