Google Images: Are You at Risk of Getting Sued for Using Them?

Google images

Just because you can easily download beautiful Google Images, it doesn’t mean you have the right to use them. In fact, as soon as a picture is taken, the taker has a sole ownership over how its use. And yes, that includes selfies taken on a smart phone.

So, you started writing a blog about the importance of travel insurance and found an awesome photo of Prague on Google. You uploaded it to your blogging platform, hit “publish” and had a wait for the views and likes to roll in. But what you didn’t expect to roll in two months later: an official cease and desist notice to remove the photo. Worse, it came with a lawsuit to the tune of $8,000! Not only this spelled complete crap-your-pants moment, it’s also an avoidable one. And this is a true story, bro.

So, what is copyright?

Anything created by someone has a copyright: a song, poem, sculpture, radio program, and yes, even a photograph. The Canadian Copyright Act defines copyright as: “The sole right to produce or reproduce a work or any substantial part thereof in any material form, to perform the work or any substantial part thereof in public, or, if the work is unpublished, to publish the work or any substantial part thereof.”

Does it apply to everything?

What the heck does all that mean? Basically, it means that the person who created the work has to give permission for it to be used by another. But everyone does it right? It serves almost like an unwritten rule that I can. Nope and more nope. The practice is prevalent, but it doesn’t mean it’s not stealing.

Over the past couple of years, bloggers and small business owners have discovered that copyright trolls are real. They even describe these as scarier than pictures of Donald Trump wearing a thong *shudder*.

Roni Loren of Blogher.com discovered this lesson the hard way. She was sued by a photographer for using a copyrighted photo searchable from Google Images. Loren had assumed that the disclaimer she posted on her blog, stating that all photos used were copyrighted to their respective owners, was enough to protect her from legal action.

Unfortunately, she was wrong.

If you use a copyrighted image and do not get consent to use it or compensate the copyright holder you are liable. Even if you source the owner but didn’t know that it was copyrighted, you can still get sued. Meanwhile, resize the photo on a noncommercial site — even if it is not saved on your server and is only embedded on your site — you can and will be sued. All of these can bring disastrous effect on your bottom line. The worst of all, if it happens at the wrong time, it can also put you out of business.

Are there photos you can use for free?

In Canada, under the Fair Dealing section of the Copyright Act, exceptions occur. In most cases, however, those exceptions do not cover bloggers using photos to enhance their blog post.

Again, this doesn’t mean you can’t ever use awesome photos in your blog. Unless you personally took them or spent a bucket load of money to get them, then you should be more cautious. As a matter of fact, you can find a number of resources available that allow you use photos for free. You can either use images in the public domain, which means the owner has been deceased for over 50 years and the images are no longer copyrighted.

Or you can use photos with Creative Commons licenses. These licenses have varying levels of usage which photographers offer for free. For more information on all the different licenses check out the Creative Commons website: https://creativecommons.org.

Pro tip:

A great source to find creative commons images is in the search tools section of Google. Click on the usage rights to specify which type of license you are looking for. And remember, it’s always best to err on the side of caution, always check the usage rights of the photos you post on your website or blog and save yourself that expensive dry-cleaning bill.

Beyond Google Images — Sites to Find Good Photos to Use:

  • https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/
  • http://www.everystockphoto.com
  • http://photoeverywhere.co.uk/index.htm
  • https://search.creativecommons.org

​Sources:

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/copyright-fair-use-and-how-it-works-for-online-images/
  • http://www.cipo.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipoInternet-Internetopic.nsf/eng/h_wr02281.html#understandingCopyright
  • http://sbinfocanada.about.com/od/insurancelegalissues/g/copyright.htm
  • http://www.contentfac.com/copyright-infringement-penalties-are-scary/
  • http://www.blogher.com/bloggers-beware-you-can-get-sued-using-photos-your-blog-my-story
  • http://blog.webcopyplus.com/2011/02/14/legal-lesson-learned-copywriter-pays-4000-for-10-photo/
  • http://canadiancopyrightlaw.ca/how-are-photographs-protected-by-canadian-copyright-law/
  • http://zvulony.ca/2014/articles/internet-law/legal-rights-in-a-photograph/
  • http://boingboing.net/2016/02/26/a-copyright-troll.html https://www.connect.ecuad.ca/copyright
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