Why Photo Copyright is a Major Concern
When it comes to author website design, copyright issues are a major concern. This is particularly true when it comes to choosing photos; clients often ask if it’s fair game to snag a photo from the Internet and use it on their website or blog. I’m not an intellectual property lawyer, but I can tell you with 100 percent confidence that if you violate someone’s copyright and you’re caught, there may be consequences. Penalties can range from a takedown notice to a lawsuit seeking damages.
“Oh but it’s just little old me—they’re never going to find my site.” That’s a common refrain, and potentially risky thinking. The problem is that the “they” isn’t a “them,” as in human beings. Rights holders constantly unleash software that trolls the Web looking for copyrighted material being used illegally. While resulting actions may not amount to anything, they’re still a nuisance and an emotional drain. Remember, the whole idea for you is to write books, not defend yourself in court.
We saw this problem up close this past year. A client posted commercial music on his site without having permission to do so. Within seven days, a robot zeroed in on the music. Our primary server provider received a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice. We were given 72 hours to remove the music in question, or face the prospect of having the entire server shut down—not just the offending site. We removed the music immediately. There were no consequences, other than the time wasted on the back-and-forth communication, as well as the time spent removing the music from the client’s site.
What’s the Best Course of Action When Choosing Photos?
So what’s the best course of action when deciding on photos for your author website or blog? Here are some options and caveats. (Again, this is NOT legal advice, but it does provide basic guidelines for making good choices):
1. Short of taking the photos yourself, the safest course of action is to purchase royalty-free images from a stock photo company. There are dozens of providers. Just search “royalty-free stock photos” and you’ll find a gaggle of companies, like Shutterstock, iStock, and Getty Images. You can also use completely free sites with beautiful, hi-res photos like Unsplash and Pixabay — they are completely royalty-free and don’t even require attribution.
Here are two exceptions when dealing with stock photo images:
- Make sure that the images are royalty-free. That means you can use them in all kinds of contexts—you just can’t resell the images (Other restrictions may apply, too—read whatever the stock image site posts about how you can use the images.) You may also encounter RIGHTS MANAGED photos. With rights managed images, you pay to use the picture for a particular time and for a particular medium, among other criteria. Note that these can be very expensive, depending on the subject matter, source, and intended use.
- Make certain that the image you’ve selected does not say: Editorial Use Only. This means it’s earmarked for use by people in the news media business. Read that “not for commercial purposes.” If the point of your site or blog is promote your book, that’s a commercial purpose. Check out the policy of any site that offers photos for editorial use.
2. Use a photo-sharing service. When using a photo-sharing service, don’t assume that it’s all up for grabs. Check with the owner about usage and attribution (a lot of amateur photographers want to be recognized for their work, so a photo credit is in order).
3. When you grab something from Google or Wikipedia, don’t take for granted that it’s all okay to use. In many cases, there will be a note that the image can indeed be used with impunity but, lots of Wikipedia photos also have restrictions and required permissions—read the rights section associated with the photo in question.
Understand Rights Issues and Fair Use
The Internet is causing legal experts to rethink all kinds of rights issues concerning fair use. Lots of people believe that anything posted should be free to use; others believe that those who create content have a right to protect their work. Remember this: the fact that “everyone does it” doesn’t constitute a defense if an infringement case comes to blows. You also might want to contact an IP lawyer if you’re concerned about the images you plan on using.
Finally, the old saw, “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” may not be the wisest approach when you’re looking for photo content. How about this instead: when in doubt, take a pass. You can always find something suitable that’s legally okay to incorporate into your author website design.
photo courtesy of unpslash.com