Risks Of Using Free Images

Posted on 7/26/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Free Images may not always be FREE. There are not only big legal risks for the users, but also potential time demands on users, creators and lawyers. Most users of Free images don’t recognize the risks they may be taking. One of the big questions for professional photographers is how to help those looking for free images to understand these risks.

According to fstoppers Simon Palmer, a photographer and business owner, recently used a stock image from Unsplash for his blog. It is unclear why he didn’t use one of his own pictures, but it seems “his team” liked the Unsplash photo better.

His team was asked to only use “copyright-cleared images.” They assumed all Unsplash images would be fully cleared. But obviously they didn’t read the 5,418 word license agreement. Buried deep in Section 5B of the agreement Unsplash says the license “does not” include the right to use images of recognizable people.



It goes on to says that if someone wants to use a photo with people, “you may need the permission of the brand owner of the brand or work of authorship or individual depending on how you use the Photo.” Unsplash doesn’t provide any easy way for a potential user to locate or contact the creator in order to get this information. Of course, no one reads the license, they just read FREE.

Many of the people who post images on Free sites are not the creators of the images. Rather they just grab images they like of the Internet and re-post them.
    (In a recent story we outlined a situation on Flickr where someone known as BrandonLarson94 created a collection of 2,000 Baltimore area photos and placed his copyright notice on each one. At least 80 of those photos were created by other professional photographers working in Baltimore. Larson has been very difficult to locate.)
Unsplash does no checking to determine if the person posting an image actually created the image or has permission from the subjects to make a commercial use of the image.



It wasn’t long until Palmer was contacted by Copytrack demanding a fee for use of the image.
Palmer went back to Unsplash to look for the image and discovered that both the image and the photographer who uploaded it had disappeared.

Exactly what happened is unclear, but it appears that the original creator of the image discovered that it had been uploaded to Unsplash without his/her permission and demanded that it be removed. The person who uploaded the image was probably not the photographer.



Copytrack claims that Unsplash should be liable. In theory, once notified of an unauthorized use Unsplash can simply pull the image from the site and say that the person who downloaded the image didn’t have the legal right to use it in the way they did based on Section 5B of Unsplash's terms of use. Therefore, that person, not Unsplash should be liable for any damages.

Copytrack, or Palmer, may eventually find it necessary to track the person who illegally uploaded the image and pursue that person for damages. It is hard to tell if anyone will ever get any money out of this, but a lot of people will be forced to spend a lot time trying to sort out this FREE use of an image


Copyright © 2019 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  

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