How Not to Violate Copyright Laws on your Website

How Not to Violate Copyright Laws on your Website

Talk to any marketing professional and they will tell you that your business needs a website (advice that I concur with). But what is the primary risk of a website?

False advertising?  Nope.

Misspellings and other typos?  Unfortunate, but not a major risk.

Poor domain name selection?  Not even close.

The single largest risk for small businesses and their websites is copyright infringement, the use of images or even text, that has been copyrighted.  Infringing on a copyright can be expensive, potentially costing thousands of dollars, even for unintentional infringement.  Sometimes even if you attribute the source of the copyrighted material, if the use is beyond the Fair Use Doctrine, you could be looking at thousands of dollars in fines or worse–litigation.

So how do you avoid getting those nasty cease and desist letters or Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) take down notices?

First, with the ready availability of digital photography and quality digital cameras and even camera phones, simply take your own photographs.  If you take the picture (and not of copyrighted material) then you probably won’t be in violation of the copyright laws.

Second, and more likely, contract some protection.  Most small businesses will contract for website design and maintenance.  If you use a website designer to build or maintain your website, make sure they adhere to copyright laws.  Ask to see the license for any images (and have your attorney review those licenses).  Also include in your contract language stating that the web designer will indemnify you for any fines and costs (including lawyer’s fees) for any copyright infringement.  This puts the onus on the designer to make sure they adhere to the law.

Third, if you have to use copyrighted material, find the copyright holder through the Copyright Office and contact them to get a license to use the image/text.  A license may cost you money, but paying a license fee is always cheaper than paying a fine for infringement.

Business Takeaways

  1. This is one area of life where it is better to ask for permission first, rather than asking for forgiveness after the fact.
  2. Be wary of any image used on your website that you or a member of your staff does not create for your website.
  3. Always require your web designer to comply with copyright laws, request all license agreements (and have them reviewed) and always contract to have your web designer indemnify you for any fines or legal fees associated with any infringement.

Business Tip:  Check out stock photo sites and Creative Commons for some ideas.  Creative Commons has a simple to understand license agreement and can suit most needs.

Have you ever received a cease and desist letter?  What to share other cheap (or free) stock photo sites?  Leave a comment below.