Grabbing a photo off the web is usually about as easy as hitting “right-click” with your cursor and saving it to your computer. People do it all the time with memes and other interesting things they see.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because an image or photo isn’t watermarked that it’s “fair game” to swipe for use on your company’s website or ads somewhere. The creator of that image (or photographer) automatically owns the copyright to their original work – and using it without their permission is a form of copyright infringement.
How much trouble could you face?
The short answer is, “A lot.” If the owner of a stolen image decides to pursue legal action (and they often do), the law heavily favors them. They may be entitled to:
- Statutory damages that can range between $750 and $30,000 per stolen image
- Up to $150,000 per stolen image if the court determines that the theft was willful or particularly appalling in nature
- The full value of their attorney’s fees and court costs
- Additional damages that range between $2,500 and $25,000 if they can prove that you removed any content management information that was designed to protect their work (like a watermark on the corner or their name)
People often make the mistake of thinking, “It’s a big internet. Nobody will notice this one photo.” That’s not true, either. Many artists employ automated tracking or detection methods to hunt down illegal uses of their work.
Copyright infringement is a surprisingly common mistake among new business owners and people who are first building their websites. Make sure you understand the ins-and-outs of intellectual property law before you find yourself embroiled in an expensive legal action.