A long time ago, I wrote a post about photographs and copyright. It’s time to talk about this again.
If you want to use a photograph on your website for illustrative purposes, you need to secure rights and permission to use it. If you copy a photo from another site or source and place it on your site, you are infringing on the creator’s copyright. This is true whether you copy the actual image file and upload it to your site or you embed the image by linking to it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But I see photos copied and used on Facebook, Linkedin, etc., all the time!” Yes. Yes you do. And in practically every instance these are copyright infringements. If the creator of the work files a copyright claim with the social media company, they’ll take the offending post down. The problem is, this sort of infringement is so rampant, it’s impossible for creators to catch them before they sink into timeline obscurity. I once filed a complaint with a social media platform and actually received pushback from them before I put my foot down and they removed the post.
But with all this said, using a photo or other intellectual property you don’t own without permission on your website is different and is just begging for trouble. You won’t have a social media platform between you and a ticked off content owner and if you are just asked to remove the offending photo, you’ll be lucky. Infringing on copyright on your site can cost you big bucks. Let say you use a still photo from a major motion picture, that features a major movie star, on your site without permission (I’m giving this as an example because folks seem to do this all the time with social media memes). All it takes is one person who has connections to either the studio or the actor to see it and blow the whistle. Now you’ve got big problems and more than just a copyright suit from the studio. You’ve used the actor’s likeness without a release, which means his or her attorney will be in touch (model releases are a whole other subject). If the still was shot by a photographer rather than extracted from the film, you may also hear from the photographer, depending on if their contract with the studio allowed them to keep the rights.
If you’re a professional, you should have a professional website and that means minding your Ps and Qs when it comes to legal matters. Using images you find on the web without permission is unprofessional, pure and simple. And, it’s completely unnecessary in this age of cheap stock imagery. If you see an image you like, the chances are, you can find a similar image for sale on a stock photo site. It’s easy enough to do a search for what you’re looking for. So respect copyright, get permission and don’t fall into the copyright myth trap.
Of course, I am not an intellectual property attorney. At one time I was a photo researcher with a stock photo agency, and one of my responsibilities was tracking down infringements before handing them over to the agency’s attorneys. If you need additional information, you should definitely consult with an intellectual property attorney.
If you’d like us to shoot photographs for your site, it is one of the services we offer. We’re happy to shoot and license images to you. Just let us know what you need.