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How to Resolve Copyright Infringing Images on Your Site + How to Avoid Them

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Updated January 14, 2019
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How to Resolve Copyright Infringing Images on Your Site + How to Avoid Them


Bryce Boyle Hoban

Bryce is a SEO Specialist and Content Strategist with Hook Agency – focused on creating content that attracts ideal customers for our clients websites.

If you’ve ever received an email from a copyright infringement company claiming that one of your photos violates a copyright, then you know how stressful this situation can be. Depending on how you used the image and who is contacting you, you may get off with a warning and a small fine as long as you take the image down. However, if you’re use of the image is egregious and you claimed the photo as your own, or didn’t even attempt to cite your source, you may end up having to pay an extremely large fine and have your site taken down.

Obviously this is not an ideal situation, but there are steps you can take to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you. To help you out, here are ways to resolve copyright infringing images on your site, as well as how to avoid running into this problem altogether.

Immediately Take Down The Image

avoid copyright infringement
the infamous copyright insignia

Even if you don’t agree with the claim, find the image that is being claimed as violating a copyright and take it off your site. While there are definitely people out there who pose as licensing and copyright agencies who will try and trick you into paying them for an image that doesn’t actually violate any copyright rules, it’s better to be safe than sorry and to still delete the image.

Follow the Next Steps From the Email You Received

The email you received with the copyright violation claim should have detailed steps for resolving the issue. Follow these steps carefully to make sure that you cover all your bases and ensure that you complying with each of there requests. If you are confused by any of the steps, then call the agency or company who contacted you (they should have provided a phone number, or at the very least an email to respond to).

If you are confident that the image you used does not violate any copyright rules and regulations, then you should discuss the incident with a legal counsel to decide your next course of action.

Write Down What You Did Wrong to Ensure that This Doesn’t Happen Again

If you want to avoid this headache again, or save yourself some money from any future fines, take careful notes on the violations that occurred and how to avoid them in the future.

How to Avoid Copyright Violations

Always assume an image is copyrighted – The best way to make sure that you don’t run into a copyright violation and a hefty fine is by treating every image you find online like it is copyrighted. This will ensure that you always take the right and safe approach to finding images for your site.

Determine the original source – If you find an image that you really want to use, make sure that you try and find the exact source of the image. For example, if you find a photo on a blog, instead of attributing the image to that blog, you will need to find out where they got the photo from. Once you identify the original source, you can see if the image is unavailable for use or if it available under certain circumstances (such as being labeled for noncommercial reuse with modifications). 

The best way to make sure that an image is fair game is to use Creative Commons. This search tool allows you to images that have reuse options, occasionally with some restrictions. Although, still make sure that you do your due diligence before deciding on an image.

Understand what fair use means – ‘Fair use’ allows you to use a copyrighted image without getting permission if one of the following characteristics applies to your use of the image.

  • The purpose of use: educational, nonprofit, scholarly, reporting, reviewing, or research
  • The nature of use: fact-based or public content (courts are usually more protective of creative works)
  • The amount and substantiality used: using only a small piece of the image or a low-resolution version
  • The market effect: you could not have purchased or licensed the copyrighted work

Take the Time to Gather Your Own Images – Anytime you can use your own images, do it. Using your own images allows you to better highlight your own business or brand, as well as make your site more professional and, of course, avoid any copyright infringement.

Or use a royalty image website – PexelsPixabay, and Unsplash are all great sources for finding high quality images where you won’t have to worry about copyright infringement issues.

Reverse Image Searching Through Google.

Another way to find out the original source of an image, and therefore identify whether or not you can use the image, is to do a reverse Google image search. This is an extremely simple process and can help save you some trouble down the road.

I found the following image of a man reading a book posted on Outside.com. In order to find out where they got it from, simply save the image to your desktop or copy the URL image by right clicking and ‘opening up the image in a new tab.’

Next, you’ll go to images.google.com, click on the camera icon on the right side of the search bar and then choose your option of searching an image through either the URL or by uploading the image.

A results page will pop up and you’ll scroll down to “Pages that include matching images.” As we can see with this image, it is from a stock image company, and after clicking on the link, I saw that you have to pay in order to use this image.

Therefore, I couldn’t use this image by asking permission from Outside magazine alone, but would have to actually purchase the image.

Make sure to be thorough when choosing images to use. Spending a few extra minutes to cover all your bases is well worth avoiding a potential lawsuit.

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Bryce Boyle Hoban

Bryce is a SEO Specialist and Content Strategist with Hook Agency – focused on creating content that attracts ideal customers for our clients websites.

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