Recently, I had a conversation with a friend on the copyright infringement issue after a third-party stated it was acceptable to use a photo of a celebrity without permission, as long as the image was small. The friend, Heather Fraser, a graduate student at Full Sail University, chuckled stating, “I sat through every Wimba. We were taught you have to get permission.” How often do you find yourself searching Google to cut, copy and paste an image to insert into a blog article.
Copyright infringement is defined by the United States Copyright Office, as a copyrighted work that is reproduced, distributed or publicly displayed without the permission of the copyrighted owner.
Copyright is the legal term that states you have ownership rights over your original work. As an owner, would you want someone to use your property without express permission? Andrian Rhynes, the co-founder of RHE, a promotion business in Dallas stated it’s a form of plagiarism. In contrast, the owner of Hiphop Junky, an online radio show stated, “Cameras are everywhere, you can’t stop it. I think if its in the public, oh well. It can be used.”
There are plenty articles on Google explaining why bloggers should know it is wrong to use another person’s image or work without permission. However, let’s discuss the ramifications of such use.
What happens when you are caught?
When the owner of a copyrighted work discovers you have used an image or work without permission, you may receive a polite letter or email to remove the item. Another ramification is someone filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint. You may also receive a Cease and Desist Letter from the attorney of the owner of the copyrighted item, as was the case of Webcopyplus.
What penalties can be enforced?
Purdue University lists the possible penalties in straight forward, easy way to understand. Penalties include paying attorney fees, payment of actual damages and fines from $200 to $150,000. And yes, there are attorneys who specialize in sending Cease and Desist Letters or filing a lawsuit for damages to recover for unauthorized use of the photograph. According to a May 25, 2011 article, by Professor James Gibson for the Media Institute, it is “highly unlikely” that you will go to jail for copyright violation. You may also be sued. According to the American Society of Media Photographers, a lawsuit could cost you $150,000 per image.
What to do when you want to use someone else’s photograph or original work?
Ask permission or link the photograph back to the owner. “I think its okay as long as you give credit and link back to their site, when you neglect to do that you are nothing but a thief,” stated Nathan McClain, a paralegal for the United States Army, blogger and freelance graphic designer. “I mean, the structure of the internet makes it really easy to show appreciation by just showing folks where it came from, so why not do that as a rule?”
Also, be aware when you see the FBI Anti-Piracy Warning Seal which may be used by copyright holders.
There are resources out there for bloggers to use as helpful reminders to understanding copyright laws and infringement. Below are some links:
- U.S. Copyright Office, Can I Use Someone Else’s Work;
- Copyright Fair Use and How it Works for Online Images; and
- Where to Find Images for Blogs
When in doubt link the photograph, consult with the U.S. Copyright office, consult with an attorney or create your own images.