Everyone does it. Downloads a great image from the internet, pastes it on their own blog, shares it on FaceBook, Tumblr or Pinterest, and moves on, forgetting, ignoring, or simply not knowing they are using someone’s property without permission. It’s like borrowing someone’s car without permission and not refilling the gas tank.
My mother said it best. “Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t make it right.”
Sorry to say, but your chances of getting caught are increasing. You’ll open your email one morning to find a nasty lawyer letter demanding a multi-thousand dollar payment.
New “reverse image search engines” are expanding their reach. Everyone from casual photographers to international stock image vendors are signing up with TinEye and others to scan the internet for infringing users. TinEye claims to have indexed over 4 Billion images.
Even Google Images performs reverse image searches.
But it’s fair use, you argue. You are using the image for non-commercial, educational, critical, or commentary uses only. Maybe yes, but do you want to fight that fight with Getty Images or Reuters News or Rupert Murdoch?
Take an hour to clean up your blog. Here’s how.
If the list includes one or more stock image sites such as Dreamstime, Getty Images or IStockphoto, then sooner or later, you are going to get that nasty lawyer letter. These companies search the internet for infringing users. They hire teams like the Copyright Enforcement Group.
I suggest you delete the unauthorized image and replace it with a licensed image ASAP. (See my post Stock Images – A Little Money Goes a Long Way.) You do not have to buy a large or high-resolution image. The smallest and lowest resolution image works for most web uses. Keep your receipt. You might get a demand letter based on your prior use (after all, nothing completely disappears from the internet), but it will help if you have corrected your mistake.
If you find the image only on news or other websites, look for a copyright notice on or near the image. Search on-line for the copyright owner and ask permission to use the image. If you can’t find a copyright notice, contact the largest and most prestigious website using the image. That site is most likely to have obtained permission.
If you cannot determine who owns the image, or if you cannot get permission, or if you do not want to pay for the license, or if all this is too much bother, then delete the image and replace it with something in the public domain or a free image under a Creative Commons License. See my blogs about the public domain and the Creative Commons.
For fun, try a Google Reverse image search of your author head shot. The results may surprise you. When I ran mine, Google including a photo of Julia Roberts as a “visually similar image.” Sure. Why not.