Thursday, June 24, 2010

Beware of Copyrighted Images Used Without Permission

Now here's a subject near and dear to my heart...copyright infringement.  On two separate occasions I've had articles I have written show up in college textbooks without my permission.  Both times I threatened to sue and then settled.  I think what upset me was that I was in the textbooks with some very well known authors, such as Maya Angelou, William Raspberry, even John F. Kennedy.  You can bet they or their estates were asked for permission and they were paid for their work.  There is so much free or fair use material out there, no one needs to violate copyright.  Excellent read and excellent points!  Bunnie

Beware of Copyrighted Images Used Without Permission
by Dan Ehrmann, President, ClubExpress

For most non-profit clubs and associations, funds are always tight. Expenses are carefully managed to stay within budget and you are always working to attract new members, maintain renewals, find donations and solicit sponsorships. So a sudden expense out-of-the-blue can really create problems. Here is an elementary mistake that you should watch out for.

ClubExpress is an Internet platform to help smaller non-profit clubs and associations run their operations, including website, membership database, finances, events, etc. Hundreds of clubs and associations use our platform. A few weeks ago, out of the blue, we received a demand letter from a photo licensing company, requesting a license fee of thousands of dollars for use of a photo on a ClubExpress website. The story of this letter is an important lesson for every non-profit organization because of the potential risk that you might be asked to pay large licensing fees.

Using Google Image Search or similar services, it's easy to find photos on the Internet featuring almost any subject of interest. Once you find a photo, it's trivial to download it to your local hard disk, then upload it to your organization’s website.

Don't. Ever. Do. This.

Photos are copyrighted works, owned by the photographer and sometimes a photo licensing company. These firms (for example, Getty Images), build libraries of millions of photos which they then license out to magazines, advertisers, web designers and others for use in commercial works. License fees can run into the thousands of dollars depending on the resolution desired and on the intended purpose.

Many of these photos appear legitimately on websites because the website owner has licensed the photo and paid the appropriate fee.

The image file (usually a JPG or PNG) is especially encoded by the photo licensing company. They also have bots which cruise websites automatically, looking for image files. When one is found, they download it and look for the encoding. If it's one that they license, they then check to see if you own a license and if you don't, the demand letter is generated. People, companies and organizations that use such photos without a license represent a significant source of revenue for these companies and they will go after you aggressively. And the law is entirely on their side.

ClubExpress is protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because we are considered to be an "Online Service Provider". We are not liable for violations done by our customers on their websites, even though these sites are hosted on our platform. But if an organization’s website manager or officer does this, the organization may be liable for licensing fees for photos which are being used without permission or payment of a license fee.

As administrators, please take a few moments to review all the photos uploaded to your websites, to ensure that you have permission from the photographer or the appropriate licenses to use these photos. Be sure to check every part of your website, including page headers, content boxes and custom pages. You only need to worry about the public side of your site since bots have no way to view members-only content that requires a login. But you should check the whole site.

Photos taken by members and uploaded themselves should not be a problem. When they upload the image, they are giving the club permission to use it for non-commercial purposes. The problem instead is photos that someone has downloaded from another website in order to use on your website. And if the list of website managers changes regularly, be especially cautious of work done on the website by prior admins who may no longer be involved.

Respecting copyrights is not only the law; it's also the right thing to do.


Dan Ehrmann is the founder and President of ClubExpress, an Internet platform to help clubs and associations run heir complete front-office and back-office. He can be reached at

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