Would You Steal a Loaf of Bread?

Would You Steal a Loaf of Bread?

You need a great image to represent a concept on your website, you jump onto Google, and a quick search finds you the perfect image. Right click, save as, and you then add the image to your website. It looks great and helps to reinforce your message, except you have just committed a crime.

Unauthorised use of copyright controlled material on your website or in your promotional material is theft. Theft of copyright material is illegal, and you can be fined, it is that simple.

The trouble with copyright infringement is that seems like a victimless crime, but it isn’t. The creators of images or writers, be they photographers, illustrators or graphic designers spent years learning their craft (like you have done in your business). The owners of the copyright material have paid money to get the creators to fashion the images (like you pay your staff), and then you come along and simply help yourself and use it for free (like a thief would do if they broke into your workplace!). Yes, it is just the same, and no, it is not a victimless crime.

So, how do you know if an image, as a typical example, is covered by copyright? Quite simply it is covered by the laws of copyright because it exists. Copyright is implicit to the creator of any work. The simple fact is that if it is on a website or in a brochure, it is copyright protected material and you must seek permission from the copyright owner if you intend using it for commercial purposes.

How do they catch you? In the same way that you ‘Googled’ and found the image you have used, the companies and lawyers representing copyright owners have complex and sophisticated software running automatically to match and identify images or text that may be infringing copyright. They find instances, build a case of evidence and then generally, in the first instance, they contact you to discuss the matter and seek restitution for your infringement.

Can’t you just say sorry and take the images from your website? That is the least that will happen! At the point you have been contacted by the lawyers, they have already built a case and generally have enough evidence to take the matter to court. So, you are just like a shoplifter who has been caught stealing, saying sorry is not going to negate the fact you have committed a crime.

One of many recent cases our clients have told us about has seen the client having to pay $4000 in reparations to the copyright holder for past use of just three images on their website. The matter did not go to court, but some have, and the fines imposed are many times larger, per image.

You need to ensure that you have the rights to use the images, videos and text you use on your website and in your promotional material. If you have staff editing your website on your behalf, you need to ensure they are aware of the implications of just downloading and using an image and not to do it. It is extra paperwork, but you need to document where and when you obtained (or created) material that you are using, and most importantly you must, must, must ensure you have the permission of the copyright holder to use any material you want to use.

You as the business owner are the one who will be responsible for facing the fines and public scrutiny. Various countries have laws that can force your website designers to turn sites off if there is suspected IP theft, not just take down the material, but turn off the website.

The last words to say on the issue of copyright are - be cautious, be prudent and be responsible – Don’t Steal.

Link: Your responsibility under the law of copyright is also covered here: