‘Free’ photo for your website, sir? That’ll be £24,000 please...
A cautionary tale
You know how it is. You've just created that web page but as it’s just text, it looks about as exciting as something from the Inland Revenue/IRS’s website.
You know that images speak so much more than words, and more people are likely to see them than read your carefully-crafted prose.
You’re in a hurry - where can you get a zippy-looking picture to liven-up your web page?
“Why, verily, Google shall come to my rescue!” You cry, “Forsooth, they even givest me a goodly image search to maketh mine job easier. Done!”
Yea, verily wrong.
Every image on the Internet belongs to someone and you cannot use it without their express permission to do so (there are some exceptions to this, but that’s for another post). If you do, you’re breaking copyright law.
And bad things happen to people who break the law...
Many of the images on the Internet are owned by image libraries who make their money from charging for the use of such photos etc. One of the largest organisations which owns a number of these libraries is Getty Images.
AND, Getty now have special search technology which spiders out across the Internet, searching for instances of their images being used and checking them against a database of those who’ve paid to use their stuff (or not).
And they sue...
As London-based removals and haulage firm, JA Coles, found out to their cost: They used one of Getty’s images without permission (actually in good faith - their web designer simply used it as a postage stamp-sized, temporary, placeholder image, but it got forgotten) and suddenly found themselves in receipt of a rather frosty letter from Getty’s solicitors - It wasn’t an invitation to tea, but a demand for money related to illegal use of the image - they were after the missing fees and associated costs: £1,951/$2,927. Ouch!
Now, anyone who’s read Matthew 5 will know that the smart thing to do would have been to have settled out of court:
“Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
However, Messrs JA Coles, after taking poor advice, unwisely decided to simply remove the image and ignore Getty’s letter (wrong). Bad decision. Getty decided to sue them in the High Court and invited them to join them on a little visit to the scary Royal Courts of Justice, pictured above.
The folks at JA Coles now thought this maybe wasn’t such a great idea and decided to settle, rather than going before the beak. They had to cough up the £1,951 - but by now, because Getty had also hired barristers, their costs had gone through the roof - the whole thing cost Coles in excess of £24,000/$36,000! Grievous ouch!
Now, gentle reader, what’s the moral of this sorry tale?
You might think. “Oh, we’re only a little church, this doesn’t really apply to us. Who’s going to bother if we use the odd image from here and there.”
You’d be wrong. Very wrong again. You’d be £hundreds of pounds wrong.
I know of three of our church customers (and there may be others) whose unknowing illegal use of images was spotted by Getty’s image search technology and who received just such a letter as JA Coles. They both wisely settled out of court, but not before they’d paid very serious money which they could have used for much better purposes.
So, what’s a humble website editor to do?
1. Only utilise images which you have permission to use - see my next post for some great, legal sources of images for free or next to nothing. You can also use photos which have been taken for you or which you’ve taken yourself. NB Where these feature children in your church, might be worth checking with parents that they’re happy for the image to be used on the website.
2. Got anyone you’ve delegated editing permissions to on your website? Yes? Well, stand them up against a wall, slap them round the face and tell them the above tale - and that they’re footing the bill if you get a solicitor's letter! Resist any suggestion you’re being a party pooper; this is serious stuff - and action for illegal use of images is increasing.
3. Conduct a site image audit - do you have permission to use all the images on your site? Better to check now, rather than have to pay out a hefty fine or out of court settlement. Got your template from a third party? Might be worth checking with them. If anyone tells you they’ve got permission - don’t assume they’re correct; get them to prove it & explain how they got permission.
I recently queried a welcome mat image which had been added to our church website as I was 98% sure it was from an image library and wanted to ensure we had permission (I was also 100% sure it was naff, but that’s another issue). The new editor told me he’d got it from a university website in Florida! We had the stand-up-against-the-wall-slap-face chat and I told him to remove it ASAP. I checked a week later and found he’d left the image in place. What?!
On querying this, he told me, "It's fine, I've contacted the university department, and they’ve given me permission to use it.” Hmm. As I said, I was pretty sure this image was from a stock photo library and it took me only 10 mins to find it - the uni department did NOT have permission to grant use of the image; it didn’t belong to them! This would not have been an excuse in a court of law. Smoke was seen coming from the the editor’s fingers as he removed the photo!
So, make sure the images you use are legal - it's easy to get your hands on great-looking images for your church website AND do it legally for peanuts. Next time, I'll tell you how.
For more information on the JA Coles case, see the following:
http://www.out-law.com/page-9880 & http://www.out-law.com/page-10367 as well as the link on "£24,000" above.
Image: © Tony Baggett - Fotolia.com