Get Image Smart: How to Avoid Copyright Troll Traps

It’s been discussed on the ELI forum many times, and I seem to be explaining these items to potential and existing readers ad nauseam, practically on a daily basis, so I figured it was time to do a little article / segment on “Getting Image Smart” I will attempt to break this down into manageable sections, with various talking points.

License Types Explained

  • Rights Managed– The most expensive of images to license, generally these images are purchased for a specific project and have limitations to how the image may be used, for example a hardbound publication consisting of X amount of copies. The license fee will vary depending on contractual factors which may include:
    • Specific Usage, Duration, Print Run#, Size, Industry, etc.
  • Royalty Free – Contrary to popular belief these images are NOT free! It’s amazing how many people read “Royalty Free” as “FREE”. These images generally carry a onetime fee, but can be used multiple times for multiple purposes, with some restrictions.
  • Public Domain – These images are most likely the only FREE images at your disposal, they consist of images in which the copyright has expired or have been created by a U.S. Government Agency, as these works are excluded from copyright law.

Fellow ELI member mcfilms has put together a good resource for public domain images here: List of Public Domain stock photo companies

  • Traps & Pitfalls – There are many traps and pitfalls in dealing with stock images, you need to watch where you step, or you run the risk of having some serious issues. Keep in mind even if you purchase a stock photo, you NEED to keep any and all paperwork associated with said image. It is not uncommon to find the exact same royalty-free images spread out amongst different stock photo sites. I saw an example of this just this morning on a machine that I have Picscout’s image exchange add-on running. It brought up several images that were on the site and out of curiosity, I looked at where they were available, the software listed 4 unrelated stock image companies, one being Masterfile whom we know from experience can be very heavy handed in sending out demand letters.
  • Free Image & wallpaper sites – Do not be fooled into thinking these sites are remotely legit, although I’m sure some of them are the reality is we as users have no idea where they got their images, if they have the rights to distribute them, or if in fact they are just grabbing them for their own selfish purposes. Trust me, Getty Images, Hawaiian Art Network, Masterfile, Corbis, or any of the other stock image companies will not care when you tell them you downloaded the image from a “free” site.
  • Google Images – In my view one of the largest problems when it comes to stock images, again people just assume if it’s on Google, it’s free. “after all they are using the images” which is not a true statement, they are just linking to images, but that’s for a completely separate discussion…
  • Image Sharing– As a matter of course I always have my clients supply any images to me for 2 reasons.
  1. I don’t have to waste valuable time researching images that they may not like.
  2. If they supply them to me they are solely responsible for where they come from. Naturally I explain everything in this article to them first and foremost.

I have had clients give me images that were “given” to them by other affiliated companies. The problem here is that even IF the company has a license to use the image, they don’t have the right to share the image, but it seems many folks can’t see this or don’t understand it for some reason.

Old Wives Tales and Folklore

  • The current law does not require that images contain a copyright notice, symbol or watermark.
  • Altering an image by 20% clears you of any copyright infringement.
  • So and so gave me permission…
  • The image appears on thousands of sites, hence it’s okay to use
  • Royalty free, means it’s free

How to Assume Safely / Do’s and Don’ts

  • Assume everything has a copyright attached to it
  • Assume Picscout will be scanning your site files
  • Assume Nothing is “FREE”
  • Do create your own images
  • Do boycott the copyright trolls (Getty Images, Corbis, Masterfile, Hawaiian Art Network, Stock Food America, Alaskan Stock, IStock Photo, Jupiter Images, etc.)
  • Do your research and homework first
  • Do keep good records, receipts, invoices etc.
  • Don’t grab images from the web… EVER
  • Don’t “hotlink” to images, although this is not considered copyright infringement, it’s not polite to suck other people bandwidth.
  • Don’t alter images ( remove/crop out watermarks) things brings on a whole other legal issue)
  • Don’t Feed the copyright troll machine


About Robert Krausankas 2 Articles
Since 1996 Robert Krausankas has been the owner / operator of Web Design of Palm Beach, Inc. We offer web hosting services, web development, custom programming , ecommerce solutions and design. We primarily cater to small - mid-size businesses and non-profit organizations, offering affordable prices and outstanding personal customer service and support, which has become our signature.

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