Q: I found a photograph online. May I use it on my website if no one registered the photograph with the US Copyright Office?
A: You should not use the photograph unless you own the copyright or have the right to use it. Registration with the US Copyright Office is irrelevant as to whether you have a right to use the photograph.
Q: What should I do if I do not own the copyright?
A: You should determine beforehand whether you need permission to use the photograph. Photographs generally qualify for copyright protection, but there are times when a photograph does not have that protection. Copyright law also allows certain uses that do not require you to get the copyright owner’s permission. If you need permission, find out whom to contact to get permission, or a license, to use the photograph.
Q: What happens if I use the photograph without a license even though the law says I need permission?
A: The cost of copyright infringement can be steep. If the copyright owner wins, the owner can pick either (1) your profits from using the photograph plus the owner’s lost profits, or (2) statutory damages. Statutory damages can range from $200 to $150,000 per work. Whether the winner gets an attorney’s fee award is another concern. Copyright infringement also can be a crime. A license usually is far cheaper than a copyright infringement claim.
Q: What if I hire a web designer who uses copyrighted photographs without permission?
A: The copyright owner still can sue you. When you knew or should have known that the designer used a copyright-protected photograph without permission could affect how much you have to pay. You can sue the designer, but that is cold comfort. Ask the designer for a copy of any licenses or other proof that you can use the material on your site. Keep the evidence safe in case you need to deflect an infringement claim in the future.
Q: But it is just a photograph.
A: A copyrighted photograph is someone’s property. Would you like it if people took your property without your permission?
Q: Good point.
This post provides general information only. This post is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship or to be legal advice about your situation. Laws change and your situation may be different. You should consult with a licensed attorney for legal advice specific to your circumstances.
© 2016 Macy Law Firm, PC