This is how I unwittingly became a copyright infringer. I wrote a book review on my website several months ago and added a cartoon image in the text body. I don’t know where I found it or even why I used it. I simply didn’t give it much thought. At first I thought I had used it because it had no watermark or copyright indication. I went back and found the picture and it did indeed have a watermark on it. I believe my thinking at the time was as long as I left the watermark intact and since I didn’t consider its use commercial that it was OK. The artist and the rights holder both got credit. It was not OK. It’s not like I get much traffic on my site. Well, someone saw it, someone by the name of PicRights.com, and my lack of due diligence in determining said image’s rights and fair use is going to cost me $110.
Am I angry? Yes. Am I embarrassed? You betcha. Is there a silver lining? Heck yeah. I got off cheap…ish. The image, owned by Cartoonstock, is only charging me the commercial licensing price of $110. Yeah, that seems pretty high for a simple cartoon image when compared to the hundreds of very complex, time intensive artwork I bought from Adobe and a couple of other stock image retailers. Other retailers slap people with charges in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Getty’s is well-known for their litigiousness and exorbitant lawsuits.
I am at this moment in talks with PicRights on what constitutes a commercial website. If I can convince them it’s not, then I’ll pay the $55 non commercial rights use and chalk it up as an expensive lesson on due diligence. If I can’t…well, let’s face it, I have little recourse but to take the $110 kick in the ass and chalk it up to an even more expensive lesson. (Cartoonstock has yet to answer my questions regarding commercial vs. non commercial so I’ve just gone ahead and paid their extortion money)
licenses. I’ve purchased hundreds of images from Adobe stock and a few from another source I don’t recall off hand. The Adobe images only cost me $200 for 750 images because I purchased a month-long subscription. The others I purchased individually, and they cost me anywhere from $.99 to $14.99. Now these images are actual art, something that someone put some real time into creating, not a simple cartoon sketch that took the artist maybe 15 minutes to scrawl onto paper. So why does it cost $110 to use it? Are people really paying the licensing fee, or is Cartoonstock making the bulk of its income from people like me?
The license rights for the images I purchased are considered commercial only if the image itself is used as the product such as on t-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, etc. where Cartoonstock says it’s commercial if used pretty much anywhere someone might actually see it and there’s any chance that you might profit from it even peripherally. Even though my website has no advertising or revenue generation of its own, I do have links to Amazon for my books and any book I review, therefore it is “commercial.”
If this were 2013, I wouldn’t even sweat it beyond my typical neurosis, but times are lean. I’m so poor the electric company is installing a ductless heat pump in my house for free! So what can we take from this? If you’ve pulled an image from the internet and used it for anything online, you better do a google image search and triple-check that it’s not owned, especially by Getty. To do an image reverse lookup, go to https://images.google.com/ and drop the image onto the search bar. If you are looking at an image in your browser, you should be able to right-click and select image search. Another way to use an image or gif (OMG, George Lucas is going to sue me for using Commander Ackbar gif! No he’s not) is to embed the image in your post like I did with this gif. The image is technically not on my website, only a link back to Giphy.com. Had I simply embedded the offending image link I probably would have been OK since it’s a link back to their website, thus attributing all credit to them and the artist. Best practice, if you didn’t make it, pay for it, or it clearly states you can use it for your intended purposes, leave it in the wilds of the internet. Let it run free with the millions of other images congesting our digital world.