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How to Avoid Being Sued for Copyright Infringement

How to Avoid Being Sued for Copyright Infringement

If you think that you can just grab any picture that you’d like off the Internet, you’re wrong and in big trouble if you get caught. It’s called Copyright Infringement.

Don’t let this happen to you! A photographer has the right to sue for copyright infringement!

Photo by Terje Sollie on

Three of my past clients were caught with pictures on their websites or blogs that were downloaded from the web that were not free-use graphics. (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. If you are being sued for copyright infringement, consult an attorney in your state.)

Two had to settle a copyright infringement suit, one for $2500 and another for $5000. The photographer has absolutely every right to sue. The latest one got lucky. She accidentally grabbed a picture from Getty Images and they only wanted $249, which would be the cost from the time the page was created till the picture was removed.

If you find a picture online that would be perfect to use on your site, first see where it came from. Who’s the photographer or graphic artist that created it? Does it have a watermark? (text across the picture). That is the mark of the photographer or distributor (Like iStock) that looks faded gray on the picture. Using any of those makes you look stupid. What are the usage or sharing rights?

Furthermore, if you want to share something on social media, tag the photographer. That helps both of you with extra exposure.

How to get Graphics from Google and Bing Images

To use Google Images, click on “Tools“, then “Usage Rights“, then “Commercial & other licenses” if you’re going to use it in a for-profit website. When you click on the picture, see where it’s from. If you go with “Creative Commons” look to see the usage rights on it. Sometimes you only have to site the source along with a link.

If it’s from Flickr, click on it to see what are the licenses or usage rights of that particular photographer. You may have to give the photographer credit (attribution) and a link to his or her page on Flickr. If it’s from a website and you can contact the webmaster, ask permission to use it. Yes, I know this may take time to get a reply, but it’s better than having to fork over a few thousand dollars.

On Bing it’s a little bit different.

Do your search, then on the far right, click on Filters, then License, then choose the appropriate one for your needs. Public domain means that you can use them and not have to site anyone. “Commercially” means if you’re going to use is to market a for-profit business. Likewise, if you want to add text to it or change it any way, the choose “Free to modify…”

Interesting how Bing changed their page to look like Google Images.

If you don’t want to take the chance that you don’t have a free-use graphic, check out these sites where you can get FREE, license-free pictures and graphics:

If you’re sharing a picture that’s already on one of the social networks within that same network, you’re OK. You’re not on your own platform (website), you’re on theirs and each network has its own usage rights. If you have more questions on copyright infringement, check out Ruth Carter’s YouTube channel. She’s an Arizona lawyer who specializes in IP (intellectual property) law and she shares a lot of great information.

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