Images are easier than ever to locate, download, and reuse, but the ease of access has started to raise many legal concerns about intellectual property law and the rights to ownership. Clients often go to Google or Bing to start looking for images when they begin to generate ideas for their website or products. These two search engines provide instant access to amazing images with high quality resolution which can easily be downloaded and reused. However, cutting corners is often a recipe for disaster and in the case of using images without permission the disaster can be in the form of a lawsuit for use of an image without licensing rights from the owner.
Images on the internet are becoming easier to follow which allows their owners to easily track their use and location. In the past, tracking them was difficult and proving ownership was even more difficult. Today many of the images in Bing and Google link back to the webpages where they originated. The pages of origin are often the owner’s page or someone who knows the owner. When gathering images the ability to link to the pages of the owner is a great resource because it makes contacting the owner and working out a licensing agreement as simple as an email.
Owners have the right to deny any request to reuse an image. If the owner denies the request move on. Do not decide to use it anyway and see what happens. The cost of defending even the allegation of theft or violating IP rights is far greater than the value of any. Owners who are interested in licensing their images may place them in royalty free shops such as Fotolia or iStockphoto. These online stores are great resources for obtaining images for anything from websites to t-shirts. The images have a one-time license fee which allows the purchaser to reuse the images in compliance with the terms and conditions (pay attention to the terms and conditions of each site selling images). These sites are great forums for bringing together photographers or artists who wish to sell their images and individuals looking to purchase the images.
Purchasing the images is the best route because it creates proof they were properly licensed from a third party representing to be the owner. The internet provides easy access to images, but it also provides easy access for people to fraudulently represent they are the owners of images and have the right to resell or license them. A good rule of thumb involving strangers on the internet: be careful and remember a third party facilitator (such as the sites listed above) lends some level of credibility to the transaction.
Web designers are just as easily fooled, so when you are working with a web designer make sure to ask from where the images originated and who is responsible for liability arising from the use of unauthorized images. Content is similar to images in that people get lazy and cut corners when generating marketing materials or a website. Search engines are becoming increasingly wise about copied or canned content and can not only trace it, but will actually penalize sites in search results which use unoriginal content.
The internet provides the world with better access than ever before to people’s products and work. The ability to search for a term and see not only articles, but images and video is a phenomenon many people never dreamed was possible. However, with the new power and ability comes responsibility. Everyone must take ownership of their actions both offline and online because the ability to track movements on the internet is a core focus of every major company right now so people will be held accountable. Images and content which is not created by an individual is the property of the creator until they give permission or a license which grants permission to reuse their work. If a company or individual wishes to use the image or content the road to obtaining permission is easier than ever. Simply trace the content back to the owner and ask permission, the worst that can happen is they say no.
Have you ever had an issue with the rights to an image?