The SNO Report: Tips to Avoid Copyright Infringement

The Super Bowl is over. The bad guys won. Your sports editor wrote a little recap. Now, what about getting that photo? Chances are you’re probably not going to be able to find one to reuse easily if at all, unless you know someone who was there or pay a subscription for a wire service.

Yes, you can Google it, but you can’t just download any photo the search results spit out at you. You need to know how to search Google for images labeled for reuse, and that goes for any photo you’re looking for on the search engine.

Saving images from Google searches or other websites and republishing them on your website is illegal. Your publication could be liable to pay compensatory damages to the copyright holder; in fact, there are companies out there whose sole mission is to find these illegally used images and threaten the users with lawsuits.

You don’t want that. We don’t want that for you. So here are a few pointers for reusing safely:

  • You need to specify rules for your Google image search. From the search results page, click on “Tools” → “Usage Rights” → “Creative Commons licenses.” These filtered results are safe to reuse.

  • Visit Creative Commons or Wikipedia Commons, large databases of free-to-use images.

  • For articles about movies, music or TV, use promotional posters. These are free-use protected under copyright law. Better yet, websites for movies, musicians and TV shows may also include press kits — downloadable folders of images they want you to use.

  • Always exercise extreme caution by writing a photo credit for each photo you’re putting on your website. No matter what, you need to ID your source. More on that here. (More on copyright law here.)

Now, what if you’re contacted by a company or individual threatening to sue you based on your use of an image? First of all, understand that it could be real or a scam; either way, be cautious.

  • The scam: You receive a letter, email or phone call from a law firm threatening to sue you for using a copyrighted image by a photographer they represent. To avoid a lawsuit, they tell you your school just needs to make a payment of roughly $2,000. This might be a threat by a company that has designed software to scan the internet for these images. Read more about one such company here.

  • What to do: We can’t give you legal advice, but we’d suggest you don’t immediately engage with the company contacting you and instead consult the SPLC or your school’s attorney first — and while you’re at it, maybe just take down the photo, too, because while it may or may not be a scam, it’s probably true that you’re using a photo illegally.

Between the Super Bowl, the insurrection at the Capitol and the new president, there’s a lot of imagery you’d like to have. Some of it may be out of your reach.