7 Misconceptions about Copyright and Infringement…and What You Can Do About It

The topic of copyright and infringement is an important one, especially if you own and operate a website or blog where you use images that are not your own.  If you think this doesn’t apply to you, think again.  There is a very good chance that you have an image on your site that violates copyright law.  Whether on purpose or by accident, if you are caught you run the risk of getting sued.  So…being proactive and being informed is extremely important.

What exactly is copyright?  According to the United States Copyright Office, “Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States…to the authors of ‘original works of authorship,’ including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.”  I highly recommend reading this informative document, but it is vital to note that copyright laws are very complex.  If you have any questions regarding copyright laws, it is a good idea to seek legal advice.

I am not an attorney, but I work in an industry where I need to be aware of the law as it regards to protecting my artistic works. I’d like to share with you some common misconceptions about copyright and infringement that you need to know right now, as well as what you can do to protect yourself and your website moving forward.

7  Misconceptions about Copyright and Infringement:


1. An image has to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to be protected.

In fact, copyright attaches the moment a work is created.  As soon as you snap the photo, write the book or complete the painting, it receives the protection of copyright.  It is advisable to register a work with the U.S. Copyright Office, as it provides greater protection overall.  They are too many to list here, but always consult an attorney with questions pertaining to copyright law.

2. If the image is on the Internet, it is free to use.  

Wrong!  Never assume images found on the Internet, even Google Images, are free to use.  That image is protected under copyright law and you may not use it unless you’ve purchased a license to do so or have gotten expressed, written permission from the author.

3. If I cite the source, it is ok to use the image.  

Wrong again!  Many people assume that placing an image on their website is similar to writing a term paper.  This is simply not true.  Crediting the source does not count.  It is still infringement.

4. As long as I am not making money with that image, I can use it.

This is definitely not true.  Every time an image is used, it loses value.  To make my point, let’s use the example of a photographer.  He or she may be taking photos that will later be sold to newspapers or magazines.  They will upload a photo to their gallery and set a value to said photo.  This is their livelihood.  Then, in comes website owner X, who sees the photograph and uses it on their blog.  You have now, in effect, decreased the potential value of that image.  The photographer is well within their right to sue you for damages.

5. A third party built my website, so I am not responsible for any infringing images.

The owner of the website is responsible for all content and images on their site.  Period!  Never assume that whoever built your site retained those images legally.  Be sure to ask where the photos are coming from AND get supporting documentation.

6. I’ve used a Creative Commons image, so I’m safe.

Yes…and no!  Let’s use the example of the photographer again.  This time, website owner X has responsibly gone to a Creative Commons website where this photographer has shared an image.  Because it has been labeled as Creative Commons, you have permission to use it free of charge.  Now…and this is important to remember… the photographer still owns the copyright.  Two years later, however, that photographer sells that very same image AND the copyright.  You are now in violation of copyright law.

Here's another scenario…website owner X selects and image from a Creative Commons site and uploads it to their site.  No problem!  Three years later, a larger image company purchases that Creative Commons site and all the images.   Now that copyright belongs to them and you are in violation.

The worst part is there is no way to know about it. Even worse, some of these larger image companies, like Getty Images (owner of iStockphoto), are going after infringing parties by sending a bill with the threat of “pay or we’ll sue”.

7. I can use the image because no one will ever catch me.

Think again!  It is easier than ever to do a reverse image search on the Internet.  Websites like Tin Eye have made it simple for the average person to see where their images are being used on the Internet.

Now that you are armed with a basic knowledge of how copyright works, what should you do moving forward?  Here are some tips to prevent possible infringement and protect you as well….

  • assume all images on the web are NOT free to use
  • take your own photos and create your own graphics
  • hire someone to create your graphics
  • purchase images from a reputable stock site and save your receipt
  • get permission in writing from the owner
  • keep good records, i.e. when and where you got your image…especially if you are using Creative Commons images

Copyright does not have to be so scary…as long as you stay proactive and informed.  Knowledge is power!


theresa-cifali-headshot-9-12Theresa Cifali, who can be found at http://theresacifali.com/, is a New York based mixed media artist and professional craft designer as well as co-publisher of Bella Crafts Quarterly™. With nearly 20 years of experience working with consumers, manufacturers and retailers in the crafting industry, she is a seasoned designer who understands all aspects of the crafting industry. In addition to her extensive art services, Theresa offers an array of business services from consulting to social media to internet marketing.

Comment Via Facebook

11 thoughts on “7 Misconceptions about Copyright and Infringement…and What You Can Do About It”

  1. Excellent article! You’ve covered some extremely important points, and I especially appreciate the easy to follow examples. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Daniel! Really appreciate the suggestion you’ve made on where one can purchase quality images. Just make sure that you keep accurate records stating where and when you bought them.

  3. Thanks, Casey. I have definitely moved in the same direction as you. Copyright isn’t sketchy at all…the law is the law. The issue is that most do not know what the law says. The internet has definitely caused some issues in that area.

  4. The issue is not that the Creative Commons is non-revocable….it really is that people do not keep records. With what Getty and other trolls are doing is assuming guilt and then forcing you to prove you did not infringe. If you have no idea where or when you got the image. These trolls are going after people years later…

    So you download a Creative Commons image in 2005 and store it in a folder. Then you load it up in 2009, but between that time the artist has sold it. If you don’t keep record, you’d not be able to prove it.

    My point is that the trolls are doing things that are SHADY. It was never to say that Creative Commons can change.

    1. But this is crazy, you could come up with an image of your own and someone could jump and sue you for an image he/she made before you that looks like yours and you never saw their work before. I do not think you are infringing on others work if you create similar or took some ideas from others work and you created your own.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.