Why Using Photographs On Your UK Website Can Be A Big Mistake
Now everyone who regularly works or trains with me knows that I am always banging on about the importance of using images to draw attention to your status updates on Facebook and to help break up wordy text on blogs.
Why it’s not ok to use images without full provenance
It was also a bit of a sore subject. A client recently received an email drawing attention to the fact that he was using an image on his website without authorisation. It was in the banner that had come from the previous incarnation of the website and which he had been told by the previous designer was OK to use. When I upgraded the site, I asked about the image and, upon hearing the response, alarm bells did ring. But, because it had been up for several years without incident and my searches on what I thought would be the most obvious keywords did not reveal it in Google’s database, I thought it would be OK.
Big mistake. You see, I forgot that I’m quite good at getting things found online and, sure enough a few months later, the person who had originally taken the photograph in question saw it on the internet and took issue with its unauthorised use. After threatening my client with the use of a particular statute which has a jail sentence attached, he then agreed to settle for £240 in damages along with permission to continue to use the photograph. Included in his email were dated screenshots of the image on the client’s website and a link to the listing for the photograph on Flickr.
Naturally, I did not just pay without asking questions, although I tried to do this very carefully bearing in mind the possibility that any delay could result in increased costs as happened to WebCopyPlus. I did check the links and it was clear from the comments that the image had been in situ for the best part of seven years. It was also listed there as licensed with all rights reserved. We were banged to rights as they say, with no choice but to pay up or face a legal battle which we would undoubtedly have lost.
Sure, I could have said to my client “but you said…”. However, I was supposed to be looking after him and so, to preserve the relationship, I paid up.
As the mother of a musician who writes his own compositions, I am all in favour of copyrighting your intellectual property and I certainly would not say that the photographer should not have chased us up. However, the whole scenario did make me wonder about the implications and whether, for some, such incidents could also become a ‘nice little earner’. As I instructed my client when I sent him out to take his own photographs, he now had the ability to protect his images once they were uploaded to the web.
When the boot is on the other foot and you own the image but someone else uses it
However, I have also been on the receiving end from the other direction. A photograph of a member of staff from a set commissioned especially for another client’s website was reproduced in a hard copy edition of a very famous monthly magazine. We only found out because one of the students drew it to the attention of the member of staff in question, who was rather startled to see himself staring out of such a very famous publication without any prior warning or permissions. I even took this up with my local Data Protection expert but it would seem that photographs are not part of the Act’s remit.
We emailed the media group in question three times on different contact emails listed in their magazine, requesting that they settle the matter quietly by making a donation of £300 to the charity of our choice – but there was no response.
It would seem that, when you are one of the big boys, you can do this with impunity if you think that the smaller business will not have the bank balance to support a lengthy legal investigation.
Other Copyright Infringement issues to be aware of
I have also found lengthy discussions about ‘scams’ where organisations send out robots to crawl the server on which your website is hosted to see if you have ever used one of their images in the past and then demand remuneration.
And others which warn us about the dangers of having our banners designed by residents of third world countries – or even local individuals – who do not take copyright quite so seriously. You could find yourself with a corporate website header comprising images that could get you into a lot of trouble.
So, if you are thinking of using an image from ‘off the internet’ on your website or blog, DON’T!
Having said that, I am not sure how this relates to images uploaded to Facebook to accompany status updates… and to Pinterest, although the latter tends to be done with linked images.
There are a few recogised stock photographic companies from whom you can buy copyright-free photographs and graphics for a small fee and this is definitely a strategy that I would advise if you don’t have your own images.
Certainly, following my experience this week, I also now understand that it is a very bad idea to take someone else’s word that an existing website photograph is ok for you to reproduce on their new website.
A valuable and expensive lesson.
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