Do you use images from the Web for your projects? Be careful you don’t violate someone’s copyright in the process! You may want to pay particular attention to this post if you are designing your own website or promotional materials.

Recently I came across an image that was being used for a Facebook group, which I instantly recognized as a copyrighted image (details below). At first, I was astonished at the nerve of this guy. Was he seriously trying to defend his right to use the image without permission? Didn’t he understand the severity of copyright infringement? Was he nuts to sit there and argue with me when he was in the wrong?

Then I thought… maybe this isn’t so rare after all. I bet this happens all the time and people don’t even realize they are doing anything wrong! Below is the conversation that ensued through Facebook messages after I discovered the image…

Me:
I think the image you are using for this group is copyrighted by Carl Heilman … if you didn’t get his permission to use the image, please remove it. If you do have his permission, the copyright should be noted.Thank you,
Destiny Malone
Web Editor
Albany.com

Him:
I don’t remember where I got it from but frankly its a pretty non-descript photo of Albany and I don’t know how you or anyone can tell who took the photo?
Me:
The colors and angle of the shot are very telling. Let me explain…We own Albany.com. If you visit the site, you will see we are using that same Albany skyline image, copyrighted by Carl Heilman. We use many of his images with permission, and as the site editor, I spotted it immediately when I saw your group image. The reason I messaged you (the admin of the group) is because Carl is very particular about how his copyright appears. If you scroll to the bottom of the page on Albany.com, you will also notice we have credited his work: “Albany skyline photo provided by Carl Heilman” with a link to his website.

If you think this could be a mistake but are still unsure about where you found the picture, I can give Carl a call so he can identify whether or not it is his work.

Him:
I don’t deny the importance of copyright, of course he is entitled but I think that its still very hard to tell who took that shot because it is so non-descript – I don’t really see unique colors or angle! You can ask him but (and maybe this is just my ignorance of photography) I just don’t see how its possible to make a shot of Albany at night unique unless it is manipulated somehow in a photo editing program or something…
Me:
I have contacted Carl, and he has confirmed that it is in fact his image.He said it is “obvious by comparing with this link for my wallpaper image.
http://www.carlheilman.com/wallpaper.screensavers/800.heilman.albany.jpg – which of course includes the copyright info on the image. I give permission for these images to be used ONLY as desktop wallpaper.”

Since he is not on Facebook, he has asked me to pass this along to you. If you still have questions about this, please give me your email address or phone number so he can discuss this directly with you.

Thank you,
Destiny Malone

Him:
Thanks for looking into that for me. I still say that it is nearly impossible to tell who took a non-descript picture of a public scene, there could easily have been 10 photographers set up at that exact angle and using similar exposure but to be overly cautious and as a courtesy to Carl I removed it. I am also not sure if you can copyright a non-descript photo of a public location but I guess thats an issue for him to look into… Regards…
Me:
Thank you, [name omitted], for removing the image. For future reference, you should try to avoid just grabbing images from the web if they are not specifically labeled as free stock photos in the public domain.If Carl had wanted to, he could have charged you 3 times the going rate for using one of his photos without his permission, as is listed on his copyright page. Or I could have just reported your group for copyright infringement and skipped contacting you altogether. We were very lenient in just requesting that the image be removed. The next person might not be so gracious, so be careful.

For the record, ANY image can be copyrighted by the person who took the shot, no matter if it is a public place, landmark, mountain, whatever. Photography is an art that you admit you don’t fully understand, but the artists are very skilled and deserve credit for their work. Even though you consider the photo to be “nondescript” – it is obvious to most that the image is exactly the same, from the gradient in the sky right down to the lights that are on in each building.

We appreciate that you have removed the image. Please be careful to use only images that are in the public domain to avoid running into any trouble in the future.

Regards,
Destiny Malone

I earnestly hope he takes this sound advice… for his own sake. While I’m sure nobody sets out to violate a photographer’s copyright, I doubt they put a lot of effort into making sure the image is OK to use, very much like this Facebook user.

So how do you tell if an image is copyrighted or not? Unless it is marked with a © stamp, it may be difficult to tell. I offer you the same advice I offered this Facebook user: Your best bet is to assume ALL images are copyrighted and to use only those that are specifically labeled as free use public domain images.

And how do you find these images that are OK to use? Probably not with a Google image search! You can easily search and buy stock images for a small fee when you register with sites like istockphoto or dreamstime. Don’t have the budget for purchasing images? Take advantage of Microsoft’s online database of free clip art and images. There is not a whole lot of variety on the site, but hey – you can’t beat free. Sometimes Flickr users will make their images available for free public domain use (but watch out because many Flickr photos are copyright protected as well). Or go out and snap the shot yourself! That way you know it’s 100% OK to use. If you don’t have a good eye for photography, contact us about a photography shoot. There are so many ways to get free-use images that there is never a need to violate someone else’s image copyright.

When in doubt, check it out! If you have found that perfect image and you think it’s probably OK to use, don’t just grab it and assume no one will ever notice. If you are unsure whether it is OK to use or not, always double check. Most sites offer at least one way to contact them, so get in touch and confirm permission. It usually only takes a minute or two, and it’s better safe than sorry!

About Sara Mannix

Sara Mannix is the CEO of Mannix Marketing, Inc., a Digital Marketing Agency headquartered in Glens Falls, NY. She founded Mannix Marketing in 1996 with a goal to get clients "found" on the web through organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The company now serves over 1500 clients worldwide and employs a team of over 30 specialists, still operating under the tagline "We Get You Found On The Web." This multifaceted company is an industry leader, specializing in organic SEO, Link Earning, SEO-friendly Website Design, Online Advertising, Social Media and more. Mannix Marketing also has one of the largest portfolios of tourism and city guides in Upstate New York. These guides, which include Albany.com, Saratoga.com, LakeGeorge.com, GlensFallsRegion.com, CliftonPark.com and Adirondack.net, reach over 10 million visitors a year. Corresponding social media profiles for the region extend this reach to millions more on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and more.