We live in a visual industry. Where would we be without visuals? Can you imagine trying to verbally describe the water in Bermuda to a client? Or the lush green terraces of Machu Picchu? Just exactly how do you describe a cruise ship? The fact is that we rely on images and videos to help us tell the story of a destination or experience. But we need to be careful.
All images are not created equal.
I recently heard of an entrepreneur that ended up paying more than $7,000 for a photo of a piece of fruit. A not-that-special photo to boot. As we all have done on occasion, she went to Google images to find a photo to enhance a blog post. She found one, right clicked, saved it and used it.
About 12 weeks later, she got the letter. It was from an attorney and initially she thought it was a cease and desist letter; but in actuality, it was a cease and desist letter along with a demand for payment.
The attorney was legally right. She used the image without permission and tried to negotiate a reasonable settlement. In the end, it never happened and it ended up being a $7000 banana.
However, what she discovered along the way was a cottage industry just looking for people to swipe photos. Apparently several websites with ridiculous names (like websiteswithridiculousnames.com) are set up, coded for proper SEO and then act as the host of the image (or images). The SEO is tight and the website will usually appear toward the top of a Google image search. With a dozen websites, all featuring the same image with proper SEO, the chance of someone swiping it are high. And while the websites and images may cost a few hundred dollars a year; the return of a single negotiated settlement far outweighs the cost.
So, how do you play safe? The most solid way is to only use photos that you personally created. A second (but not foolproof) method is to buy stock images from one of the many companies out there. But, you need to make sure they are reputable—a travel website company bought images several years ago only to find out that the seller did not have the rights and ultimately the end user was the one threatened with the legal action. And you can use Google—but with a caveat. Google your image and then click on the SEARCH TOOLS and then the dropdown labeled USAGE RIGHTS. From there, select LABLELED FOR REUSE. In theory, these images are ones that can be re-used. Some will have watermarks (leave them in place), and many will be inferior images (deal with it). I suggest that you also take a screen shot or print out the information showing that it was indeed available for reuse. This may seem like a bit of overkill, but any owner can change their mind at any time. If someone sees a lot of traffic to an image on their site, they may see a way to make some money. The “proof” may not absolve you, but it certainly will help with your argument.
Finally, you really ought to know how to see if your own images may be copied—and where. This is an easy task; yet many people are unaware. Simply go to google.com/images and drag your image into the search box, or click the camera icon to upload it. The search result will show you all websites that contain the exact image as well as sites that contain visually similar (modified?) images.