Browsing the archives for the intellectual property rights tag.

Images and copyright infringement

Online Issues, Web Design, web development

Most people who are unfamiliar with copyright infringement issues and laws will pull an image off the Internet by Googling a subject and clicking on the images filter at the top of the page. When they find a picture that works perfectly for their needs, they simply download it.

What they don’t realize, however, is that every image taken or created in the United States, as well as most other countries, is owned and considered to be copyright-protected by the artist. This means that if the owner of that image chooses to, they can sue you for copyright infringement.

Often website owners take extra measures to protect their images and this makes it necessary for you to take care not to grab the wrong image — the one that will get you sued.

Don Crowther ( has written a great article about how to both protect your images from unwanted downloads and how to find free and legal images that won’t violate the artist’s creative rights.

In the article, he explains how the website,, provides licensing agreements clearly outlining what rights an artist may assign to his work and what the restrictions and allowances are for the image you want to use.

Crowther describes how to find good images with licensing rights assigned and explained by using Flickr’s advanced search function to seek Creative Commons-licensed images. Creative Commons is a website that offers free licensing agreements that you can use on your website stating the restrictions and parameters of usage for that photo or other work found online. When a license and the rights are clearly associated with the work, the legal system will support that artist should their rights be violated.

We have recently learned a very valuable lesson in this regard. Over six years ago, I was asked by my client to create four websites to represent their four sister-businesses.  The client wanted the sites to be different, yet complementary to each other.  Since four sites were being created at the same time, we chose to use a subcontractor for the base design while we would do the content management.

Because the subcontractor was a referral from a trusted associate, I did not think I had to be concerned about the copyrights on images used for the project. The sites were completed, the client was satisfied, and the project completed.  All seemed to be good.

But wait! Three months ago I received a call from the client — the sites were still up and running — informing me that they had received a call from Getty Images who was notifying them that they had Getty images on two of their websites that had not been paid for and as a result were in violation of the artists’ rights.  To the tune of $875/per website.

After some negotiation with Getty, I managed to get the settlement amount reduced to $675 per site.  Of course, this is our responsibility, not the client’s and we agreed to pay the bill.  We assured both Getty and our client that we did not know about the infringement, nor would we have willingly used these images without paying for the license to use these images on the website.

Two lessons here:  1) if you use a subcontractor, be sure that you are aware of the source of any artwork used by them for the work and 2) be prepared to step up to the plate and take responsibility should this situation unknowingly occur.  Even though it was the subcontractor who illegally used these images, there was never a question that we were the company contracted to do the project and it was up to us to make situation good again.

You can prevent this major headache by exercising strong control over the creative used by your subcontractors.  Frankly, we feel fortunate to have avoided a worse situation with the settlement we managed.

For further detailed information check out on Don Crowther’s site.


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