How Copying Images From Google Cost One Blogger $7,500—and Could Cost You Even More

shutterstock_147347660I've written before about why you should never copy photos from Google. Often those photos are protected by copyright law, and while cases that go beyond a cease and desist demand letter are rare, it only takes one incident to cost you a year's worth of blog revenue.

A super-shady incident that manipulated copyright law in a scam that cost one blogger $7,500 strengthens that argument even more.

In February 2014 Christie at Living for Nap Time was blogging about a green pepper coupon (at the time she ran a blog about coupons), so she did a Google image search for a photo of green peppers. She found the perfect one—weirdly, on a travel site—and uploaded it to the post.

Several months later she received an email from a lawyer saying that photo will cost you $750, please. Christie was like, wtf, it's a green pepper photo you can find on a stock photo site for a few dollars. The lawyer's response? The law is on my side and come to think of it, my client and I would like $7,500 for damages. Also by the way you better hire a copyright lawyer, missy.

Christie did some digging and found that these folks owned many domains where they seemed to be planting clearly-tagged photos to boost the photos' SEO in hopes that bloggers like Christie might happen upon them. That's right: they optimized the photo to encourage copyright infringement and then sued for it.

The lawyer had been called out on several sites for being unethical and predatory.

So Christie hired her own lawyer who advised her to settle the $7,500 claim. If the small possibility of the claim going to court happened, she could be liable for the claim plus all of the court costs, which could reach $100,000 or more. Because, regardless of how comfortable we've become with copying photos from the web, copyright law protects many of the images that turn up in a Google image search—yes, even if you link back to the original source.

Don't let this happen to you! Try out stock photo sites like Allthefreestock.com, scan Flickr—or you can search Google using “Usage Rights” under “Search Tools”—for Creative Commons licensed photos, or take your own. At IFB we use Shutterstock, which charges a subscription fee, but it will cost you less than $7,500 possibly in your entire life.

Photo via Shutterstock.

Do you copy photos from the web? Does this story convince to to stop?

 

 

 

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About The Author

In addition to being editor at IFB, Kristen writes for Forbes, Eat, Sleep, Denim, and her own blog, Stylenik. Previously, she served as the San Francisco editor for Racked, covering the intersection of retail, fashion, and technology. She has written about everything from human cloning to luxury shopping for publications including Wired, Gizmodo, Refinery 29, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She lives in a '70s house in '70s clothes on the Northern California coast. 

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15 Responses

  1. Sarina

    Hello! Great post!
    I have 2 questions about this.

    – The first one is that she was winning money over images directly via referrals since she was advertising a coupon. This may not be the main reason why she was sued? For using an image who was made to be a stock for her own/direct gain? If she was just commenting about the subject without linking a coupon, she would still be sued fairly?

    – Second, I’ve already saw fashion news blogs posting fashion editorials, fashion lookbooks, celebrity pictures (like Golden Globe looks) claiming US Copyright Fair Use Act (TITLE 17,U.S. CODE.). Is this really fair?

    I want to start blogging about celebrity looks, fashion editorials and lookbooks but I’m not sure if there’s a problem with using images from other websites like Vogue. Getty Images is really expensive, if you are looking for celebrity look they can charge up to $100 for an image that you probably will be using just once. So how can a aspiring fashion content creator overcome this?

    I see how this works for websites IFB cause you’re usually just illustrating something general, but when it comes to specific trends, street style, editorials, celebrity, how would this work?

    Reply
    • Kristen Philipkoski

      Copyright law is complicated and I’m not an expert so I would recommend you get in touch wth someone who is to answer your questions. Fair Use is often cited incorrectly. I think it’s a risky proposition to take photos of celebrities from the web and post them on your blog given that folks pay a lot of money for those photos. Again, I would get in touch with an expert.

      Reply
    • Noemi

      I have the same problem. I have a blog and regularly post about street style and beauty, so of course I have to take the photos from other sites. I always link back to them. A lot of blogs do this, so hopefully it’s not a big problem. I recently talked about it in a group on Fb and many people say that you can’t take photos from the website, most of all from Getty Images (even if you publish them with the watermark, which is something brands and bloggers do, sometimes). I was suggested to ask fro permission to every site I take the photos from! It would be an endless thing to do. Also, since Pinterest and Tumblr are a huge source of beauty and street style photos, finding the original source is almost impossible.

      Reply
  2. Ester

    Can they sue if your in Africa,Im a Kenya blogger and many people ‘steal’ pictures/posts everytime
    Is this an American thing?

    Reply
  3. Paula

    What about images that have “labelled for reuse” tags – that you can search for with the “usage rights” in the search tools?

    Reply
    • Kristen Philipkoski

      If they are labelled for reuse via Creative Commons license you should be fine, just make sure you’re labelling correctly. And that is a good way to search for photos that are OK to use!

      Reply
  4. Lauren

    This is a very good post, however, I agree with Sarina.. it seems that she used the photo in a more commercial way rather than just something that is for editorial content. I am also a content creator and I would say 9 times out of 10, bloggers are more than happy to have them use their photo as long as it’s credited back to their site (outside links are good for their SEO).

    So do you think that this would apply more towards stock photography as opposed to fashion, street style, celebrity, editorial content?

    Reply
    • Kristen Philipkoski

      If you have permission or you have a relationship with the person who took the photo, obviously there shouldn’t be a problem. But publishers pay a lot of money for street style and celebrity photos often in the form of a Getty or other subscription service, or by hiring their own photographer. It’s not, as I understand it, OK to use these photos without permission. The chances you will actually be sued may be slim but it’s a risk.

      Like I said I’m not a lawyer but when I was a tech and science reporter, “Fair Use” was a confusing concept that we used cautiously. Stay tuned, I’m hunting for a copyright lawyer IFB can interview to better answer all your questions!

      Reply
  5. Souri

    Does this mean we are not allowed to use “alternative text” for our photos to optimise them to get found. As a blogger and photographer I see bloggers and companies every day using my images – a backlink or just credit is usually not given.

    It’s effort to take your own images and costs a lot of money (LOTS! So the 750$ for a copyright infringment sounds like a bargain to me) for the camera equipment. I only use my own images on my blog – 100%. As bloggers we all create unique content and photos are a big part of it … in case of my blog it’s mainly photos. And even taking a photo of green peppers takes effort.

    There is also the option of asking the owner of the photo for permission – in most cases they would allow usage for credit/backlink when it is not of commercial nature.

    There are websites which help to protect your images and it is much easier now to track the usage. Reverse Image search in Google or pixsy.com.

    Reply
  6. Kathleen

    The only group that can use google images is students for educational purposes. There is no reason, for fashion, not to have your own photos. With the technology available, your phone’s photo can be fabulous!

    Reply
  7. beyondbasic

    I have always wondered about the accounts on Instagram stealing pinterest quote photos and random images to use for filler photos on Instagram. I have been very against stealing other images and would prefer to do a creative photo myself instead of getting into trouble. Great post. Something for bloggers to think about too even on Instagram.

    Reply
  8. Chukyrp

    Thank you for this post! I’m new in the world of blogging so I have a question about
    creating a Valentine’s gift guide or clother & accessories I want right now. How can I make those if I cannot use images from the website?

    Reply
    • Kim Toomey

      This article does a good job of outlining what qualifies as Fair Use for images online. There is definitely a difference between using a photographer’s artwork to improve your blog posts that you’re generating revenue from, vs. a product image that is linked back to the retailer and driving revenue to them. In most cases, images from a company for their products are fine. Good question though! http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/copyright-fair-use-and-how-it-works-for-online-images/

      Reply
      • Sarina

        Thanks for the post Kim it was helpful. I just found out that Getty Images offers a free and legal embed service with credits for the photographer on it if anybody is interested. Of course you can’t use it to sell or place affiliate links cause is totally wrong but for illustration purposes is great. Just look for Getty Images embed.

        I love IFB but I think you guys needs to step out the game when it comes to information and look for better solutions for every situation. Not everyone wants to be a personal style blogger, there’s other categories on fashion too.