Otherwise known as … my $6800 mistake.
I’m sharing this with you in hopes it will save you a lot of stress … and money! This mistake was a simple one to make, and I hope to help you avoid making the same.
Back in 2010, a colleague and I began to set up a website to advertise some online psycho-educational groups we wanted to start offering. It was a DIY effort, but we still wanted it to look interesting and professional. We chose a nature theme and decided to use photography to represent the various programs.
We mostly used photos taken on our travels to make the site look colourful. However, there were a few programs where we couldn’t find the right picture in our own collections, so we did what many people do when looking for visual images.
We went to Google Images and typed in nature.
Right away we found a cute little picture of a dewy spiderweb that fit our theme perfectly. A quick copy paste later, it was up on our website.
We didn’t think twice it. After all the image was only a 1 x 1-inch photo on our homepage. As time went by, my colleague and I both got quite busy, and we realized we didn’t have time to launch our programs. So although the website was up, we put the actual project on hold.
Fast-forward four months into the future.
I’m sitting in my office, and an envelope slides under my door. I open it and inside it were three pieces of paper. The first being a cease-and-desist letter, the second was a copy of the spider web image, and the third was an invoice for $6800. As you can imagine, I just about passed out. I didn’t even know this type of thing was possible? We didn’t think we stole from anyone. After all, if it was on Google Images, it was free to use right?
I then thought “I’m sure they’ll be reasonable about this. It was an honest mistake! I’ll give this company a call and explain that we didn’t know anyone had rights to the image, and although the picture was on the website we never actually started the business, therefore, never made any money off of that picture, and I’m sure they will understand and we can make this all go away.”
Oh, how naive I was.
I was soon informed they could care less if we made money or not, and although if we had purchased said “spider web photo” originally it would have probably cost us $20, they deemed we profited from having the image displayed without permission and they were now suing us for damages.
$6800 in damages.
$6800 for a 1 x 1-inch photo that was up for 4 months on a website that no-one had ever seen.
We took down the photo immediately and over the next few months, consulted with various lawyers and came to find out that this practice, which essentially felt a lot like extortion, happened all the time. There are companies famous for pursuing this type of strong-arm litigation, banking on the fact that most people would rather settle for a ridiculous sum of money than risk having to hire a lawyer and take them court to prove the amount was unjust. The number chosen as damages is high enough to be absurd but low enough that it might be easier to pay than risking a lawsuit with an unknown outcome … after all, you did use the picture!
In the end, with the advice of our lawyers, we were able to negotiate the price down, but we still paid 50x what it should have cost, plus the stress involved. It was a simple mistake that we paid dearly for. And it is something I know many people still do.
So word to the wise: NEVER use google images for your website or blog post photos.
It might seem easy and cheap, but it will cost you so much more in the long run.
If you have some up now, I HIGHLY recommend you take them down immediately (and delete them from the media files of your site as well).
If you need something to replace them with, here are links to 10 different websites offering royalty-free, high-quality FREE photos for you to use. Check it out below: