RE/MAX CROSSROADS RULES & REGULATIONS BULLETIN:
Digital Media Copyright Infringement
In this digital age, it is so easy to find a photo or video on the web for use to promote your listings and enhance your professional websites, brochure, and other online and print marketing materials. For an example, Google allows you to do keyword search for images and hundreds turn up in the search result from websites all over the web. However, just because an image, video or music is found on the internet, it doesn’t mean that media is free to use. Let’s say a Realtor found a great picture with a Sold Sign in front of a nice big home and wanted to use it on his agent website. So he right-clicked on the image to “Save As” and uploaded it on his website or had his web designer or assistant / team member upload it. If this Sold Home image was a licensed image and there was no photographer’s approval via a valid image license for use, this action constitutes as copyright infringement under the Canadian Copyright Act, The United States Copyright Act of 1976, and equivalent laws in other jurisdictions. In this case, the Realtor unintentionally infringed copyright laws because he used a licensed image (whether in part or in whole) for commercial purposes without a valid license for the use of the image under his company’s name (as a Realtor) or a third party’s name (such as his advertising agency or web designer).
Stock photography licensing companies like Getty Image, Image Bank and Dreamstime are “deeply committed to protecting the interests, intellectual property rights and livelihood of photographers, filmmakers and other artists who entrust licensing agencies to license their work”. The ramification of copyright infringement is a serious one since it is a federal offense. Some companies like Getty Image will send out a “settlement demand” letter noting a hefty monetary penalty you should pay for contravening the Act. For an example, the use of one picture from a licensed agency without license could mean a $850 settlement fee. Failure to pay your settlement fee could result in being turned over to a collection agency or sued by the digital media licensing agency (for damages as well as costs and interest). According to Getty Images, a “settlement fee is proposed to attempt to settle the matter amicably without litigation”. If you don’t have a valid license, ceasing the use of and removing the unlicensed image(s) does not release you/your company of its responsibility to pay for the photographer’s compensation for the use of their work as you have already infringed (whether intentionally or unintentionally) the copyright laws by using image(s) without a valid license.
You may have found the images on the Internet and did not know the images were represented by a digital media licensing agency, but all licensed images will require an appropriate license for their use. Licensing pricing varies and depends on how you plan to use the image. Note that some pictures will be identified as “Royalty-free”; this does not mean that the images are free for use. It’s an industry phrase that refers to a licensing model where the user pays once and has the continued right to use the image without additional royalty payments. Royalty-Free content can be found on various websites like Gettyimages.com, Punchstock.com and iStockphoto.com
Ignorance is not an excuse in copyright law infringement. Regardless if a third-party, employee, assistant, intern or anyone else has been contracted to design and develop your website or any other materials – YOU (the end user) is ultimately held liable for displaying an imagery without a license fee and without agreeing to terms of a licensing agreement set forth by the image licensing agency.
As precautions, you should check with your webmaster, designer, third-party companies, etc. to see where they get their images from and whether they have valid licenses for all photos used or to be used on your agent website, brochures, pamphlets, and other marketing/promotional materials. Consider purchasing licensed photos yourself through a stock photography licensing agency and provide it to your web designer. Better yet, if possible, take your own photos and you will own unique photos for your exclusive use – free of licensing fees and any potential legal worries!
As a RE/MAX Associate, remember you have access to free RE/MAX Branded Images available via BestAgent.ca (Marketing Tab, under Branding). The RE/MAX Design Center also offers free professional templates with stock images that you can use too!