If You Shared Music or Images Recently

You CAN Get Sued for Posting Art Online

We love sharing online. It’s our whole internet culture; share what you love… and don’t love.

There isn’t a big fuss about posting work that’s not your own– in fact, everyone seems to do it these days, from posting photos to arts to music.

Unfortunately, you can get into lots of trouble for posting content that isn’t your own, especially if you don’t know how the creator intends for the work to be used.

How? Let me give you a little background information.

Please note that this article does not constitute as legal advice.

The Story

Sites like Tumblr and Pinterest encourage you to post content and half the time you probably don’t know who owns the work.

The first time I came across my work featured on a blog, I was pleasantly surprised and quite happy with myself– it must be like hearing your own song on the radio for the first time.

Most people don’t bother with reading licenses, and this is where we go wrong.

You Can Be Sued for Posting Content Online

Screenshot of a blogger posting my work.

I release most of my work on Artiden under a certain Creative Commons license that says you can copy, duplicate, and redistribute provided that you credit me. Sometimes the license information isn’t stated right on the page and people still repost my work (from Artiden), and I’m totally fine with that.

However, not everyone releases work under the same license. Some people prefer their work to be viewed only, while others want money when you use their work somewhere else.

One Recent Case

Roni Loren is one blogger who got caught (literally and figuratively) using a photo that she didn’t have permission to use. She unknowingly infringed on the photographer’s copyright, but that doesn’t excuse her (unfortunately).

The photographer contacted her with a takedown notice, but that wasn’t enough; he wanted a “significant chunk of money that I [Roni Loren] couldn’t afford”. So she hired a lawyer and eventually settled it. All this time, money, and stress for a photo she didn’t need.

“[I]t was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn’t have for a use of a photo I didn’t need.” (Roni Loren)

Fair Use

I’m putting this out there because you should be aware that it is possible to be sued for using work (photos, videos, music, etc.) that you don’t own.

  • Every time you post something, you should be clear on what you are and are not allowed to do with it; disclaimers do not release you from liability, so if you’re infringing on copyright, then the other party has the right to sue you.
  • If you read the terms and conditions on social networking sites like Tumblr and Pinterest, it’ll say that when you upload something, you’re saying that you have the legal rights to do so.
  • If you repost (or repin) content from another blogger with work that infringes on copyright, you’re still liable.
  • It doesn’t matter if you didn’t claim the work was yours, or even if you clearly state that it isn’t yours.
  • Basically, nothing releases you from liability unless you have written permission from the copyright holders (like a license) or you’re using content from the public domain.

Licenses

Licenses tell you how you can use the work. Creative Commons is one of the most popular license generators. Sometimes people want money or credit for using their works; other times they just want you to notify them. It’s best to be safe and assume you don’t have permission if you don’t see licensing information.

What Can We Do?

There are tons of sources for free and legal photos, art, sounds, and music. These include…

  • Creative Commons – Search for all sorts of content (music, photos, etc.) that you can use for your own purposes, for free (with certain conditions and exceptions).
  • Free Sound Resources / Free Photo Resources – Lists of great resources compiled on Wikipedia.
  • Stock Exchange – Free stock photos (I’ve been using stock exchange for years). Licensing information is right underneath every photo.
  • Stock photo sites now offer sound, art, and animation files that you can license, either on a by-file basis or a subscription fee.

To Do Today

  1. Spread the word. Share this post with people you love; one photo or video can cost a ridiculous amount of time and money. Not everyone will be sued, but you’ll be surprised when it happens to you or someone you know.
  2. Share your thoughts. What has your experience been when it comes to copyrights? Do you usually check for licensing information? Do you know any other free and legal places for artwork?

3 Comments

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  • Graphik Artiss August 2, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Thank you for a sensible article about Pinterest. Like Roni Loren I am being sued over a pin.

    I’m an artist, I should have known better.

    • Grace August 2, 2012 at 9:45 am

      No problem. I’m just trying to get the word out there because we don’t deserve to be sued for sharing things. But at the same time, it’s about fair use and respecting the creators/copyright holders. Not a lot of people read terms and conditions agreements word for word either.

      Thanks for sharing your experience; I hope it works out for you!

  • Pamela December 1, 2013 at 12:20 am

    Would it be accurate to say that most of the photos on Pinterest and other sites like The Fancy are not photos from the public domain AND that the creator of the photo hasn’t given written permission to let the photo be pinned? So the owners of Pinterest and similar sites cover themselves by putting a notice in their terms and leave their users open to being sued? It makes me want to stop using these types of sites altogether.