For anyone running a website the message is clear: you are responsible for everything that appears on your site. You should assume that every picture or graphic must be paid for unless you can prove otherwise. The written agreement with your web developer should specify that the source of all material must be documented.
With many OMG THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU! copyright infringement stories in the mainstream press it’s hard to tell if they’re just doing some page-filler scaremongering or offering a genuine sobering glimpse of what is to come.
However, today’s Guardian story on image copyright holders (read photo agencies) who are invoicing web owners for using unauthorised photographs on their websites cites some worrying real life testimonies.
“Geoff Cox runs Quest Cars, a small cab company in Taunton,” the paper reports. “In 2001, he hired a small local web developer (since gone bust) who decorated the resulting website with a few small photographs.”
“Then in July, Cox received a letter from the legal firm Baker and Mackenzie saying that one of those photographs used on the website was copyright to the large picture agency Corbis and asking for £1,300 for a one-year licence to use that photograph (to expire a month later) plus administrative fees. The letter quoted copyright law and stated that there would be no negotiations.”
Every image and photograph not created, taken or owned by you is created, taken or owned by somebody else – usually a professional photographer who relies on reprint fees for his livelihood. That photographers would be irritated and frightened by the seemingly indiscriminate and untraceable proliferation of their images across the internet is understandable. Photo agencies demanding £1000+ fees for the use of their images seem to be adopting the now well-known language of theft and felony that the music and film industries mastered years ago.
But somehow the the righteous indignation from photographers seems more understandable. This photoset on Flickr amused me today. It depicts looters stealing various items from the beached ship, the MSC Napoli, on a Devonshire beach near Branscombe – a big news story in the UK a couple of weeks ago.
In the comments section for one of the images, user Кαfkα says: “Hey, your pictures are on the German news website: Spiegel Online.” The next comment comes from foxdougan who urges the photographer: “They’re acredited (sic) to AFP, Agence France-Presse! You better sue these guys or claim your money because they’re selling your photos around the world.”
The Flickr user who uploaded the photographs answers next: “haha Thanks for the concern but that’s who I work for!”.
I thought the speed at which Flickr users urged the (presumed amateur) photographer to assert his copyright on the images and claim money was interesting as it demonstrates the skewed ethics of so many internet users: defending the copyright of amateurs while ignoring that of the professionals.
Anyway, at the moment, backdated image license fees seem to only be aimed at explicitly commercial ventures although, as the web matures I’m sure the bigger blogs will start to receive unsolicited invoices.
In the meantime, for blogs and non-commercial sites, it’s probably worth sidestepping potentially expensive google image search results as a source for graphics. Instead use royalty free stock from the likes of istockphoto or, perhaps approach Flickr users who, as the Guardian piece points out, are usually only to pleased to see their prosumer images used, much to the chagrin of the professionals. Unless of course, they are one and the same thing…