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Downloading Images to Your Website and Potential Copyright Infringement

You're updating your website and find a few nice photos on Google Images. No harm in downloading them and putting them on your website, right? Wrong. And a Washington, D.C. patent lawyer has just learned the hard way that using stock photos without permission can be costly. Masterfile Corp., a photo supplier, alleged that the lawyer illegally used two files of people dressed in suits on his website. The licensing company sought $150,000 in damages for using the photos without permission. The suit settled for a small sum.

While it may make sense that using material (such as images and photos) that you do not own can create a significant risk of copyright infringement, the Internet is rife with the illegal use of copyrighted images. Nevertheless, it may also come as a surprise to the infringer when they get 'caught'. With more and more image and photo suppliers using sophisticated image processing software to monitor the Internet, alleged copyright infringers are ending up in the same legal hot water as the patent lawyer above.

Copyright infringement software looks for potential infringement by comparing images on websites it finds with images the photo supplier sells. If there is a match, the photo supplier will check the sales of the license and the domain name where the photo was found. If the records do not match with the domain name, the photo supplier will send a "cease and desist" letter to the owner of the infringing website. A cease and desist letter provides notification that unlawful copying of photos or images infringes on the photo supplier's exclusive copyrights. The letter typically explains which aspects of the copyrighted work are protected and also explains the date that the copyrighted work was created. The letter may also explain that the photo supplier has copies of the unlawful copying that can serve as evidence if the infringement does not resolve. The letter will usually end with a request for stopping the unlawful copying and providing written assurance that the client will cease and desist from further infringement of the copyrighted works.

However, if the infringing party refuses to comply with the request to cease and desist, the attorneys for the photo supplier may bring an action in federal court for monetary damages, injunctive relief (essentially, a restraining order to stop the harmful behavior), and an order from the court that the infringing party pay the court costs and attorney's fees of the other party.

Consequences of copyright infringement can include statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per work, at the discretion of the court and damages of up to $150,000 per work for willful infringement. Continuing to violate a copyright, such as by ignoring the cease and desist letter (assuming there is evidence that the infringing party received the letter) can be evidence of "willful infringement."

To discuss filing a claim for copyright infringement against a potential infringer, contact the experienced Orange County copyright lawyers at MYERS BERSTEIN LLP today.

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