I take and use my own pictures on all three of my blogs. I have tried to stress the importance to my husband as to why we should not use photos found either on the web or from any of those supposedly free to use photo sites on our website or blogs. Recently a forum issue came to light on a travel site that I monitor and I thought I would share it here.
A long-standing travel agency contracted with a social media company to create their media presence (Facebook company page; website, etc.) back in 2011. This social media company went to the internet and without thinking downloaded photos that they found on a photo sharing site believing that any photo on the internet is free to use.
In May of this year the travel agency received a letter from a lawyer telling them that they were being sued by the original photographer for $25,000 for each picture they had pirated. This was not a joke. This was a real legal firm and the legal action is valid.
The travel agency owner proceeded to call a copyright attorney to get clarification. What he learned was a real shocker and an eye opener. It seems that a large number of artists (both photographers and drawing) and some unscrupulous law firms have created a whole new industry and the almost perfect scam with copyright laws. The legal firm the travel agency contacted (Quarels and Brady) told them that this particular photographer has sued various people over 23 times for copyright violations in using his pictures which they downloaded from one of those free sites. The issue, the artist is claiming, is that he suffered a financial loss from people who download his photos but do not purchase them and your company benefited from using his photos (most of the people being sued are business owners), and they have you.
As you read this you might be thinking that you must be safe because you posted someone else’s photo two years ago and no one reads that post any more? Statute of limitations on suing someone for copyright infringement is three years. What these artists are doing is allowing people to download their photos from these sites, they wait for about 2 – 2 1/2 years and then they sue the person using the photo. One of the ways they do this is they put their copyrighted pictures on free wall paper sites and people will download them to their computer and then use the picture on their website or Facebook, thus violating copyright laws and here comes the lawsuits. The key here is that the artist holds the copyright on the photos. He is downloading them so that you can see them, not to use them. That is the largest key factor here.
According to the legal firm of Quarels and Brady it is the perfect scam because there is absolutely no risk to the artist and the law firms that are involved in these scams take these cases from artists on a contingency basis so the only cost to the artist is the $300 lawsuit filing fee.
Those unsuspecting folks who download these photos and who are getting these letters demanding payment in the mail are suspicious when it does not come certified but regular mail. The agency owner was told that these law firms are doing mass mailings of these lawsuits so they are trying to keep costs down. Their theory is they send out 500 of these lawsuit threats and they will collect on about 150 of them with just the letter but it is enough for them to make money on this. The travel agent who was being sued is still negotiating and the photo in question he had on Facebook he has since taken it down and every other photo he did not take personally has been removed from all of his social media. The other thing the agency owner was told was that by law we are responsible for any photo someone else posts to our Facebook page because you, as the owner of that page, are the one that is liable.
You are now wondering how the photographer found out that someone downloaded his photo, right? According to the research done by Quarel’s and Brady the artists have created web crawler alerts so that every time someone uploads their photo they receive a notification which they tuck away for future reference. There are hundreds of artists doing this because they have found an easy way to make money.
Bottom line, to be completely free of this, make sure you know the owner and where any picture came from that is placed on your website or on your business Facebook page. Or better yet, don’t use anyone’s photos but your own and copyright your photos when you put them on your website or blog.