This week I learned a valuable lesson at a rather high price. This will never happen to me or any of my clients again. Hopefully, I can help to keep this from happening to you.
I have a web site, of course. I started it in 1998, around the time I incorporated my company. Last year, I redesigned it (it looked like it had been designed in 1998) and I had updated most of the artwork, featuring my more recent work. I didn’t delete everything from the old site. I left links to some old portfolio pieces which no one would access unless they were drilling deep.
I found out just how deep someone will drill if they can suck money out of you. The premiere photo archive (whose name has been not-so-cleverly concealed in this article) found an image on my site which they claimed was benefiting my company greatly, to the tune of over $1200 for past use and copyright infringement.
I read the threatening letter from License Compliance and they claimed rights of ownership to an image of the White House taken by one of their client photographers, referenced prominently and boldly on my little web site.
I use virtually no photography or artwork that is not my own, unless I am contracted to do so for a client. The client pays for the right to use these images for their purposes. Here’s the problem: if I use the produced piece, where the image was used legally, to show my skills as an illustrator, retoucher, page layout artist, etc., on my web site, then I am liable to pay for that same image for however long it remains accessible on my web site, even though I am not using it to directly promote my company, only to demonstrate my skills.
So, where was the errant image being used? On a very old Gallery page showing the image in question juxtaposed with a piece of artwork I had created for a client in the year 2000. I had been asked if I could turn the White House into a log cabin. I did. It looked pretty cool. The client liked it. I was proud of it and never felt compelled to remove it from my web site.
Mind you, you really had to LOOK for this to find it. It was not exactly prominently featured. In fact, it was buried. But the page and the images were there on the web server until I got that email last week.
Once I discovered the problem, I removed the image and any references to it. Then I wrote to the License Compliance person, explaining that this was an error, that I removed the image from my web server, that I am a very small, struggling business with very little revenue to support such an extraordinary expense. I was not using it directly in any marketing or promotion. Please do not kill me, because financially, this will hurt very badly.
Well, I got a response a couple of days later and I was offered a reduction of about 10% off the first threat, but they were not backing down. I have until July 30 to pay or get sued.
I called the person behind the email to ask if they could please negotiate something more reasonable. The very best they could do was $980. I still have until July 30 and yes, I can pay by credit card online.
Be warned folks. If any images are used on your web site, make sure you have the right to use them. Or you just may find yourself parting with a big chunk of change that could be better spent on just about anything else I can think of.
Author’s Note: I did NOT pay. I am NOT a criminal and this company hasn’t got a leg to stand on. I got educated and will share my experiences with you next week. In the meantime, if this issue is important to YOU, please sign my petition today!