Accidental Copyright Infringements: Easy and Expensive

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    Take steps to avoid this preventable crisis

    The focus on content creation as the new, must-do form of marketing has resulted in an incredible number of completely involuntary copyright infringements across the web. Even experts who literally work with web content every single day are running into foul territory! For proof, look no further than this quote from a refreshingly honest tale, by The Content Factory’s Kari DePhillips, which describes the $8,000 lawsuit her organization caught as a result of running the wrong photo in a blog post:

    More than three months after the blog had been posted, the client got an email from an attorney. This particular lawyer deals with one thing and one thing only: image copyright infringement. For the sake of the story, let’s say his name is Curtis M. Leech, Esq.

    The long-forgotten blog that was posted months ago had come back to haunt us. Mr. Leech sent the client a formal complaint letter, saying that they were being sued for $8,000 for using his client’s copyrighted photo on their website.

    We were under the mistaken impression that before anyone could be sued, the offender had to ignore a request to take down the copyrighted image. Because the lawsuit came without any kind of warning and this was the first time we’d ever been accused of such a thing, we were hoping that replacing the image and sincerely apologizing to Mr. Leech and his client would remedy the situation. We were wrong. Welcome to the world of “Fair Use.”

    Current Fair Use image copyright laws say that you’re financially liable for posting copyrighted images, even if:

    • You did it by accident
    • You immediately take down the picture after receiving a DMCA takedown notice
    • The picture is resized
    • If the picture is licensed to your web developer (Getty Images requires that you get your own license, thankyouverymuch)
    • You link back to the photo source and cite the photographer’s name
    • Your site isn’t commercial and you make no money from your blogs
    • You have a disclaimer on the site
    • The pic is embedded instead of saved on your server
    • You found it on the Internet (that’s not an excuse!)

    Spot check: How many of you have used images you found via various free stock image depositories on you or your organization’s blog? Ok, now how many of you checked to see if that image was licensed for not only private, but also commercial, use? Don’t panic! Go ahead and pull them down, sigh in relief that you didn’t have to eat a lawsuit, then read on…

    Still not worried?

    If you think this isn’t a crisis management risk, consider how many one-man shops and small businesses would be completely devastated by losing $8,000 from their operating budget. Heck, just consider how much additional work you would have to do to replace that $8,000 yourself. Even if you are a mega-corporation, the fact copyright infringement crises can be avoided simply by educating your editors content crew makes this one a no-brainer.

    Sometimes, software-powered copyright protection services are so zealous to catch violators in the act that they cause issues for legitimate users. We experienced this ourselves just recently when a client, who was fully authorized to use the name of a network television show in one of their popular YouTube videos, was repeatedly flagged as a copyright violator, even after obtaining re-authorization from the network. It eventually actually took legal representatives getting involved in order to have the video placed on the protection services’ “white list” of authorized users.

    The lesson here is that any time you’re using something created by someone outside your organization, whether it be art, idea, name or manufacturing process, make certain that you have the proper rights to do what you’re doing. Acting without research, or without permission, may save you money in the short term, but you will eventually pay.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]