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The Great Website Photos Shakedown That’s Perfectly Legal

By December 19, 2013May 5th, 2016Intellectual Property

stock photograhy copyright infringementEver found a fantastic photo that you really wanted to post on your website?

Unless the pic is in the public domain or shared with a copyleft license (e.g. Creative Commons), chances are there’s a copyright owner for the photo whose permission (preferably in writing) you’re going to need to obtain before using the pic on your site.

But how do you track down the owner of the pic on the Internet? You can use a service like as a starting point but that’s no guarantee you’ll be able to find the true copyright owner.

Because it is so difficult to find the copyright owners for many photos online, many website owners mistakenly use the pics on their own sites without permission.

And that’s where the photo copyright infringement shakedown comes into play.

Here’s what happens…

There are professional photographers and stock photo companies that make most of their money by threatening shakedown lawsuits for copyright infringement against website owners who use their pics without permission. If you are using one of their photos on your site without paying a licensing fee, you’re likely to receive an email or a snail mail letter claiming infringement.

They will demand a fee of $3,000 to $10,000 to settle their claim of infringement. If you refuse to pay, they will threaten to sue you for copyright infringement and seek $150,000 per infringement plus payment of their legal fees and court costs.

The goal of this demand is to shake you down for thousands of dollars because it is still a lot less expensive than being sued and likely losing.

Frankly, it’s legal but a sleazy way of doing business.

So what should you do to avoid this type of copyright infringement shakedown in the first place?

Before using a photo on your site, be sure to ensure that:

(1) the pic is in the public domain,
(2) has a copyleft license that you comply with; or
(3) you get permission from the copyright owner to use it.

The easiest way to get permission is to pay a licensing fee to a reputable stock photo agency for use of the pic. The fee you will pay will typically depend upon the resolution of the photo and where you intend to use the pic. For example, a low resolution image for use on a blog will cost less than a high resolution image you plan to include in printed marketing materials.

Where possible, avoid doing business with those who focus on shakedown threats instead of licensing images as their way of making money online. Don’t reward bad behavior that preys upon mistakes.

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Mike Young, Esq.

Author Mike Young, Esq.

Mike Young has been practicing business and technology law since 1994 and is an angel investor in startups. He's been an entrepreneur since 1988. To get legal help from Attorney Young, click here now or call 214-546-4247 to schedule a phone consultation.

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