There are many companies, small and big, that build their online presence thanks to publishing photos for which they have not even paid. It happens all the time that one photo is copied in bulk from one website to the other without asking the author for permission. It would be a fair practice if, for each such reproduction, the photographer received remuneration. Unfortunately, it is quite the opposite.
Every time a photograph is used without a license, its author loses money. At the same time, the value of his work decreases. Only image thieves benefit from it.
There is also another negative side effect of image theft. Not only is nobody paying the author, but also the sale of new licenses becomes more difficult. After all, no one wants to pay for a photo (or graphic) that is visible for free on thousands of other pages. Such a photo loses its market value very quickly. If we realize that someone makes a living out of photography, it is not difficult to imagine the harmfulness of image theft.
“I found it on Google, I am not responsible”
When we contact a person who infringed copyright, we often hear the argument that they are not responsible because the photograph was available on a search engine or on Social Media without the author's signature. This fact is irrelevant from a copyright perspective and cannot be used as a means of avoiding legal consequences.
Unfortunately, the existence of photos on Google, Pinterest, or another search engine does not absolve you from liability for copyright infringement. If you find a photo on the Internet and you don't know who the author of the photo is, it doesn't mean that the photo is in the public domain and you can use it for free without permission. Google Image Search even states: "Images may be subject to copyright".
Therefore, it is your responsibility to verify who this photo belongs to and whether the photo is under copyright protection. The same applies to photos found on Instagram, Facebook or other social media platforms. Remember that each photo is protected by default from the moment it was created, i.e. from the moment, someone pressed the shutter button on the camera.
“The photo was unsigned, I didn’t know who is the author”
You need to remember that the photographer has no legal obligation to sign her/his work. That is why you cannot assume that all the unsigned photographs online are copyright-free. Also, it is not uncommon for a licensee to post a photo on a webpage without the author being identified. It all depends on the terms of the license agreement which does not always require naming the author before publication (In such cases, the license rate can be respectively higher). So, if you are unsure of the copyright status of a certain artwork - do not use it.
The above rule applies to everyone, and above all to owners of commercial websites, who should be characterized by a high level of due diligence when it comes to choosing the visual content for their websites. In the modern digitalized world it is commonly known, both in business and private activities, that using photos without permission constitutes copyright infringement.
“It was free to download”
Given away a few exceptions, it's best to assume that no photography on the Internet is free to download without the author's consent. Why would the creator share her/his work for free without any limitations? To create the photograph, they must spend time and money as well as use equipment and skills.
Unfortunately, very few companies treat a photo as a valuable product that has to be paid for. That is why many people decide to take photos from some other website, hoping that no one will notice. It is as if someone took a painting displayed in front of a shop window and explained later that nobody was watching it, and the painting was not signed.
“I found it on another website”
Finally, remember that you are not released from liability for copyright infringement just because the photo was previously posted on another website without indication of the author. Like any physical object, the photograph does not need to be signed. The lack of indication of the author does not mean that the photo is automatically released in the public domain and anyone can use it for free. Each time you want to use the photograph you found online you should check who is the author and whether you can use it, and if so - under what conditions.
One more thing: even if you find an unsigned photo that has been published with the consent of the author, this does not exempt you from the obligation to obtain new separate permission from the author. Why? Because each new publication of a photo makes photography accessible to a new audience. This also applies to the situation in which you intend to download a photograph from one Facebook page and upload it on the other.
Follow our advice: if you are not sure if you can take the photograph - don’t take it.
Photo credit: Shutterstock / Julia Tim