Using Free Stock Photography Sites Can Kill Your Business - Episode 71 - Business Bites

Using Stock Photography Sites Can Kill Your Business

Episode 71 on the Business Bites Podcast

The Gist Of This Episode: You want to quickly get a photo up on your blog or social media. STOP for a second…While these stock sites have cheap (or free!) images…you need to consider the risk. So-called “Creative Commons Licenses” can end up costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars! Join Rachel as she explains why you shouldn’t use those images and how to stay out of trouble!

What you will learn:

  • Basics of copyright
  • The risks of using images uploaded to free/low-cost Creative Commons sites
  • How much money infringement could cost you in legal fees (hint: it’s not cheap!)
  • How using stock images can actually dilute your brand
  • and more!

Expand To Read Episode Transcripts

Y’all gotta stop using these stock sites where they are free in Creative Commons, because there’s so many problems that you guys can run into, and you’re going to end up padding the pockets of lawyers like me or others that actually don’t care about your business. So dig into this video, because I want to share with you exactly why you shouldn’t be using images and how you guys can find images that can really help you.

All right, let’s face it, it is super easy when we’re developing our brand, or we’re putting up a blog post, social media post, and we just want to get it out there. We want to get some really good imagery. I get it. It’s easy just to log on to these stock sites and to grab an image, or even to go off the internet and just grab from Google Images. Well, before I dig into why you guys shouldn’t be doing this with these stock sites … and again, let me clarify on this a bit. I’m talking about stock sites where users are uploading, and you’re getting to utilize them for free or extremely low cost. In fact, I’m a huge proponent of not using any of these stock sites that have contributors, and just purchasing directly from individuals who are selling the images.

Of course, I’m going to get into some tips later on for you guys to make sure you can completely protect yourself, but before we do that, let’s go through a little bit about copyright 101 real fast. You guys can understand why this is a big deal. When it comes to copyright, any time you guys create something, when you’re writing that blog post that you’re looking for an image, or you’ve taken an image in the course of your business, or music or your text on your website, anything like that, all of that, when it’s put into a fixed tangible medium is copyright-protectable in the United States at creation. We don’t have to go and take the next steps to register. Now, I’m going to explain in a minute why you probably should do it, but you don’t necessarily have to.

Let’s talk about copyright in the context of images, since we’re talking about not using these stock photography sites or Creative Commons licenses. The thing is, the individual or the entity that has taken the photograph are the owners. They are the intellectual property rights holder to that image. They get to have the control over where it’s distributed, reproduced, if it’s altered. You get this whole bundle of rights when you’re the owner. Now, you guys have to stop and think about that for a second. If you own something, you’re the one that gets to be able to give permission for someone else to use it.

But let’s say you loan something to somebody else, they don’t necessarily have the rights to loan it to another person or to sell it or to alter it in any way, and that’s what’s kind of happening with these contribution sites. We’re seeing many people who are not the copyright holders who are snagging images, uploading them to these free Creative Commons sites that you guys are now en masse going to download from, and they are agreeing that they’re the copyrights holder, even though they’re not. They are giving this Creative Commons license. They have no rights to give any said license, because they’re not the actual copyright holders.

Now yes, I understand that there probably are copyright holders of images that are uploading to these sites, that they’re okay with their images being used there. However, the thing that we need to look at is, is it worth the risk? Before we dig into that, I just want to touch a little bit on registered versus unregistered copyrighted works. You know, I have other videos and podcasts on this for you guys, but just remember, if you are creating something, you get the copyright protection in the United States at creation. The downfall, however, is that you can only receive actual damages if somebody infringes upon that work. In this context, let’s say an image. However, if that image or those words are copyrighted and registered with, which is super cheap, so easy … you guys should be doing it with your blog posts, your images, your logos, everything. You should be protecting yourself as much as possible … if it’s a registered work, then it could be up to $150,000 per work plus attorneys’ fees.

So what does that mean in the context of using these sites? Let’s say that Janie takes a photograph, but then Sally decides to snag it from Janie and upload it to one of these free Creative Commons sites for you guys to be able to use in your blog or on your social media. The problem is, Janie is the copyrights holder. Sally may have been the one that stole it, but the fact that you guys are grabbing it from this website, thinking that everything’s okay, you could be in big trouble. If Janie, the individual that took the photograph and the copyright holder, if she went and registered the images, what does that mean for you? You could potentially be liable for up to $150,000 per image, not only your attorneys’ fees, which in a copyright infringement suit could be about 50 to $75,000, even if you do have a defense of saying that you got it from this site, doesn’t mean that you’re not liable, though. You could also have to end up having to pay Janie’s 50 to $75,000 of attorneys’ fees.

So look at that. Let’s just take the low end of it. We’re looking at 150,000 for one image, 50 for her attorneys, 50 for yours. We’re looking at $250,000 minimum. Do you guys have that? Think about this, $250,000. And here’s the problem, is it’s so easy these days for people to be able to find where their images are being used. There’s websites, and when I say images, we can also substitute it for text. There’s Google Alerts, and there’s sites out there that you can upload an image or upload your text to, and it will crawl the internet and let the copyright holder know what’s going on, and then you can end up getting pinged.

I don’t understand why many of you would want to put yourself at risk like this. Look at the numbers that we just talked about. At least $200,000, if you guys end up having to go to a suit. And here’s the really thing that a lot of people don’t understand. They maybe sit there and think, “Well, I went through a stock website, I agreed to the terms. I thought everything was good.” But if you were sued by the copyrights holder, that may be a defense that you can bring up, but you’re still going to have to spend the time, the money, and the energy explaining that to the other party, and potentially doing that in federal court. I don’t want that for you guys. I don’t want you guys to have to deal with this.

Fundamentally, I also want us to be respecting other people’s intellectual property. I’m not going out to y’all’s websites or YouTube channels and just grabbing your videos, your images, or your text and using it. And again, if you guys have watched my other videos or the podcast, you know that crediting someone is not enough. So don’t just think, “Oh, I grabbed an image. I’m going to put a credit. It’s all good.” That’s still copyright infringement if you’re putting it into your business, if it’s going on your business social media, onto your website, and it doesn’t even require that you are claiming it as your own. It doesn’t matter if you credit it. You guys have to be mindful of this.

The thing is that I just don’t understand why so many are willing to put the money on the line. You may as well just go ahead and start saving that money and put it into a savings account, because it’s getting to the point it’s not if it happens, when it happens that you’re going to get pinged. Let’s also look at this from a marketing perspective. Why would you want to have the exact same image that hundreds and thousands of other people are putting on their website? And again, I completely understand that it’s just you need an image, you see a good one, you want to sang it for your business, and it just makes it so easy, but if you’re really, really committed to developing a good visual brand, you’re going to want to do it legally and the right way, so that you’re protected and not putting yourself at risk.

But you’re also going to want to make sure that you really have control over that brand. If you’re using the same images as somebody else, you start diluting your brand. So even if you are hiring one of these sites that they take the images, and you know that they do, and you purchase the license from them for use, I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I try to support as many photographers as possible, but I’m still running the risk of other people having the images and it diluting my brand just a little bit and then causing confusion with the consumers.

So I’m looking at this not just from the legal perspective of wanting to save time and money and energy of not having to fight a copyright infringement suit, I’m not just looking at this from the fact that I want to respect other entrepreneurs, but I also want to protect the brand that I’ve created, and actually create a brand that is original.

I hope this helps you guys. I totally understand that you’re probably going, “Oh my gosh, I have all these images on my website. What do I do?” It’s time to start cleaning them out. The unfortunate thing is, since you’ve already been using it, if you’re found and it is a copyrights holder who never gave the rights for you guys to utilize those images, you still could be liable. But let’s go ahead and get them removed from your social media, removed from your blog posts, removed from your website, and get other images in there, ones that you actually have the rights to. I really recommend you guys either learn the photography for yourself or hire a local photographer who can give you the right licenses or permissions to use these images in your workflow and all the areas of your branding.

I get it. This was a scary little video, really fast talking, a lot of great information. Hopefully you guys will rewind and listen to it again. I’m just going to leave you with one last thing. $200,000, is that one image really that great that you want to spend $200,000, when you could spend a couple thousand for customized photography with your local photographer? Cost-benefit analysis, let’s be smart about it, let’s not try to skate the system.

Let’s not disrespect other people, and let’s stay out of potentially having to be caught up in a copyright infringement suit, because once you’re sued, you don’t get to drop it. You’re not the person that brought the claim. You still have to deal with all of the requirements that the courts have and hire an attorney. That’s no fun, even though I’m fun, and I’m an attorney. It’s not fun going through that process, and I would rather you guys be focused on your business, as opposed to having to play cleanup in aisle 4, because of the copyright infringement later.

About the author

Rachel Brenke is a lawyer, author and business consultant. She is currently helping professionals all over the world initiate, strategize and implement strategic business and marketing plans through various mediums of consulting resources and legal direction.

Hi, I’m Rachel Brenke

Rachel Brenke

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