I was having lunch with a friend today (who also happens to be a client). He’s a talented amateur photographer and he was talking about a new lens he’d gotten. It was a wide angle lens that he’d gotten for landscape photography, but lately he’d been using it to take pictures for their website and social media posts. He pulled up a photo of one of their locations that he’d taken with it to show how wide the field of vision was on it. They had just posted it to their blog. The photo was impressive, and it got me thinking about the photos businesses use on their websites, and what you can and can’t use.
Can I just Google a photo for my website?
I had a client call me the other day wanting to add Bridal Facials to the services she offered on her website, she sent me two photos of brides with beautiful skin, asking me to put them in the header and on the new page. I told her I’d be happy to do that, but before I did, asked if she had the right to use these photos, basically, where had she gotten them? Not surprisingly she’d Googled “Bride” and plucked those photos from Google’s image results. I told her she probably shouldn’t use them and sent her some options from a stock photo website we use. She selected a couple of those and we got to work updating her website.
I think she may have thought I was being a little bit of a stickler, but trust me when I tell you I was not. I have known three separate businesses, two here in Daytona/Ormond Beach, and one in South Florida that were contacted by legal representatives of the owners of the content that was on their websites, blogs or social media accounts. If you don’t believe me, here’s an actual communication from one of the stock photo houses:
The names of the innocent in the above photo have been changed to protect their identity–and to keep them from getting mad at me–and this was for ONE PHOTO! I just popped over to the client’s page who I was having lunch with. They have 167 photos on their blog, if this letter had been addressed to them and only 1 in 5 photos had been rights protected like the one referenced above, they would be on the hook for $8,316.60. If it was all of them, how does $41,583 sound? It’s insane. If you’re wondering how the stock photo company found this one image among billions (or trillions?) of images on the internet, it’s automated. The photo houses and their lawyers use software programs that automatically crawl the web looking for images and comparing them against a list of copyrighted images. The software runs 24/7 looking for images used without permission on websites. It may sound mean, but they paid to produce the content, and people using it for free costs them money. Money that they want to recover.
Meh, I’ll just take it down if someone notices
Also, if you think you can just pull the photos from the site if you get a letter. They have that covered too. Look at the last paragraph in the letter above. They take a photo from their catalog, and a screenshot of your website and keep it on file. They also email the image and screenshot to you (well aren’t they nice…) along with an FAQ that contains the following paragraph (copied from this actual notice):
What if I remove the images? Could I simply consider this matter closed?
While we appreciate the removal of our represented images from your website, removal of the images alone does not resolve the matter. Our photographers are entitled to compensation for the use of their work. Since your company has already used the imagery without a valid license, ##### Images will continue to seek resolution of the matter. We are seeking payment for the unlicensed use of the imagery, and would be happy to work with you on obtaining a valid license for any future use.
Think it’s your web designer’s responsibility? It should be, but don’t count on it. Besides, they have that covered as well:
What if someone else created my company’s website?
##### Images understands that a third-party designer, employee, or intern may have been contracted to design and develop your company’s website. However, if no licenses for use of the images from ##### Images exist, the liability for any infringement ultimately falls on your company since it is displaying the imagery.
If a third party who supplied the images is willing to resolve this matter on your behalf, that third party may contact ##### Images directly; however, ##### Images cannot initiate contact with the third party since ##### Images’ claim is with your company. If the third party is unable or unwilling to resolve this matter on your behalf, ##### Images will continue to look to your company to resolve this matter. Any effort by you to seek reimbursement from a third party would be between you and the third party as a separate matter.
So what do I do?
Okay, enough of the doom and gloom, I’m officially off my soap box.
So what is an honest (and possibly terrified) business owner to do? Get a hold of whoever has credentials to edit your site and tell them to remove any photography that you do not own the rights to. Not sure which ones? Remove them all. Try not to shut the site down if possible, that will really hurt your SEO.
Okay, all my unlicensed pictures have been removed from my website, now what?
Now you have a boring website or blog with no photos. That’s where a reputable web design firm comes in. We use great stock photography that we buy the rights to, and by using a design firm, you can be assured the photography won’t look all “Stock-y” or “Clipart-y.” It will all match in style and color values and represent your business well.
Also, consider hiring a photographer to take custom photography for your site.
A thousand word Blog Post? Jeese, I don’t have all day, just boil it down for me.
TL;DR Do not Google images and place them in your Facebook feed, or you blog, or your website. You may get sued.
Same goes for verbiage but that’s another blog post.
What to do instead? Use a local company that creates great content for you, knows how to source and style stock photography so it doesn’t look so “stocky.”