Have You Had A Demand For Using An Unlicensed Stock Image?

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You have just sat behind your desk about to take your first sip of coffee. You’re opening your post or checking how many unread emails are in your inbox!

The innocent-looking letter or email is opened and it appears to be from a stock library or photographer you have never dealt with or even heard of. 

Suddenly your morning coffee doesn’t taste quite as good. Your eyes notice a demand of several thousands of pounds for your use of an unlicensed image on your company web site or blog page.

What do you do ……?

More than likely panic a little, ignore it and hope it may go away.

It is probably simply a scam and not worth bothering with.

However, it is not a scam. 

A demand for an unlicensed stock image is not something that can just be ignored.

Most of us have a web site or blog (maybe both) which we use to promote our business no matter how large or small. Maybe it is an ecommerce site or simply to let your clients know what you do and what you can offer.

These, of course, will use images; a site would look pretty bland without them, wouldn’t it?

If you know 100% where all the images came from on your web site and have permission from the license holder to use or have paid for them by using a stock library; then you may still enjoy your coffee.

However, you should contact the license holder and provide proof that you have permission to use the image. This will usually be in the form of an invoice from the agency you purchased the image(s) from or written permission from the photographer. 

If you cannot be sure where the image is from and if you have permission to use then read on.

Maybe you used a website designer, an intern or the blog page is populated by images and you don’t know where they came from. 

Were the images copied and pasted from a search engine and used without checking if they needed to be purchased?

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First steps……

Don't panic about unlicensed images

Don’t panic.

Ask the team member responsible for the site (if it isn’t you) where the image(s) came from; were they paid for and was the image licensed correctly.

If you used a web designer then ask them for a copy of the license to use the image on your site. This is something you should always do when having your site built. Do not just assume the images are okay to use.

Under UK copyright law the end user (i.e. you) is responsible for the images on your site. The designer isn’t.  Remember it won’t be them paying the bill!

Also remember the license holder of the image is justified in contacting you.

There is now very powerful software available to stock libraries and this is used to trace all their images being used on the good old worldwide web. If you haven’t paid for it they are within their rights to pursue you for copyright infringement;  let’s be honest you wouldn’t like it if someone ‘pinched’ your product.

You may also be asking yourself  ‘why is the fee so high’

It is more than likely the image in question is rights managed and not royalty free.

Yes you may argue that you can find a similar image for £5, why is the fee for this one so high?

It is because this image is sold with a specific license, time period and type of use and is often sold on an exclusive basis. Remember you didn’t use a £5 image you used this one.

The license holder is also within their rights to charge you a fee for not crediting them, an image detection fee and an unauthorised image use – one image can amount to several thousands of pounds in fees.

Imagine if there are others on your site you are unaware of!

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The next stage……

So if you haven’t purchased the image, you have no license to use it or your web site designer didn’t purchase it, what is your best course of action?

Firstly remove the image, but this does not resolve the situation entirely. The license holder will still have a claim against you for using the image.

Pick up the phone, call the stock agency and explain this was not a malicious use of their image.

It rarely is; most companies would not knowingly use an image that should be licensed and just hope to get away with it.

Most stock libraries will offer you an amicable settlement offer if the case can be resolved quickly. They are reasonable people and speaking to them about the situation is always far better than hoping it will go away and it will save you a possible legal claim at a later date for copyright infringement.

The best scenario is to avoid this situation in the first place

To do this use a simple rule of thumb. 

Do not use an image unless you know you have permission to use it from the license holder. Do not just assume it is okay to use. Maybe you have taken due diligence and looked for the license holder and cannot find any reference to them;  still don’t use it.

Ignorance is not bliss in this situation. Do not assume because you cannot find the image it isn’t a licensed image held by a stock library or photographer.

You may also have your web site checked to avoid having to remove all the images you are unsure of. Thus highlighting which ones should be licensed and paid for you can then make an informed decision based on fair use and contact the photographer or stock agency and pay for the use avoiding any potential infringement issues.

Take some time to ensure your site is only populated by images you have permission to use then you may enjoy your morning coffee in peace.

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Need a cost-effective stock image library?

If you’re reading this and realising that you need to buck your ideas up and start using a proper stock image library, check out Alamy.

They offer over 225 MILLION images, videos, and panoramic graphics you can use on your site. You can the images you need individually, or you can save up to 30% when buying multiple images together.

They’re not the cheapest if you need hundreds of images, but they work out very cost-effective if you need the occasional image to spruce up your marketing materials or blog posts.

Click here to search for images on Alamy

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Business4Beginners has been advising new businesses owners since 2013. The founder, Paul Bryant, has created, grown and sold several successful businesses and remains the editor and fact-checker of all content published on the site.
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