Friday, 29 July 2016

Sued over Copyright! :(

Yes. I've checked this one. It's ok!
Yes it's true. I am currently facing a civil action for using a small portion of a rights-managed image which I honestly (and not unreasonably) believed to be free to use. 

But the reason I'm sharing this not out of self pity. It is because in my rather literal crash-course in copyright vulnerability, I've discovered a few things that not just designers, but anyone using social media will need to be very aware of.

To oversimplify a bit; images from the internet are not free to use and share unless there is a licence that says so, or you are the owner/creator.

Commercial stock image libraries charge a lot of money for some of images they manage.  And with the explosion of digital media in recent years, so much content has been uploaded and shared without restraint. Now with current detection software, these companies are having a field day reaping a fortune from unwary designers,  website owners, bloggers and wait for it... Tweeters! (or anyone using social media)

Even partial images are searchable and still carry liability for use.

and Meme's...

In my case, I deliberately sought free-to-use images in order to save a client some cost. But my checks didn't go far enough. It turned out that the very public source from where I obtained the image didn't have the right to display it either. Unfortunately, honest mistakes do not absolve liability.  At present I'm looking at a personal cost of $1400 with the image taken down. 

The technology being used by photographers and stock image libraries means that anyone accidentally using a rights-protected image will at some stage be detected with certainty. The scary part is how hard it can be to be sure of our own compliance in the first place. Be aware of the copyright licence status of any image you are considering to use, anywhere.

Here are a few things I've learned in my journey which may help steer clear of a similar strife;

 1. Most images found online will be either;
  • Free to use (conditions may apply)
  • Royalty Free: Image licence purchased for a flat one-off fee (or by subscription)
  • Rights Managed:
    • Image licensing varies according to use.
    • Costs are often in excess of $1000 for one year for a website image.
  • Unknown: Considering point c. above... If in doubt, leave it out.

 2. One way to find an image that is free to use or share:

  1. Enter the search term and click on the Images tab. In this example it’s “panda”.

  2. In the Images results, click on the gear icon to access Advanced Search.

    *I’ve pixelated the results because without knowing the licence status of each image I could be sued for unauthorised use... even while warning others about unauthorised use! Crazy but true.
  3. In the Advanced Search, click on the drop-down for Usage Rights and select the appropriate licence you need. Then click the Advanced Search button at the bottom of the screen. 
  4. Check the images listed are subject to the use searched for. Click on the desired image to open it and find the option to View Image. 

    Right-click and Save As to download.

3. To check copyright on an image you already have. 

This can be a little tricky. The results are often inconclusive. However if the image is one featured in a stock library, a reverse-search can help to easily find where a licence may be purchased.

To perform a reverse-search via Google Images, follow these steps:

  1. In the top-right of your Google search screen, select Images.
  2. Click on the camera icon to open the search option fields.
  3. Select the Upload an image tab and browse to select  the relevant image file on your computer.  Google will match all instances of the image and of similar images found.

Remember, just because it isn’t found or isn’t listed with a commercial image library, it does not mean that copyright does not exist elsewhere. If in doubt leave it out.

If you have doubts or concerns about an image you already have posted somewhere online, it's probably wise to remove/replace/license it as soon as possible. If you have concerns about liability from images previously shared and no longer in your control, professional legal advice may be warranted.

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