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Blogging and Copyright - Is Your Blog A Potential Mine Field?

I have held back from publishing this for a while, as I wanted the emotional stress to fade away first. However, I really think all bloggers need to read about my experience. I am intentionally not naming names, or pointing fingers.

Last year I blogged about a tourist attraction I visited. The exhibition didn't allow photography, so I used google image search to find one image of some of the exhibits.

Fast forward to last week, when I received an email from the owner of the photograph. Actually not just an email, a bill.

Copyright infringement is strict liability - meaning it doesn't matter why/how/when you infringed it, you either infringed it or you didn't. I clearly had.

Removing the picture wasn't enough, the copyright owner wanted payment. The owner had also contacted many other blogs and done the same thing. Some of them had bills for thousands of pounds, as we were being charged per picture.

It seems in English copyright law, a cease and desist letter is used first, and then you have to assign an actual loss or gain. However this copyright owner isn't UK based, and in their country, the copyright law is a lot stricter. There was no point considering going to court. I would lose and then have legal bills to pay (from both sides).

So, despite almost always using my own photos, I was still caught out. I am now £350 down. A huge amount of money to a new business. On the bright side, I only used one picture, and didn't have a bill in the thousands, like some of the other people I spoke to.

Any blog post you have published, no matter when it was, is your responsibility. Everyone deserves to have their copyright honoured, but somehow bloggers seem stuck in a place that hasn't quite made up its mind on copyright.

Is your blog a potential time bomb? Will companies/people decide that they want to claim their images back from the blogging domain? Do you want to be someone who infringes somebody else's copyright? I know that I don't.

I am over my hiccup now...onwards and upwards. Lesson learnt.


Reader Comments (17)

Jebus that's really scary! On the whole I use my own images but I know I have the odd post where I've got a random Google image. I'll definitely think twice in future...

February 17 | Unregistered CommenterLlara

Wow that is scary! Did you really have to pay I mean would the law be upheld and you would end up in court? I did a lot of research and got advice when I was looking for images to use on my jewellery etc. You can get a lot of copyright free images on wiki commons, which I use to find images :)

February 17 | Unregistered CommenterMimi Flynn

My own experience (that was too long to tweet) comes from working as a face painter.
Sadly, nicking people's photo's are commonplace within the world of face painting. Very sad and true. But as you are just blogging, I don't see the problem with posting it. I would assume you'd not passed it off as your own work! In the world of face painting this happens a LOT. People nick others photos and actually pass them off as their own work. This alone should be enough to get up someone's nose, but some of the models that have been used have been peoples own children... or children that we have taken the time to get parental permission to post on our websites.
I think its very scary that someone could take you to court for just blogging. Its not as if you are being paid for it, so effectively they are not losing out on revenue. The mind boggles to the sheer amount of things you can be 'done for' in the world today.
So sorry you had to have that horrible experience my love x

February 17 | Unregistered CommenterCarla-Jayne

That's really unfortunate. I can't stress enough how much Bloggers should use pictures using the Creative Commons search tools, especially on Flickr, if they're unable to use their own.

February 17 | Unregistered CommenterLee Griffin

Hi Ree,

I'm really sorry to hear this. And also, quite surprised. As a photographer myself, obviously I'm aware of pics being used without permission, but it was always my understanding that, as long as they are credited, you are ok. The difficulty with the web is that images get about freely, and as a photographer it's hard to keep track of where they are going. So to my mind, its just one of those things, and as a photographer you understand that, and if anyone likes your work enough to blog about it, that's great and it's added exposure. There are so many people blogging about photography out there...

I am going to ask some colleagues about this (I work with someone who specialises in copyright law), although you're probably right that different countries have different laws. I'll let you know what I find out, but It's definitely a good warning - well done (and thank you!) for bringing it up.

best wishes

February 17 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Evans

this is very scary.... I always credit images thinking that was enough. Does anyone know where we can get more info on this?? . Thank you for posting about your experience. I'd have been absolutely gutted if this happened to me as I'm totally broke.

I'm getting all nervous now. I use images from lots of blogs/vompanies but I always credit them. I need to look into this a bit more I think.


February 17 | Unregistered CommenterEvie George

wow v interesting, thankfully with the music industry we get 'official' pr promo photos so i cant be chased up....eeek!

February 17 | Unregistered Commenterkim S

Hi, I found this via a retweet on Twitter. this is an important post for a lot of bloggers! I mostly use my own photos or product pics I contact the owner of the shop/photos, but this still really scares me! It would be quite easy for something to slip through the net. I am also wary of sites like "We heart it" as i'm unsure of the "rules" regarding places like that, a lot of bloggers use it to source images, but i have found photos by people I know on there that didn't have any link back to the original owner, which made me wary of using anything. Thanks for posting this. I'm so sorry for you having to pay out such a lump sum, I think it's great that you have shared this info though!
(I retweeted this also, I'm DeerLittleFawn there)


February 17 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

Wow, scary - poor you. Can I ask, was the photo credited? I always thought (although even as a librarian my knowledge of copyright law is shamefully poor) that if it was credited it was ok. Thanks for posting this anyway, something to think about. xx

February 17 | Unregistered CommenterCarly

Unfortunately you can't say in a nice way that taking anything from anyone elses website is theft (unless the site specifically says it's ok to). After all, you wouldn't be happy if someone stole from your blog.

Simple way around the problem - always ask permission, they can either say yes or say no. I think it's a little bit naive to say that crediting the owner makes it ok, it's their intellectual property and as such covered under copyright law.

February 17 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

Holy moly Ree, that is scary! May I ask what exhibition it was? I am totally panicked now. I try to always credit and most people are perfectly fine with that (as I am myself), but as others say, it is so easy for things to slip through the net. So sorry it has cost you so much, that must sting x

I guess it's a rather expensive lesson to learn, isn't it =\ It really is easy to not notice things. I use a lot of images from other sites when I write about their clothes (of course, always linking back, but as some mentioned sometimes that's not enough). I really have no desire to delete my old posts, though. I generally use my own images now but will definitely be asking for permission in the future just in case. I'm really more worried about the fact that I screencap so many movies & TV shows...Hmm...
Andi x

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterAndi B. Goode

However, I'm still going to go back and check what I've used and from where...

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterAndi B. Goode

Minor panic here, that is really, really scary. Going to go through all my blog posts now! I might re-blog this as well. Eeeep.

February 22 | Unregistered CommenterRobyn

That is really worrying. I'm very careful these days and either have permission to use images or I add credit. It's frightening to think that someone could go back and bill you for an image used in ones naiver days of blogging. This is a very important warning to all!
Jane x

Wow, thanks for sharing your experience, it really does hit home when something like this actually happens. I use a lot of my own photos and some from Flickr's Creative Commons so I try to be careful, but as Jane mentioned above, earlier days of blogging are often the ones where you're less cautious. Hopefully your experience will help those newbies who may fall into that trap.

Emma xx

A sad lesson to learn, but an important one nonetheless. Hopefully this blog post will make other people realise that they can't just use other peoples stuff without permission.

A credit isn't enough, permission is needed. For those who make our money by licensing our images to other people, using our images without paying is like stealing money from us.

June 29 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte
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