Member Login

That stock photo ain’t free (and other important licensing lessons)

So, you got an invoice in the mail from an online stock photo house and now you’re all “Crap. What do I do?” Answer: gather all of your most important valuables, and run like hell. It might also be a good idea to put on one of those eyeglasses/fake nose/mustache combos while you are fleeing. (You know just in case you happen to jog by a Groucho Marx impersonation convention. Then you could really blend in). Juuuust kidding. There’s no need to run (we hear that’s bad for you anyways). You shouldn’t hide either. This is a situation best handled straight on. The appropriate reaction, however, depends on whether you used the photo in question, and if you did, whether you had a license for it.

Let’s say you used the photo in question. Let’s also say you didn’t purchase a license to use it.

Sigh. Haven’t we taught you anything? You can’t just go around the Internet taking other people’s photos and using them. (There’s a word for that kind of activity–it starts with an S and rhymes with “feeling…”) Anyway, what’s done is done at this point, so here’s what you can do with where you are now.

Just so you’re clear, sending you an invoice is the stock photo house’s first attempt at getting the situation settled. These days, this is actually a pretty typical strategy for stock photo houses and other copyright holders who find that their photos are being used online without permission. They’ll just send an invoice for the property you used (without paying for it) in hopes that you’ll pay up and they can call it a day. (And here’s a secret, there’s software out there now that helps copyright owners troll the Internet to find their photos automatically. So, don’t think you can hide out in the deep, dark, unpopulated recesses of Friendster or and no one will find you.)  Moving on…

First, verify that the stock photo house actually owns the rights to the photo in question. We hate to sound paranoid but there’s a whole lotta people out there who love a good scam. These stock photo houses are certainly legit, but it would also be easy to impersonate one and rip people off. (Don’t you go getting any ideas. We’ve heard about your questionable morals already.) While you’re doing that, you should also try to figure out where you originally got the photo and if you, in fact, did have permission from that source.

After you’ve verified their ownership of the copyright, and since we’re assuming here that you used it without authorization, you should probably try to negotiate with them as much as possible. Otherwise, they do have the right and the option to sue (your pants off). The other option is just to pay up, like a good boy or girl.

The good news is that once you pay the license fee (the invoice they sent you) then you can use the photo freely! Nice, huh?

But, but, but…

We know exactly what you’re about to say: “I didn’t KNOW I didn’t have the authorization to use the photo,” or “I took it off my site before I even got the letter,” or “They didn’t even send me a cease and desist letter first.” Here’s the thing, none of that stuff really matters. Unknowingly infringing someone’s copyright doesn’t really help you legally speaking, although it might help in negotiations.  However, you might be expected to explain how you didn’t know that the photo you used, without paying anything for it, wasn’t a photo that you yourself took. First of all, good luck with that. Second of all, your pants are on fire.

As for the cease and desist letter, the stock photo house doesn’t have to send you a warning or a cease and desist. If their property was used without their permission, they can just assert their legal remedies. Think about if someone stole your laptop. You wouldn’t have to warn them or ask them to cease and desist. And, it wouldn’t really matter if, after a while, they put it back into it’s foamy, protective case and stopped using it.

Let’s say you didn’t use the photo, or you had permission (via license or otherwise).

In this scenario, you’ll need to contact the photo stock house and explain the situation–either that you didn’t use the photo or that you had permission. If you have a license for the photo, you should provide that or other proof that you were authorized to use the photo. If you never possessed or used the photo, say so, and hopefully you can resolve the situation.

If you find yourself in a position where negotiation is necessary, you might want to connect with a lawyer for some assistance. However, you might find that you can resolve the situation amicably with some honesty and lots of smiley emoticons!

Speak Your Mind

Get your hands on the smart, simple, and surefire steps to becoming legally legit.


Bonuses include...

  • The help and push you need to stop procrastinating and start covering your ass
  • Feeling like you can actually make your business legit and your bottom line bangin'
  • Exciting surprises, insider info, and actionable, badass business tips from a bonafide lawyer
  • Make a list, check it twice, make it rain.
Download Today
Small Business Bodyguard | As Seen On Fast Company Small Business Bodyguard | As Seen On msnbc Small Business Bodyguard | As Seen On Entrepreneur Magazine Small Business Bodyguard | As Seen On Forbes Small Business Bodyguard | As Seen On Black Enterprise Small Business Bodyguard | As Seen On The Washington Post Small Business Bodyguard | As Seen On AMEX Open Forum