A colleague of mine recently received a letter from Getty Images informing him that he has an unlicensed copy of one of their images on his website and that he not only has to take the image off of his site immediately, but he also has to pay them for the copyright infringement.
Now, I support copyright laws. I feel that both Getty Images and the photographers they represent have the right to collect from individuals who have used their images illegally. The problem is that many individuals, such as my colleague, are not using illegal images knowingly. In his case, the image was provided in a library of stock images that was part of the site editor his design/hosting company provided. After contacting the company, he learned that they had similar issues with Getty because the library of images they provided was compiled by the design firm that they paid to design and program their entire site building platform.
So, where does the responsibility lie? From what I understand about copy right law, it lies with my colleague because the site is registered in his name. Even though he was unaware that the image was unlicensed, he is still considered to be “innocently infringing” upon the copyright, and he is, therefore, still responsible for paying the penalty.
I realize the law is a complicated subject and there are probably many intricacies I can’t even begin to understand. I can comprehend how hard it would be for a company like Getty to try to go through process of determining who provided images to whom and how many of those people did so knowing the images were not licensed. I can see why the easiest thing to do is to lay it on the end user. But, is the easiest thing to do also the right thing?
I am guessing a lot of people getting these letters are, like my colleague, small business owners operating on very tight budgets. Their budgets don’t allow for paying thousands of dollars for the use of an image that unbeknownst to them was provided to them illegally. So, while I am all for photographers and the companies that distribute their work receiving just compensation, I also think that compensation should come from the person who knowingly infringed upon the copyright and not the poor guy down the line who was using images that he believed were alright to use.
For instance, let’s say Bob stole a truck. Bob then sells the car to Mike. Mike is not aware the truck was stolen because Bob has done his legwork and made the transaction appear to be legitimate. Mike then unknowingly uses the stolen truck as part of a rental fleet. Well, the next day I come along and rent the truck to move some furniture and while in the process of moving I get pulled over for speeding. It is soon discovered that the truck is stolen, and to my dismay, the truck is confiscated by the police.
As the guy who rented the truck in this scenario, I am put out because I no longer have use of the truck. Mike is put out because he loses the ability to rent the truck and has possibly lost the money that he paid for it unless he can sue Bob get it back. Bob, however, is the only one legally responsible for the theft of the truck. Neither Mike or I are asked to financially compensate the truck owner for the time we had use of the truck because we were not aware the truck was stolen.
I think the same should go for a stolen image. If I can prove that I used that image thinking that the company providing it to me did so legally, then I should not be responsible for paying damages. I’ll gladly stop using the image, but paying for the unlicensed use should fall back on the person who consciously made the decision to illegally copy it and distribute it.
What are your thoughts? Is it the responsibility of the end user to make sure everything on their site is used legally? Is it their responsibility to pay for unlicensed images even if they were provided by a supplier who passed them off as being licensed?