How to use photos online without getting sued

How To Use Photos Online Without Getting Sued

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. The article below are my opinions, not legal advise. Happy reading!

You spend all this time writing up a great post. You’re ready to post it. All you need to do is get that perfect image.

But where do you go to get one?

You don’t want to break the bank on an image.

Free sounds good. 

But, free often means that you don’t have the right to use the photo (i.e., using Google Image Search).

Many great free royalty-free sites have sprung up in recent years, allowing photographers to share images that people can use for free with or without attribution.

The problem with these sites is that the controls to make sure the person uploading the image is the owner of the photo are tough to determine.

The other option is to go to a place like Adobe Stock, Pond5, or iStock to purchase an inexpensive photo.

Either way, diligent record-keeping is needed.

Here are some tips (especially when using the free royalty free sites):

  • Keep a spreadsheet:
    • Image file names
    • Where they were downloaded
    • When they were accessed
    • Screenshot the page where you got the photos from
    • Attribute the author/creator whenever possible
    • It’s also a nice thing to do in general

The above tips won’t stop you from getting threatened with a lawsuit, but this might prevent having and possibly losing a costly legal battle over a simple image.

It’s All Part Of The Plan.

Companies like Getty use crawlers (similar to those the search engines use) to crawl the web, looking for images they have authority over without proper permission. When such photo brokers find a site allegedly infringing, they send out their legal teams. They often ask for a hefty sum for a photo that wouldn’t usually garner that much on the free market.

The scare scare-tactic probably works. Companies like Getty ask for $3,000+, and companies freak out, wanting to avoid a lawsuit and pay what they don’t realize that the bots that companies like Getty use are not perfect. Not by a long shot, and the companies might have legitimate rights to them. Even if they don’t, a simple discussion with the rights holder often brings the price down to a more reasonable number.

“Buyers” Beware. Free Is Often Not Worth The Headache.

As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” And with the risk of possible litigation for infringing on copyright looming, is it worth saving the $3 or so dollars to get a free image? I don’t think so.

Adobe Stock is a service where you can purchase images ala carte or get a set amount of credits a month for a subscription fee. Services like this also keep track of what photos you bought, which lessens the amount of documentation you need to do on your side.

The Moral.

Just purchase the photos you want to use, or heck take your own? Cameras are relatively cheap, and we all have cameras in our pockets on our phones that do the trick nicely. It’s not worth the headache to save a few bucks.

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