The Forum of Private Business issued the warning after it noticed an increase "in calls to its member helpline on the issue in recent months, with several businesses receiving letters demanding payment for unwittingly using copyrighted pictures," it says in a statement.
"Often, small businesses entrust web design companies to source and upload images to their websites, on the presumption that the design company will have secured permission to use them," writes the Forum of Private Business. "However, all too often this is not the case and liability for any copyright infringement lies with the small business, rather than the design company which developed the website."
The Forum of Private Business cites photo agency Getty Images as one company that actively pursues copyright infringement involving its images. "We've received a number of calls recently from members who have been notified by Getty that they owe money because they are, however unwittingly, using unlicensed images on their websites," says Phil Orford, chief executive of the Forum of Private Business.
As a result, the Forum of Private Business has been forced to issue a series of recommendations to small business owners:
- Don't use any old image you find on the internet. Google's image search has made it quick and easy to find relevant images online, but this does not mean that all images you find are free to use. The copyright will almost always belong to the person who created the image, regardless of whether it's accompanied by a copyright symbol.
- Don't think the image won't be found. Even if no one but you visits your website, publishing an image without owning the copyright or buying the rights to publish it infringes on the rights of the person or company that owns the image, and modern software means its quick and easy for copyright-holders to track the use of an image.
- Always ask your design company. If you're working with a web design company to build and manage your website, you are responsible for ensuring they have licensed the images for your use. Ask them where they have sourced the images from and ask to see proof that they have purchased the appropriate rights - or buy them yourself. If no valid licenses exist, the liability may fall on the end client - your company.
- Only use the image within its rights. When you buy from a stock photography website, you're usually not buying an image itself but the right to use it in a certain way. For example, if you want to use an image commercially, i.e. in your logo, the license might not allow it, or you may have to pay more for what is known as an ‘extended license'.
- The rights to an image may also only be available for a limited period of time, so business owners should check the terms and conditions attached to the image carefully when buying it. These are often known as ‘rights managed' images and they only allow you to use the image in the way you state when you purchase it.
- Free images are available under the Creative Commons licence scheme and are often used by bloggers. However, they are not always appropriate for use on business websites as many licenses do not allow for commercial use.
Orford adds: "I think the digital age has blurred the boundaries of image copyright in many people's minds and some business owners mistakenly think that because an image is freely available on the internet, it can be reused without permission." The Forum of Private Business also blames the increase of infrigement cases on web design companies, which, in some cases, use images found online without permission.
The Forum of Private Business also advises small business owners to buy images from "reputable stock photography websites."
UPDATE: Speaking to BJP, Alison Crombie, vice president in charge of global public relations at Getty Images says: "Protecting our photographers' and contributing artists' work is of the utmost importance to Getty Images. Our contributing photographers look to us to ensure that they are paid whenever their work is used for a commercial purpose and we actively track where their work has been used without a license."
She adds: "We realise that there are many small businesses and image buyers that are new to licensing imagery and that it can be difficult to know where to begin. So in 2010, Getty Images set up Stockphotorights.com, an educational resource for image buyers, on behalf of the photographic industry, to support and inform potential image users around how to use and license content. The site is supported by the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies and the Picture Archive Agency of America. StockPhotoRights.com provides image users with the information and advice they need to license images with confidence."
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