Using Unlicensed Images on a Website Can Be Costly

Posted by Edward Sharkey on Mon, 04/06/2015 - 04:00

It is common for startup businesses to use unlicensed images in their marketing materials. Licenses cost money, and on the internet images seem to be there for the taking. Using even one unlicensed image, however, can cost you. Earlier this month, an image licensing company accepted an $8,000 settlement offer from a Washington, DC patent attorney for his unlicensed use of stock images on his website.

The image licensing company had originally filed suit in federal district court for willful copyright infringement. The complaint sought $150,000 in damages.

Federal copyright law is codified in Title 17 of the United States Code. Chapter 5 of Title 17 outlines the potential remedies a court can provide when a copyright owner proves an image was used without a license. Potential remedies include:

1) An injunction preventing or restraining the infringement;

2) Impounding and disposition of infringing articles;

3) Payment of actual damages sustained by the copyright owner;

4) Payment of profits earned by the infringer; and

5) Payment of costs and attorney’s fees.

Though the settlement dwarfs what the lawyer would have paid in license fees, in the scheme of things, he got off pretty cheaply. The takeaway: make sure you have permission to use the images in your marketing materials. We find that a lot of clients delegate certain tasks and often have no idea if the images on their website are permitted. Then, don’t steal an image. If you are using an image that belongs to someone, pay for it. If you have no budget for images, there are sites that provide licenses for stock image for free. Here are 24 of them – 24 Great Sites for Free Images.

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