Google,Licensing,Copyright – and Free

I got this email the other day. A couple of weeks ago, Tom my partner got a cease and desist from Getty and an invoice for uploading his own images on the ASMP NJ Chapter website because the Picscout robots had picked them up, which is now owned by Getty.

The business of photography has changed because of the Internet in terms of value, licensing, awareness of copyright and all of the above.

I have posted the letter below for discussion and open dialog- please no rants or whining allowed.

Dear Ms Mooney,

I’m not sure if I am contacting the right person, however I am small custom home builder on the Jersey shore in Xxxxx near Atlantic City.  My wife downloaded a picture of a South Jersey beach scene from Google about a year ago and put it on my web site.  She unknowingly downloaded a picture that was copyright protected.  Today, July 15, we received a letter from xxxxxx a company that protects your work and they informed us that we used your picture and wanted 3000.00 to rectify the situation or buy the licence for 1020.00 we settled for the 1020 and took your picture down.

This picture was not a glamorized picture of a beach.  Just a dune and a dune grass fence.  A picture that could have been taken by anyone in South Jersey.  I just wanted to let you know that if this is your picture, it is dispicable that common, decent and hardworking people who have a small struggling business should be subjected to such a ridiculous fine.  The fact that we cannot google and download a beach
scene without worrying that someone OWNS it is outrageous.
Imagine that!  People own pictures of nature!

If this is not you, then my sincere apology, otherwise I think you should be ashamed of yourself and need to contact Google for having your picture available to millions of people.



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10 Replies to “Google,Licensing,Copyright – and Free”

  1. It would seem to me that if the picture “could be taken by anyone,” then perhaps he or his wife should have taken their camera down to the spot and taken one themselves. Though the odds they would have your eye for a great shot would be pretty slim.

    Of course, they grabbed it off the Internet thinking it was a good shot to sell homes and make money. So in essence, if one of his homes was sitting there, and you decided to move in and stay for a while without paying him, that should be fair use too, because, y’know, it was there.

  2. This is a tough situation. Honestly, if someone uses Google to locate a general image that they want to place on a website, then they definitely need to be educated on the finer points of digital copyright law, especially if they are going have a digital presence for their own business.

    Most people do not know that you can’t simply Google an image and then put it on a commercial site. They figure, just like this man did, that if Google put it out there for people to find, they must be able to use it.

    However, it sounded like this couple made a genuine mistake and the option to simply take down the image should have probably been available to them. I do think it is harsh to fine someone that much money simply because they didn’t know any better.

    Perhaps all web hosting companies should provide information to people about copyright so that they can be held properly accountable and be correctly informed.

  3. You’d think the media coverage over online piracy would give most people a clue, but apparently not. The average person doesn’t understand Copyright – what it is nor why it’s valuable. The concept of “free Internet” is all-encompassing, in many people’s eyes.

    It all comes down to education, and the media in general should really do a better job. “Fair use” by news and editorial media really waters things down.

    We had a local ASMP-SD member get “billed” from Getty for having one of his portfolio images on our local site. (The “invoice” actually came to me, as the Webmaster, and I forwarded it.) He got a big laugh out of it, and I presume wrote them back. Automation has its purposes, but so does fact-checking.

  4. “Ignorance of the law does not make it excusable. I have to say while I am somewhat sympathetic to his plight, I can in no way shape or form agree with his tact of calling you out on your (bad) business practices. Maybe he should become better informed about what he did (unintentional as it may have been) rather than not excepting his responsibility in this situation. I don’t think I would ever have the gall to call out another business that I obviously didn’t understand. Another one for the (“I deserve everything mentality”) books!

  5. yet I’m sure if we ‘used’ there product without paying then they would want payment…. we have a way to go to protect photographers rights.

    Interestingly though the counter-point is it would be helpful if google could ‘mark’ images that have exif/itpc data noting copyright, maybe with a little (c) in the corner of the thumbnail. Couldn’t imagine this would be a huge bit of code. That way poeple would have no excuse not to know that the image is for free? Just an idea

  6. I actually sympathize with him, but his attitude nulls that sympathy. Every google image I’ve searched, always came with a warning that reads something like, ‘this image may be copyright protected.’ He probably just ignored that and didn’t further investigate the copyright.

    Some google images take you directly to the site, bypassing the image itself. Perhaps it would have been better if this had been the case and he would have been shown the option of purchasing the image for licensing.

  7. Thank you for your letter.

    Although not a custom home builder I am, like you, common, decent, and hardworking though making a living as a photographer. Copyright law allows me alone the right to copy any image I create and I use the services of an agency to advertise and represent me in licensing such images for commercial and editorial uses.

    The image in question is not merely a snapshot but deliberately chosen, composed and captured solely with the intent of being marketed as a salable photo. A similar image may well “have been taken by anyone in South Jersey” but if you Google ” dune fence grass” you will notice most images on the first page have copyright notices, are for sale, or have watermarks. Not too many casual snapshots there, which, incidentally are still copyright protected. Most photographers and agencies work hard to ensure their images appear in front of prospective buyers, “…picture available to millions…,” when Googled by appropriate keywords.

    I’m afraid the reality is, outrageous or not, that every image, Googled or otherwise is owned, and copyrighted, by someone, and the technology now exists to readily detect infringed images.

    The cost, by the way, is not a fine but a license fee for a year’s usage on a commercial web site. A deliberate infringement, with watermark or copyright notice removal from the image, could certainly be liable for much higher damages.

    I’m sorry you are, understandably, upset by this incident. But photographers trying to make a modest living are even more upset that their online images are regarded as free for the taking by, at best, an inconsiderate uneducated public, and at worst a criminal element intent on stealing an image for profit.

  8. I discussed this with my wife who believes that a picture of a beach is a picture of public property and therefore the picture also can be seen as public property if made publicly available by google via the internet.

    The reason I find her opinion so interesting is that I make (or at least did make) my income from stock photography with Getty and Masterfile after many years of commissioned studio advertising work, and she has heard me rant on this subject many times.

    1. Keith,

      What does your wife do for a living? Does she feel that someone who pursues a creative career should place no value on their work – if the work depicts something that is in the public? If so, it would mean that any number of artists’ work should be free for the taking just because Goggle indexed their work online. Your wife is confusing copyright law with the right to take a photograph of something that is in the public’s eye. By law, any photograph that is created is the property of the creator. The creator determines if they will make it available for “free” or not. I would caution your wife about intellectual property and who is allowed to use it or not and for what purpose.

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