Using Free Photos On The Web Can Lead To Lawsuits And Fines

Publication Date: Dec 09, 2020
 
Using Free Photos On The Web Can Lead To Lawsuits And Fines

Article by Claude Calleja Executive eSkills Malta Foundation published on the Sunday Times of Malta on 6th December 2020

When it comes to the use of words and images in print publications, there is often a dispute over copyright and fair use. Unfortunately, there have been no significant cases where hard and fast rules have been established for the fair use of images for use on the Internet. 

Considering that many images are from major agencies, these have legal teams that do nothing but look for infringing uses.  These lawyers use photographers and artists who make their work available free of charge to bloggers who do not know better or post the wrong content on their pages. The lawyers make money from it and take away the penalties for copyright infringement they earn by chasing down unsuspecting bloggers.    
 
A party may seek to protect its copyright from unauthorised use by filing a civil lawsuit in court. The law may authorise an injunction, which means that the court can order the defendant to delete the website, destroy the image and refrain from any future damage. 

Anyone who infringes on a copyrighted work can be held liable for any infringing work with thousands of Euros in damages. If the copyright holder can prove intentional infringement, the amount can be increased if the infringing work infringes the rights of other people such as children. 

Obtaining permission from the person pictured merely stops allegations of theft or violation of the right to promotion. A US court issued an injunction prohibiting a site operator from infringing Paris Hilton's right to campaign by selling subscriptions to a website that provided photos of her and other private data belonging to her.  If someone wants to use the photos, they need not worry about copyright infringement, but about other people's privacy rights.

Some photo services require a paid license and if one intends to use the images for social media or marketing, this is the safest option. One has two options: fair use, which includes the use of an image under certain circumstances, or Creative Commons License, which grants the right to use the image for creative expression and commercial purposes. Creative Commons licenses grant the right to freedom of expression when using images under certain conditions, such as for use in a book, film, TV show, music video, etc., as long as they are not subject to copyright from the outset. 

Fair use is there to enable use that benefits society and the common good, but it does not mean fair game. It is designed for the public good by allowing copyrighted works to be used without permission for the benefit of the public. Fair use does not mean fair game and is not there for any vanity to allow use only when the use of products is for the benefit of society or public goods. A word, name, slogan or short phrase may be protected by trademark law.

Therefore, the eSkills Malta Foundation advises great caution when making use of material downloaded from the internet.  Not everything on the internet can be simply downloaded freely and pasted on a blog post.  As they say, the world is a stage and one can never be too sure who is watching!

This article was prepared by collating various publicly available online sources.