Avoid expensive copyright claims on your agency blog and website
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Avoid expensive copyright claims on your agency blog and website

It's very important that if you use photos or graphic images on your website, your blog or your social media accounts, you are careful about how you source those images. If you simply grab photos from Google's image search or find them elsewhere on the web, you could inadvertently be violating a copyright. The penalty for such violations can be steep, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Powerful image sourcing software can find any images, even a small thumbnail on an inner page of a site.

If you have an employee or a service posting images on your behalf, you should have a strict policy about how such images are obtained because in any dispute, the business owner has ultimate responsibility for copyright violations. We've had member agents who have been hit with expensive copyright infringement claims. In one instance, the image had been sourced by a web firm that was no longer in business. The agency felt the image had been purchased, but had lost contact with the owner of the web firm and had no documentation to prove how the image had been obtained.

What about free image sites?

Even if you find a place for free images, check the fine print. Sometimes photographers and artists are OK with their work being used on personal or nonprofit websites, but would expect a profit-making business to pay for their use. We advocate that businesses and profit-making concerns err on the side of caution.

Copyright doesn't just apply to images, it also applies to content. You should not be copying complete articles from other sources, although a brief "fair use" quoted excerpt is generally allowed if you link back to and acknowledge the sources.

Here are two helpful sources of additional information that are worth a read:

Proper Image Use: How to Avoid Copyright Infringement on the Web

How to avoid copyright trouble when using online images

The two safest ways to obtain images are to either purchase them from a stock photo site or to use your own images that you have taken or created yourself. There are a variety of other options from public domain and "Creative Commons" licenses, but you need to take the time to understand the fine print. In a follow-on post next week, we'll talk more about finding and sourcing images for your website and social media.

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