Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Don’t Make This Mistake

There will be no images used in the production of this blog post.

I received a letter in the mail recently from a law firm in another state. It was peppered with phrases such as:
… Unauthorized Use of Copyrighted Image… your website has, knowingly without a valid license or permission… unauthorized usage on your website… pursuant to… you are liable for… statutory damages between $750 and $30,000… not more than $150,000 per infringement… our client’s legal fees… immediately cease and desist…arrange a monetary settlement… we have been authorized to commence litigation… maximum statutory damages… etc.
I was accused of displaying someone else’s copyrighted image in a blog post in 2010. That person hired a lawyer to not only compel me take the picture down, but to negotiate a monetary settlement for the period of time that I used the picture. I thought that it must have been a mistake. I hurried to the subject blog post, and sure enough, there was a beautiful photographic image that belonged to this law firm’s client. Yes, I had put it on my blog (somewhere in the middle of the post) without permission or attribution. I could not have deleted that picture more quickly than I did.

The next decision I had to make was whether I needed to hire a lawyer for this, or whether I could try to resolve the issue myself. I chose the latter. I wrote a letter to the law firm, and asked them to pass it along to their client. My letter was peppered with phrases such as:
… I am in receipt of your letter… alleged copyright violations… I offer the following points for consideration… personal blog website, which sells no advertising and generates no income… no use of my legs… unable to work… Dragon NaturallySpeaking… inspired many people… pains me greatly that I might have caused anyone harm… never occurred to me that I might be committing any sort of copyright infringement… I apologize for my misuse of the image… need to continue producing compassionate blog posts for the disabled community… lesson learned on my part… etc.
Over the next few days I scoured my almost 300 blog posts to see if there were any other violations similar to this one. I now have a high degree of confidence that none of my posts will cause me this type of legal trouble in the future, and I will be oh so careful going forward.

A couple of weeks later I received a call from the law firm indicating that “It would be counterproductive to pursue this further. Since you’ve taken down the image we’ll consider this matter closed.”

I was quite relieved.

My point here is not to complain about what some may consider a disproportionate response by the photographer or his law firm. He was completely within his legal rights to pursue this matter the way he did. Who knows what he’s been through regarding copyright issues. My relatively benign infraction may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, or I may have been part of a broader roundup of offenders. I know that I certainly wouldn’t like it if someone plagiarized my writing, for example. The important thing is that I learned from my mistake, and I was able to mitigate any financial ramifications.

Perhaps some of you can learn from my mistake as well. Just because something pops up in a Google image search doesn't mean it's free for the taking. There are many options for public domain images. A few of these are listed in this article. Also, if you are a blogger, there’s a program called Zemanta, which works hand-in-hand with WordPress or Blogger, and offers up suitable images that match the text in your post.

Whew, that was close…
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  1. Glad it worked out in the end. Thanks for the warning. If they would have hit you with a fine I would have pitched in to pay for it!

  2. Darren, I have no doubt that you would have jumped in to help!

  3. You took the high road yourself. Bravo. You might enjoy reading
    Love That Dirty Water: The Standells and the Improbable Red Sox Victory Anthem

    BTW thanks for your blog.

  4. Karen, you are welcome for my blog. thanks for the book recommendation, but I checked on Amazon and it isn't available in e-book format…

  5. Thanks for the warning. I'll stop using Google images -- which I always use -- and look into the options you've given. Yikes, I really thought those pictures were ok to use. Should I go through all my posts (over 1000 now) and take out the pictures? This is scary.

  6. Yikes! I always thought I was using free images but that was scary enough for all of us! Thanks, I'll check out the links to the freeware.

  7. Muffie and Daphne, I think it's clear that, going forward, we all need to be more careful about the images we use on our blogs. As far as going back and cleaning up old blogs… That's a judgment call. I always thought that if anyone was bothered by use of the these images they would let me know in a less formal way, but I was proven wrong. The odds that any of us commercial free, disability oriented blogs could ever be hit hard financially in this way is pretty remote, but I suppose not impossible. If you have any lawyer friends, it might be a good time to run this by them.

  8. A couple years ago, after hearing of a similar case, I got rid of all my old images and started using only Wikipedia and Microsoft clip art. You were lucky in the resolution of your case because in that earlier case the copyright holder was not satisfied with simple removal of the image and damages were pursued.