- a thousand words, or
- a thousand dollar lawsuit?
Answer? It depends!
With the ever expanding use of images in social media, the reality is that many people and businesses are putting themselves at the risk of being cited for copyright violations. Bloggers, Pinterest users, and Facebook users are at risk. In fact, most of you have already used a copyrighted image. Think that statement seems over the top? It’s not.
I want to share a story that sent chills up my spine. It behooves all social media users to read this blog post – it could spare you the stress and expense of being involved in a lawsuit.
Blogger Sued for Using Photos
Roni Loren is a published writer. She’s the National Bestselling Author of The Loving on the Edge and blogger for Blog Her. That being the case, you may assume that Roni is familiar with copyright regulations. You’d be correct, but that wasn’t enough to stop the lawsuit.
Roni explains, “Like most of you, I’m a casual blogger and learned my way into blogging by watching others. And one of the things I learned early on was that a post with a photo always looked nicer than one with just text. So I looked at what other people were doing for pictures.”
“Mostly it seemed that everyone was grabbing pics from Google Images and pasting them on their sites. Sometimes with attribution, most of the time without. And when I asked others (or looked at disclaimers on websites and Tumblrs), it seemed that everyone agreed using pics that way was okay under Fair Use standards.”
Roni gives us an example of a typical disclaimer associated with the image.
THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please E-mail with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.
Seems legitimate right? Honestly, I’ve seen these disclaimers too and thought the person covered all their bases, that it was safe. It’s not. What Roni says next is scary.
“Well on one random post, I grabbed one random picture off of Google and then a few weeks later I got contacted by the photographer who owned that photo. He sent me a take-down notice, which I responded to immediately because I felt awful that I had unknowingly used a copyrighted pic. The pic was down within minutes. But that wasn’t going to cut it. He wanted compensation for the pic. A significant chunk of money that I couldn’t afford. I’m not going to go into the details but know that it was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn’t have for a use of a photo I didn’t need.”
“It wasn’t fun. But the fact of the matter is, I was in the wrong. Unknowingly. But that doesn’t matter. And my guess is that many, many of you are doing the same thing I was doing without realizing it’s a copyright violation. So I wanted to share my experience so that you can learn from my mistake.”
Fair Use Standards and Using Images
Fair use is not the same as free use. Fair use is a legal exception to the exclusive rights an owner has for his or her copyrighted work. What does this mean?
Let’s say you’re writing a review on a product. You need a good image to promote your article and help boost sales. Obviously, the manufacturer’s website offers the best photos. On the website, you find the product image and upload it to the article. The photo is not a substitute for the actual product, so the owner’s rights will be minimally affected. Therefore, your right to use the copyrighted image would likely be permitted under fair use.
Common False Assumptions That Could Get You Sued
As a photographer I feel strongly about my images being stolen. However, Roni’s story has shown me that so many of my assumptions have been wrong.
Assuming that these conditions mean you can safely use an image? Think again.
- You link back to the source and list the photographer’s name
- The picture is not full-sized
- There was no profit made from the images
- You include a disclaimer
- The picture is embedded and not saved on your server
- Immediately taking down the image when asked.
- You only “shared” the image.
It’s safe to say most of us have wrongly assumed at least one of these is safe. It makes us think twice about the images we choose. The best policy: When in doubt, don’t use the image. If you can’t vouch for where the image came from – don’t use the image. Use royalty-free images instead. You may have to pay a few dollars to use them, but in the end, it’s well worth it!
Don’t let the fear of getting sued stop you from using images on social media. Images are essential for engaging fans. In fact studies show images used in status updates result in 20 times more engagement. By all means, make use of images – just use them wisely.
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