Just because something’s easy to copy doesn’t mean it’s free.

Interesting Post By Steve Pigeon in Applied Arts Online.

Copyrights and Wrongsby Steve Pigeon

Just because something’s easy to copy doesn’t mean it’s free

This is a trick question: A designer is creating a website for a client. The designer cuts corners and copies some preview images from an online stock photo site, without paying for them (and without telling the client that the images were unlicensed). So, who is legally responsible when the copyright owner shows up demanding payment for the stolen images? If you guessed the designer who created the website and got paid for doing it, you would be wrong.  Under copyright laws in most countries – including Canada and the U.S.A. – the client who owns the website is legally and financially responsible for the infringement. As the founder and president of Masterfile, I speak from experience.

Masterfile’s core business for the past 30 years has been acquiring and licensing premium rights-managed and (more recently) royalty-free stock images for commercial use in advertising and publication in all forms of media. We pay a royalty to the respective artist or agency every time we license their images anywhere in the world and we generate millions of dollars annually for our contributors. That’s the fun part of our business.
But, with the growth of the Internet and digital media, we have been fighting a running battle to preserve the copyright of our contributors and ensure that they are paid when their images get used.
The Internet has made copyrighted information and media universally accessible, and that’s a good thing. Digital technology has made it incredibly easy for most anyone to copy and reproduce almost any form of intellectual property – and that’s not so good. Copyright laws were enacted to protect the creators of literary and artistic works from unrestricted copying of their creations and provide a legal right for them to be paid when their works were used. Those laws and the livelihoods of creators are being assailed on every side today by parties who want to enjoy creative works – and even profit by them – without necessarily compensating the originators. You are all familiar by now with the issues of music file sharing, film piracy and other forms of infringement resulting in litigation and even criminal proceedings. And you’re reminded of it every time you put a DVD in your player.
Masterfile works with a service that uses technology to monitor commercial websites and compare any images found on those sites against a massive database of its clients’ (stock photo agencies) images. When it finds a match, it delivers a report to the agency which then determines whether the found use was licensed or not. Usually, it’s not. We have come up against infringers in every discipline you could imagine: small, medium and large businesses, governments, religious groups, business consultants, financial advisors, software companies and even law firms – that’s right, law firms using unauthorized image content on their own websites!
Masterfile receives over 150 Internet case files per week, each involving one or more of our images. The great majority of the found images are unauthorized uses – more than 7,000 infringements per year! Our Copyright Compliance personnel (15 people out of a global staff of 100) are tasked with contacting the infringers, getting the images taken down and collecting retroactive fees for the unlicensed use of our artists’ images.
Negotiating retroactive licenses is tough work because: (a) the fees are necessarily high – you don’t grant goodwill discounts to people who use your product illegally; (b) if the infringers don’t like the price they can’t decline the transaction since they already used the images and (c) way too often the responsible parties didn’t create the website but relied on a designer who, equally too often, is unwilling or financially incapable of covering the cost of the license. And, so, the unhappy client is left with the bill.
In a world where you can acquire good quality images easily and legally at any price point your budget allows, there is really no need to cut corners. If you are uncertain about the legal provenance of any creative work, don’t publish it – use a professional photographer or agency and do the right thing by your client.
Steve Pigeon is the founder and president of Masterfile Corporation in Toronto, a global licensor of premium rights-managed and royalty-free stock images, since 1981. The company has offices in Düsseldorf, London, Milan and Paris, and independent distributors in over 100 countries. Masterfile has expanded into the “microstock” business with the acquisition in 2010 of Crestock, which licenses low-priced royalty-free images and subscriptions.

This is a trick question: A designer is creating a website for a client. The designer cuts corners and copies some preview images from an online stock photo site, without paying for them (and without telling the client that the images were unlicensed). So, who is legally responsible when the copyright owner shows up demanding payment for the stolen images? If you guessed the designer who created the website and got paid for doing it, you would be wrong. Under copyright laws in most countries – including Canada and the U.S.A. – the client who owns the website is legally and financially responsible for the infringement. As the founder and president of Masterfile, I speak from experience.

 

Masterfile’s core business for the past 30 years has been acquiring and licensing premium rights-managed and (more recently) royalty-free stock images for commercial use in advertising and publication in all forms of media. We pay a royalty to the respective artist or agency every time we license their images anywhere in the world and we generate millions of dollars annually for our contributors. That’s the fun part of our business.

 

But, with the growth of the Internet and digital media, we have been fighting a running battle to preserve the copyright of our contributors and ensure that they are paid when their images get used.

 

The Internet has made copyrighted information and media universally accessible, and that’s a good thing. Digital technology has made it incredibly easy for most anyone to copy and reproduce almost any form of intellectual property – and that’s not so good. Copyright laws were enacted to protect the creators of literary and artistic works from unrestricted copying of their creations and provide a legal right for them to be paid when their works were used. Those laws and the livelihoods of creators are being assailed on every side today by parties who want to enjoy creative works – and even profit by them – without necessarily compensating the originators. You are all familiar by now with the issues of music file sharing, film piracy and other forms of infringement resulting in litigation and even criminal proceedings. And you’re reminded of it every time you put a DVD in your player.

 

Masterfile works with a service that uses technology to monitor commercial websites and compare any images found on those sites against a massive database of its clients’ (stock photo agencies) images. When it finds a match, it delivers a report to the agency which then determines whether the found use was licensed or not. Usually, it’s not. We have come up against infringers in every discipline you could imagine: small, medium and large businesses, governments, religious groups, business consultants, financial advisors, software companies and even law firms – that’s right, law firms using unauthorized image content on their own websites!

 

Masterfile receives over 150 Internet case files per week, each involving one or more of our images. The great majority of the found images are unauthorized uses – more than 7,000 infringements per year! Our Copyright Compliance personnel (15 people out of a global staff of 100) are tasked with contacting the infringers, getting the images taken down and collecting retroactive fees for the unlicensed use of our artists’ images.

 

Negotiating retroactive licenses is tough work because: (a) the fees are necessarily high – you don’t grant goodwill discounts to people who use your product illegally; (b) if the infringers don’t like the price they can’t decline the transaction since they already used the images and (c) way too often the responsible parties didn’t create the website but relied on a designer who, equally too often, is unwilling or financially incapable of covering the cost of the license. And, so, the unhappy client is left with the bill.

 

In a world where you can acquire good quality images easily and legally at any price point your budget allows, there is really no need to cut corners. If you are uncertain about the legal provenance of any creative work, don’t publish it – use a professional photographer or agency and do the right thing by your client.

 

Steve Pigeon is the founder and president of Masterfile Corporation in Toronto, a global licensor of premium rights-managed and royalty-free stock images, since 1981. The company has offices in Düsseldorf, London, Milan and Paris, and independent distributors in over 100 countries. Masterfile has expanded into the “microstock” business with the acquisition in 2010 of Crestock, which licenses low-priced royalty-free images and subscriptions.

 

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