Coming clean in this blog post because our confession is the only way we know how to feel better after making such an avoidable mistake. And we don't want you making the same mistake, because just one wrongly published photo could be costly.
This week, we were served with a packet of paper from the Legal Department of Getty Images, stating that we'd wrongly used an image, the rights of which are managed by Getty Images. Because we'd not paid for the rights to use this image, our usage of it on this website constituted as stealing. This letter is otherwise known as the Getty Images Unauthorized Use Notification letter, and plenty of people have gotten one. It's also known as a cease-and-desist letter.
SEE ALSO: Copyright and Website Image Selection
Getty had taken a screenshot of the photo in question that was used on this blog. It was true. We had used the image. But the image we found had no watermark. It came up in a Google Images Search. We'd never touched Getty's website while searching for it. Sure, it was a great photo, staged well, perfect lighting, but....yeah, there it was in Google Images, so we could use it, right? No one would notice, right?
Wrong. And honestly, we knew this. Long ago I'd pinned the article on Photo Copyright Tips for Bloggers from IFB. I've purchased the rights to use photos in designated spots for clients. But somehow, I'd turned a blind eye for our own blog [hand slap!!!]. If you are getting sloppy with how you collect images from the web to post to your website or Facebook business page, just stop and read this article.
If you've posted images that you are not 100% about their origin, or if you didn't contact the owner to ask permission, then delete them right now from your website, Facebook business page, Twitter, and wherever else you've posted them. And for the very paranoid, remove your website from Archive.org as well, that can visually list pages from months or years ago.
HERE'S THE DEAL:
Getty Images, Corbis, and any big photo rights management company has software that can dig deep into websites all over the Internet, including Facebook pages, and find images that are posted without proper payment. Photo rights management companies represent artists like this guy who make a living making the photos, illustrations or other forms of graphic art. They need to be compensated for the art, and a big company like Getty will make sure they get it. And Getty makes sure that Getty gets its own share too.
So it's quite lucrative to go out and identify a photo being used on another website, send the company a letter with the proof of the unauthorized use, and demand payment. Even if you didn't mean to use a rights protected image. Should you wish to contest their financial demand, you'd need a lawyer, and the lawyer would probably cost more than the settlement you will probably need to pay anyway.
We did email our lawyer to make sure this wasn't a hoax, and that he thought it a good idea that we pay the settlement fee, which was basically a fee to use the image on a type of page in our website. It wasn't the home page and it didn't have very prominent placement, all of which is taken into account when negotiating rights to place an image. We paid the fee.
"BUT THE PHOTO DIDN'T HAVE A WATERMARK!"
Know this: you should not do image searches in Google and pull an image, even if there is no watermark on it. If someone bought the rights to use an image on their website, then they have a legitimate copy of the photo with no watermark on it. However, Google Images currently is able to pull that image and display it in a collection of image results to show you. If you suck down that image, or take a screenshot of it, you're using a photo that you didn't pay for.
There could be entire websites that post stolen images without watermarks that exist simply to attract you to search images on them. Such a website owner may have put Google Ads onto the site, and is making a pretty penny off of people like you clicking around on ads for a sunset image, finding it on their website, thinking it's safe, clicking on more Google Ads on their site, and it goes on and on.
Note: It's not Google making a killing on that type of website (well...indirectly they are), it's a scam artist who built a website with stolen images on it, attracting folks looking for pretty pictures to put on their website.
NO-NO TO POSTING PROTECTED IMAGES AT FACEBOOK OR TWITTER
Read the License Agreement over at Getty Images. See how far reaching their protection is over the art they represent. See the clause for Facebook and other third party social sharing sites:
"2.11 Unless otherwise specified in the Rights and Restrictions, Licensee may not, directly or indirectly, Reproduce the Licensee Work in any secondary Reproductions, such as compilations, screen shots, in-context promotions or on file-sharing or social networking websites such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, etc."
CREATE YOUR OWN ARTWORK
You don't want to get mixed up in this. If you don't have a photo budget to buy stock photography at Getty or Corbis, then you are much better off taking your own photos and creating your own artwork in many of the free photo editing software out there, like PicMonkey, Hipstamatic, Hipstogram, and even your iPhone or Android has filters to make pictures stand out and look cool.
See this photo below? It's part of our new mission to build our own stock photography collection. This green ornament is one that hangs on my front porch. Then Jackie did some PicMonkey magic to it to make it more framed!
Photo credit on the camera above, which we applied the red art to: "Font Awesome by Dave Gandy - http://fontawesome.io".