Stealing Photos Is A Crime
In between managing clients, campaigns, and website properties, I decided to accept an offer to become a Lead Web Developer at a local nutritional supplement company a few weeks back. With my wife a full time college student concentrating on the last year of her Bachelor’s degree, it appeared to be a great opportunity to bring some extra cash into the household while still being able to work out of my home office. Appearances can be deceiving.
On the first day of my official employment, I realized my boss would be difficult to work with. He owned hundreds of different websites – all of which were setup by individuals who (to put it nicely) didn’t know what they were doing. Errors abounded, and I was hell bent on getting everything right with his properties before moving forward. He, however, had different priorities.
One of my projects was to create a new website that would serve as a news blog to drive traffic to one of the supplement products the company was selling. Through collaboration, we decided on a theme for the website and I was given a deadline of “getting it done by Friday”.
Most WordPress themes come with the ability to import “dummy” content when you initially install them. This allows you to get a functional presence online, then go edit the text, images, and content to tailor your official needs. After importing this demo content on the particular theme my boss wanted, I noticed it didn’t include the sample stock pictures used in the initial website my manager wanted. There was a Skype exchange between the two of us about exactly this issue:
Me: “Also what do you typically do for artwork? Do you have a stock photo service?”
Shutterstock is a great resource. It’s a directory of direct licensable artwork, graphics design elements, and stock video. It requires a membership, and each image or content piece you download you have to pay a small fee for. This fee is divided up between the stock creative service (ShutterStock) and the original artist who created the work. Its a great way to get relevent content for websites and graphics design projects, without having to worry about the legal ramifications of copyright infringement.
Unfortunately, my boss never provided me with any credentials to the company ShutterStock account, so I created my own image to use in the place of images:
Sure, it’s not very pretty, but without receiving credentials to their paid service it was the best I could do.
Monday of this week the boss called to check progress on the website. The pictures were on the top of his mind.
“Where are the pictures?” he asked. “All I see is an image that says ‘Placeholder'”.
I explained to him that I hadn’t gotten any stock photo images from him.
“Just go over to the demo site and take those.”
Without skipping a beat, I mentioned that I couldn’t legally use unlicensed photos.
“Don’t worry. No one will come back on you, they’ll come after me” he replied.
Knowing the liability that the use of unlicensed images create, I flatly refused to comply and was promptly fired – for the first time in my life.
In this day and age of websites, social media, blog sites, and digital content, I will gladly take a loss of employment to shield myself and the organization I’m working for from legal action. So far in 2015, there have been hundreds of lawsuits already filed against web publishers (from radio and television stations, to magazines, newspapers and blogs) seeking immediate remedy for the unlicensed use of photos and videos.
This blog has a great story – from 2011 – about how a web design firm ended up having to settle with the copyright owner of a picture for $4,000. The actual cost to purchase the rights to the image would have been only $10. A paragraph within the post plainly states:
For those who insist, “It won’t happen to me,” mind the fact that this beach photo was the only one we’ve ever grabbed from the Web for a client’s website. And it cost us almost $4,000. Consequently, we urge others to recognize and yield to a simple fact: If it’s on the Internet and others wrote or created it, do not use it without their permission.
Every image or video I’ve ever used for a website, publication, Facebook or Instagram post, or design has been licensed. We like to use a service called 123rf.com. For just a few dollars each (not $4,000), we can legally obtain the rights to use the creative without fear of a team of lawyers descending onto our small agency.
You Should Have To Pay
My wife is a photographer. I have many friends and colleagues who are creators of unique content – from photos to video and even written text. I have a deep understanding of copyright law, and those talented professionals who have the ability to create artwork that beautifully accentuates the projects I am building deserve to be compensated for their work. When you’re going to Google Images and ripping off photos, you’re taking money out of the pockets of real people. You are causing real financial harm.
Intellectual property theft is still theft.
So unless you enjoy lawyers, court hearings, and settlements that will ultimately find you in a situation where you’ll have to pay $4,000 for a $10 piece of creative, you should NEVER steal someone elses’ creative.
While there are “public domain” images available (images you can use that aren’t copyrighted or have a public license), my personal mantra is if I’m receiving payment for a project, the creators of content I use should be compensated properly. I don’t have a problem paying $10 per image for a website.
Sure I lost a job, but I also avoided the inevitable liability that accompanied unlicensed photos. Whether you’re a designer, work for a company, or just have your own little blog site you need to know the intellectual property law and make sure you adhere to it. Theft is theft.