So you have a website and you just got an email or letter in the mail telling you that some fancy sounding law firm is going to take you to court unless you pay a settlement fee for the illegal use of some copyrighted image on your website.
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What The CRAP Is This All About And What Are You Supposed To Do???
Why This Is Happening and Is It Legit?
Yeah, its real and it is happening to you. You found some image online and you put it on your website without the permission or necessary license. You probably did some Google Image search and found the perfect thing for your blog post and now you are paying the price for putting it on your site ignorant of the laws that govern image use and copyright.
There are big law firms that do nothing more than work with image services like Getty Images and make a fortune finding people like you and taking you to court. The vast majority of internet publishers (site owners like you) will pay the settlement cost before you deal with court and they know it. You know you can't win the court case because you did in fact violate the copyright so you figure why fight it right?
What Are Your Options?
Do Not Ignore It. This problem is not going to go away and you don't need the legal trouble that will come if you fully ignore it.
If the price is high enough, consider hiring an attorney. If the law firm is asking for ten thousand dollars or more you may want to hire an attorney. You may be surprised by the things that the attorney can do to help you. The attorney can help call their bluff in the threat to take you to court. Does the plaintiff really want to come to your state and make an appearance in court? Your attorney can likely force those kinds of terms and that will likely drop the settlement price and at least save you some money.
That said most of the time the cost of the settlement is too low to justify hiring an attorney. You should probably just pay it and make the problem go away. You can and should always try to negotiate the price. Talk about how you don't have that kind of money but may be able to scrape together 50% of that in cash if they you can come to an arrangement. Use your own language and don't be dishonest as that will only hurt you later should you end up in court.
When you agree to make payment make sure that you get something in writing that makes clear that the payment you are making is considered a full payment and that they agree to not pursue any additional legal actions.
As a final thought in this section, be sure to trace down how you found the image. If you happened to get the image from a website that claimed it was license free and public domain then you may be able to counter-sue that website to recover the damages you incurred having used the image in good faith.
How Do You Prevent This From Happening In the Future?
STOP using images that you don't have the rights to use. When you do a Google Image Search for example you can use the Usage Rights Tool to filter the results by images that are labeled for reuse though be warned that this still may lead you to images that have licensing requirements. For example an image may be labeled for reuse BUT require that you give the image owner credit in someway.
ALWAYS follow the image to it's source website and check that website's terms and conditions. If unsure, use a contact form to ask permission.
If you are going to have need for a lot of stock images you can always just pay a subscription to Adobe, iStock Photos, Getty Images, or any other service that gives you access to stock images at a subscription rate.
There are a handful of websites out there that provide a decent selection of public domain images you can use. Most of them make their money however by constantly asking you to consider subscribing to their paid service. Despite that they can be helpful… here are some I have bookmarked:
And don't forget Wikipedia as all images on that site are automatically public domain!
Happy hunting… and please share in the comments below any experiences you have had with this and how it turned out for you.