Getting Sued For Posting A Picture On The Internet

The internet has and continues to pose serious challenges in the areas of intellectual property and specifically, copyright law.  With millions of people uploading pictures daily on major social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, copyright infringement cases based on uploaded pictures and images on the web are becoming a highly litigated matter.  Although seeing an image on the web, saving it and reposting it on another website or blog may seem innocent enough, you can be found liable for violating a federal statute and be facing serious legal trouble both in terms of civil and even criminal penalties.

In 2012, Instagram, a website in which users can upload pictures instantly from their phones, had to backtrack on a proposed policy that would have given Instagram full ownership rights over a user’s picture that was posted to their site.   Full ownership rights would have allowed Instagram to sell these images to anyone, including advertising companies and make a significant profit.   Although Instagram denied that this was their objective in the proposal, many users and lawmakers got involved to make sure that each user’s right to copyright protection was not taken away.  Facebook also claims the rights to any photo uploaded to its site which has caused many people to have second thoughts before posting their photos on it.

What Is Copyright Protection And How Far Does It Reach? 

Copyright protection is the exclusive rights of a legal copyright owner to reproduce, perform, distribute, display, license and to make derivative works as they see fit.   The protection applies to owners of original works that are fixed in some tangible medium such as literary, dramatic performances, musical, artistic, architectural or other forms of intellectual works of expression.

An owner of copyright protection is still subjected to the doctrine of “fair use”.  Fair use permits certain limited use of copyrighted material that would not be considered infringement.  Some examples of fair use are criticizing or commenting on an original work or using the work for a news report, research or teaching.

What Are The Penalties?

There are various penalties that can be imposed for copyright infringement.  If you unintentionally or innocently infringed on someone’s copyright ownership than you can be liable for actual damages (actual monetary amount that the copyright owner lost), or the plaintiff may opt for statutory damages that range from $750 – $ 30,000 per image that has been infringed.

If you are found to have intentionally or willfully infringed on someone’s ownership rights than under section 17 USC § 506 you can go to jail for up to 5 years for a first offense and up to 10 years for a second offense.  Willful infringement includes using an image for the purpose of gaining a financial advantage and also taking an original work that has been prepared for commercial distribution, such as a movie, and making it readily available on the internet.  If you are found to have willfully infringed on another owners copyright than you can face statutory damages of up to $150,000.

Should I Hire An Attorney?

If you are the rights owner of photos or images or you’ve acted intentionally or unintentionally to use a photo on the internet it is in your best interest to talk to an attorney.  An attorney will be able to protect your rights and help advise you about your situation.  Call us today for a free consultation.

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