Be aware that images found on the web or in Google Images are not necessarily free to use. It appears that Getty Images is going after web site owners who are using copyrighted images illegally.
We saw this blog post claiming that Getty Images is seeking out web sites illegally using their copyrighted images and are threatening to sue for use of the images. In some cases, they are threatening to sue if the site owner does not pay thousands of dollars to the rightful owner of the copyrights.
If you are using images from some free graphic sites or Google Images, be aware that the images may not be properly licensed and you might be exposing yourself to a law suit for copyright infringement. Google routinely swipes images from web sites without a site owner’s knowledge or permission and they have no idea if the images are copyrighted. The intent behind Google Images is not necessarily to provide site owners with a source of free images, and that does not exonerate your use of these images when the images are copyrighted.
The article I referenced cites statistics that 85% of the images used on the web may be violating copyrights. That statistic sound a bit high, but it is possible due to widespread misconceptions about the use of images on the web. Just because something is given away, sold as royalty free or with private label rights (PLR) doesn’t mean that the persons offering the images has the legal right to do so, nor does that mean that they can pass any rights onto you. You can still be sued even though you used the images in good faith.
I recently bought a package on the Warrior Forum and one of the free bonuses was a set of 1,000 web images. The image bundle appears to have been sold on Warrior Forum in other offers. It turned out that the images were illegally obtained from Getty Images and would infringe on their copyrights if they were to be used without paying the licensing fees. The licensing fees for 1,000 images can be pretty steep.
The moral of the story is that you need to be careful about what you buy on the web. In some countries the owner of a copyright can sue for past use of copyrighted images, so even if you remove the images from your site, the copyright owner may be entitled to use fees.
One aspect of our business is that we run a number of affiliate marketing sites that represent products from various web merchants. A few years ago we were contacted by Sony’s lawyers who threatened us due to the use of Sony copyrighted images and trademarks on one of out Amazon affiliate marketing web sites. They even contacted our hosting company and demanded that they remove the web site in question. We thought the claim was ridiculous because our agreement with Amazon clearly states that we can use the product images provided by Amazon to represent the products that they sell. Furthermore, the Amazon affiliate marketing site was completely automated and simply inserted the images and textual content provided by Amazon. We pointed that out to Sony’s legal team and they backed off and dropped the claim.
Companies are starting to become more aggressive with the enforcement of intellectual property rights. Just because you find something that is publicly viewed on the web does not place it in the public domain nor does it grant any rights for free use. Another common misconception is that textual content can be copied and used as long as the person using the content provides a link back to the web page with the original content. There is no such rule in copyright law that allows anyone to do that.
So what do you do if you think you may have images on your site that you do not have the rights to use? The first thing to do is to remove the images or find the source and pay the licensing fees. Finding the source can be very difficult, so the safer bet is to simply remove the images.