Copyright Infringement Online

Author: Jennifer | Date: May 10, 2021 | Categories: , ,

What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself From a Potential Lawsuit

It is very easy to share (and steal) assets online. Whether you are blatantly ripping off someone else’s intellectual property, or you’ve done it by accident, the property owner has legal rights and protections. If someone else finds their work on your site, used without permission, you may already be in legal trouble.

What is intellectual property?

According to a definition from Oxford Languages, intellectual property is a work or invention that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript or a design (or photograph or other artwork online), to which one has rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc.

We use the word “intellectual property” loosely here to encompass anything into which one may have put effort and then published online. For the purpose of this article, we are mostly referring to artwork (such as custom graphics or logo designs), photographs, or copy.

Right of creators for work published online

Under US Copyright law, a creator has five rights to their work:

  • reproduction.
  • preparation of derivative works.
  • distribution of copies.
  • performing work publicly.
  • displaying of work publicly.

The action taken for using a photograph, artwork, or content online without permission depends on the creator. Just giving credit is not always enough to avoid litigation. The creator may wish to be paid for the use of their intellectual property or they may wish for it to be removed from your website. They may wish for damages to be paid for the time their work spent on your website unpaid.

Removing it from the forward-facing website may not be enough.

Just because you’ve removed an image from a web page does not mean it has been removed from the web. If an image or document remains in your media library or folder, it is still indexable and can be found at your domain online. Make sure that if you remove an image, it is also removed from all website folders, not just the page on which it appears.

We have received cease and desist letters from legal professionals just for hosting client sites that contain offending material. Curious what a legitimate letter may include? Here is an example of a pared down letter, stripped of identifying characteristics to protect those involved.

Copyright laws are there to protect creators. So even if you’ve posted the photo by accident, already took the photo off the site, manipulated the photo by resizing it, gave credit to the photographer, or embedded the photo instead of putting it on your server, you may still be liable for damages to the creator.

How to protect yourself from a law suit

Familiarize yourself with copyright laws – It is not the responsibility of your web developer or content creator. It is YOUR responsibility as a website owner to familiarize yourself with copyright laws and the content that is on your website.

Know the difference between copyright, trademark, and intellectual property rights – These are not all the same thing, but are sometimes used interchangeably by those of us who do not have a law degree. Educating yourself on the differences between copyright, trademark and intellectual property rights can help you to make better choices in choosing the images, artwork, and copy for your website.

Create your own content or images – While this may seem like a daunting task, it is best for SEO to write unique content for your website. Content that is specific to your specific business in your specific niche in your local area will yield far better results than copy that comes from a copywriting mill. You can also take great photos on your own. Smartphones are now equipped with all kinds of fancy camera magic that can help you take semi-professional looking photos yourself.

Need some help with where to start taking photos? We’ve written an article to get you started taking and choosing better photos for your website!

Get a license to the photos you’ve used – there are plenty of photo sharing sites available online. Some of them require you to get a subscription to their services. Some of them just require attribution. Pixabay is a website that allows creators to share their work and for users to use their photos free of charge for commercial or non-commercial use. They have a very simple terms-of-service agreement that explains what is allowed and what is not allowed. It is very important to understand the terms of use BEFORE you put an image on your website.

Copyright Infringement Scams

How to protect yourself from phishing scams that claim to be angry creators

We are not suggesting that every notice you get of copyright infringement is legitimate. Scammers will exploit any and all avenues for relieving you of your hard-earned money. Scammers have sent our clients phishing emails threatening legal action if the website owner does not immediately remove the offending image. The issue is they don’t tell you which image to remove. Instead they say something like:

Check out this document with the links to my images you used at and my earlier publications to get the evidence of my copyrights.

Download it now and check this out for yourself:

[Insert malicious link here]

Do not click the link! In our client’s email, and many like it online, the malicious link goes to a Google Doc or Google Drive prompting the website owner to download a file. The file is not a stolen image, but rather a malicious file used to gain access to the users computer.

The bottom line

Original is best when creating content for your website. When you do need help, understand the terms of use or hire professionals who will create original content for your website. If you are sued for copyright infringement, it may be best to seek legal council. They will be able to negotiate on your behalf to minimize out-of-pocket costs to you.

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