Protecting Your Station Website from Image Copyright Claims

This week we received a phone call from a client saying they received an image copyright claim notice claiming they owed thousands of dollars for an image that appeared on their station website. That got me to thinking about what kinds of people are still posting copyrighted images online.  There can be a few reasons why someone may want to try getting away with using a copyrighted image on their website without obtaining proper permission. Some of the reasons may include:

Lack of knowledge: Some individuals may need to learn that using copyrighted images without permission is illegal. They may assume that any image on the internet, like social media, is free to use.  Or they may assume that the image will not be discovered because they are in a small market and their website doesn’t have that many visitors.

Cost and convenience: Using copyrighted images can be a quick and easy way to add visual content to a website, especially for individuals who are not skilled at creating images or want to spend less time and money purchasing stock images.

Lack of alternatives: Some creators may find themselves in a situation where they need to use a particular image to convey a message, but there’s no suitable replacement.

If someone is caught using copyrighted images without permission, the website owner may be liable for damages, legal fees, and other penalties amounting to thousands of dollars – per image.

How Do Copyright Holders Find Their Images

If you think a copyrighted image on your small market radio station website with only a few visitors per day isn’t going to be found, then you’re mistaken.  Copyright owners have several tools at their disposal to find their photographs online. These are the most common:

1. Reverse image search: This is a technique where a copyright owner uploads a photo to a search engine and the engine returns results of other instances of that image on the web. Google Images is one of the most popular reverse image search engines.

2. Watermark search: Many photographers will add a watermark, or a small logo or signature, to their photographs to identify them as their work. A copyright owner can use a tool like Tineye to search for instances of their watermarked images online.

3. Social media monitoring: Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are popular places to share photos. Did you know that you can get popped for copyright infringement there, also? Copyright owners can use tools like Hootsuite, Brand24 or Mention to monitor these platforms for mentions of their name or brand and find any unauthorized use of their photos.

4. Copyright infringement search services: Several companies offer search services specifically designed to help copyright owners find their work online. Pixsy, ImageRights, and TitanCopyright are examples of these services.

It’s important to note that even with these tools, it can be difficult for copyright owners to find every instance of their photos online, as some websites and individuals may use methods to conceal the origin of a photo. However, by combining these methods, copyright owners can increase their chances of finding and acting against unauthorized work use.

Beware of Copyright Claim Imposters

If you receive a notice from someone claiming an image copyright infringement, be aware of the potential for copyright infringement imposters.

Copyright imposters are individuals or companies that falsely claim to own the copyright to an image and demand payment or removal of the image from your website or social media account. These imposters may use automated tools to scan the internet for images or target content creators randomly.

Some imposters may use official-looking language or logos in their emails or letters. Always check the claim’s validity by checking the contact information provided and researching the company or individual making a claim.  One easy way to spot an imposter is by their country of origin.

If you suspect you have received a false copyright claim, report the imposter to the proper authorities. In the United States, you can report the imposter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

It’s important to be aware of the potential for copyright imposters and to take steps to protect yourself.

What to Do If You Receive a Copyright Claim

If you receive a copyright claim on your website regarding an image, you should first determine whether the claim is valid.  First, remove it from your website as soon as possible to avoid more potential legal issues.

If you believe the claim is invalid, you can try contacting the person or organization making the claim to resolve the issue. It’s also a good idea to consult with a lawyer experienced in intellectual property law to help you understand your rights and responsibilities.

Here’s what one law firm specializing in this suggests you do if you receive notices from CopyCat Legal or PicRights regarding image copyright claims.

Website Image Best Practices

As you create content for the internet, it’s essential to understand and respect copyright laws to protect your radio station from potential legal issues. Here are some best practices:

1. Use your images: The easiest way to avoid copyright issues is to use your photographs, illustrations, and graphics in your content. This way, you don’t have to worry about obtaining permission to use someone else’s work. We advise all station clients to build a library of local images, including a police station, fire truck, school bus, and every local landmark.

2. Obtain permission: If you want to use someone else’s photograph, illustration, or graphic, ensure you obtain permission from the copyright owner. This can be done by sending an email or filling out a form on the copyright owner’s website.

3. Use Creative Commons licensed images: Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Some images are licensed under Creative Commons, meaning they can be used for free but under certain conditions. For example, you can display them on your website but not on t-shirts or in magazines the station sells. Popular Creative Commons websites include Flickr, Pixabay, and Unsplash.

4. Use stock images: Stock images are available for purchase or license. They are a good option if you can’t find a suitable image under a Creative Commons license. Some stock image websites can be expensive but less expensive than a copyright claim later.  Here at Skyrocket Radio, we use Envato Elements for stock images as well as video and audio on occasion.  At $16.50/month, it’s a no-brainer, but be sure to review the licensing for each asset you download.

5. Always give credit: Always give credit to the copyright owner if you use someone else’s image. Do this if you purchased the image from a service or obtained permission. This can be done by including a link to the image source or the copyright owner’s name in the caption or a footnote. We recommend this as a best practice because years down the road, you may need to remember where you obtained the image from.

6. Be careful with screenshots: Screenshots are a common way for content creators to share information from websites and apps. However, some websites and apps have terms of service prohibiting screenshots for commercial purposes. And you might still be liable for posting a screenshot containing a copyrighted image. Check the terms of service of any website or app before using a screenshot.

7. Altering does not save you: Don’t think that altering a copyrighted image or only using a portion makes it ok to use. It may make the image harder for the owners to find, but it’s still a bad practice.

Knowing why some people use copyrighted images, understanding how the images are found by copyright holders, and following the best practices for using images should help you make better decisions for your station website.  By taking these steps, you can protect yourself and your radio station from copyright issues.

Jim Sherwood serves as the chief creative, brand strategist, lead developer, meticulous project manager, and station collaborator for all Skyrocket Radio sites and projects. Jim is a 30+ year radio veteran with a resume spanning several small, medium, and large markets including roles as Digital Content Manager, Program Director, Production Manager, and Morning Show Host.