Mar 23 2011
Yesterday I received a call from a person that builds websites. (I’ve seen an example of his work and don’t want to call him a designer out of respect to my normal talented clients.) He “found my photo on Google” of a wonderful Sherlock Holmes tile mural that decorates the Baker Street station in the London Underground – used it without permission and got caught.
This photo is part of a collection that is represented by Getty Images, that normally means that they license the photo out for various media uses and I get a portion of the license fee. In this case it also involves a Getty team that patrols the web looking for copyright infringement and makes people pay for their theft.
My caller’s unauthorized use was discovered and a bill with a hefty penalty fee was presented. He contacted me directly wondering if I would take pity on him because he normally licenses images legally “all the time” and didn’t have the money. Fortunately the negotiation was completely in the hands of the Getty legal team, but I also didn’t have much sympathy for him. He admitted to knowing the system and took a chance.
Part of me wants to go Baretta on him and tell him “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. “ But more interesting to a general audience and other bloggers could be to talk about ways to identify a photo with copyright protection that requires a license, or permission to use.
Assuming that my caller really did find the image doing a Google search, here are the results he would have seen. Holmes would have spotted two clues in the results. First you can see that it was pulled from the Getty Images website and you can read their logo in the upper left corner. This sort of branding protection is known as a watermark and is easier to see in the expanded version before you land on the Getty page displaying the photo.
The other clue you can look for in Photoshop and other programs that display the metadata information. Here you can see my contact information and a notice that the photo has been copyrighted, and at the top you can also see the little © symbol in front of the photo number. I submit all of my photos to the U.S. Copyright office to be registered which substantially increases my protection if it’s used without permission, the penalties can be much greater than the fee Getty was asking from my caller.
I apply my contact and copyright information to all my photos with both information loaded into my camera and later more details are added with an action I created and apply in Photoshop. The description and keyword information is added when the photo goes to a stock outlet.
But there is a problem with posting photos on some websites, including Facebook where this metadata is stripped out and the file name is changed when the image is uploaded. That doesn’t mean that photos I upload to Facebook are available for anyone to use. The image still retains my full copyright protection, but as a user you can’t know whether the photo can be legally licensed or not.
I’m a big supporter of content creators being paid, so I’m not a fan or free or cheap photo sites, but there are photo hobbyists that are willing to share their photos on Flickr and other places for use in blogs. The proper etiquette is to always ask for permission before using the photo.
The strategy of stealing photos off the web and asking for forgiveness later could put a dent in your checkbook or land you in court. Properly license the photo or ask for permission. As Sherlock Holmes would say “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.”
P.S., Before you write – I know that the Holmes quote is not accurate.