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Navigating Image Copyright: Protecting Your Author Website and Avoiding Infringement

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The Authors Guild’s legal department has recently received numerous requests for assistance from members who have been accused of using copyrighted images on their websites without permission. While many of these claims are valid, some are not. This serves as a reminder to always obtain permission from the copyright owner before posting an image on a website, unless it is in the public domain or accompanied by a clear notice of permission, such as on a legitimate stock image site.

The Rise of Copyright Enforcement Firms

In recent years, copyright enforcement firms such as PicRights and its lawyers at Higbee & Associates have been increasingly hired by image copyright owners, including major stock photography companies, to search the Internet for unauthorized use of their images on websites.

How PicRights and Higbee & Associates Enforce Copyright

PicRights represents both small, unknown entities and large companies such as Reuters and the Associated Press. When PicRights finds an unauthorized image that appears on a website, it sends a letter to the website owner alleging a violation of its client’s copyright and demanding compensation. The letter usually states that if the user does not resolve this issue by paying a certain fee, generally at least in the low four figures, PicRights’ legal representatives Higbee & Associates will follow up. If the website owner does not respond promptly, they will indeed usually receive a letter from the law firm, with another request for payment and a threat of legal action.

Steps to Ensure Your Website is Compliant and Obtaining Permission for Image Use

We recommend that authors scour their websites and make sure that they own or are authorized to use any images displayed on the site. Any that are not in the public domain and that the author does not have permission to use should be promptly removed and replaced with licensed images to avoid potential infringement litigation. It’s important to note that even images from free stock photo sites may have specific usage guidelines. Each image on these sites typically comes with particular directions for how it can be used. It’s crucial to review and adhere to these guidelines to ensure compliance.

Permission to use images can be obtained through subscription sites. Additionally, reviewing the terms of service of these sites can provide valuable information on how such images can be used legally. Direct requests to the copyright holder can also be made to secure permission.

However, you should always carefully check the license of any photo you wish to use as it may contain restrictions and requirements, such as a photo credit or other citation, on the use of the photo.

Seeking Assistance for Copyright Infringement Claims

If you are a Guild member and have received a letter from PicRights, Higbee & Associates, or any other similarly acting firm or party, please contact the Guild’s legal department for assistance. It is important to seek advice and make sure it is a real law firm contacting you and not a scammer.

Beware of Copyright Infringement Scams

In addition to legitimate copyright enforcement firms, there is a relatively new scam using AI bots that send emails requesting payment for images from fake law firms with AI-generated websites and photos. These fake firms send demand letters to website owners alleging that specific photos on the website are infringing.

The letter may make a number of requests, including that the photo or photos be taken down, payment be provided to the “owner” of the photo, or, in some cases, that a specific link be posted near the photo as a way of identifying the photo’s origin. The letter may contain a fake case number and threaten legal action against the receiver if they do not comply with the letter’s demands. The law firm’s website may look reputable, but is in reality almost entirely AI-generated, including the photos of the lawyers and the law firm itself.

If you receive an email from a law firm claiming infringement of an image, please review it carefully and research the law firm to ensure that it is legitimate. If in doubt, please contact the Guild’s legal department for assistance.