Copyright owners have struggled to protect their intellectual property since the dawn of the Internet. New services have evolved to help businesses monitor and react to unauthorized use of their trademarks, text, videos, music, and images. Every company should actively monitor for infringement, even if only with a search engine. But there is a larger business risk that many ignore: infringement on the rights of others.
Making unauthorized use of intellectual property carries significant risks, but even those who should know better apparently do misguided things. On April 12, 2016, columnist David Reevely wrote about MPP Jack MacLaren’s website: “Every politician likes to be known for helping residents and voters one on one. It’s the unglamorous but sometimes most important part of the job. The Carleton-Mississippi Mills Progressive Conservative makes more of his record on that than most politicians, with a whole section of his website devoted to thank-yous.” Reevely then proceeded to identify the source of several photos, supposedly of constituents, on MacLaren’s site: The Hague, San Francisco, Berlin, New York City, and Manchester.
After Reevely’s story was published online, a disclaimer was added to MacLaren’s website that read, “In order to maintain the privacy of constituents, stock photos and generic names have been used.” About two days later the site was shut down, “Website Currently Unavailable.” MacLaren did not respond to an email inquiry.
Reevely was kind enough to share how he identified the source of the images. “I use a Chrome plugin called RevEye,” he explained. “In journalism, one of its big uses is taking tweeted images purportedly of some crisis — a riot or a bombing or something — and being able to quickly check whether they’re readily identifiable previously published images of some other similar event. Lots of tweeted pictures supposedly of Paris after the nightclub attack were actually from the time of the Charlie Hebdo attack, for instance.”
The rights of photographers are often infringed upon, ironically even by other photographers. The problem is so common there is a website dedicated to outing this plagiarism. The site stopstealingphotos.com reads, “This wall of shame is dedicated to photographers that feel that it’s okay to steal others’ work and post it as their own.” It includes dozens of infringement examples of infringement since 2012.
Respected Ottawa photographer and digital pioneer Paul Couvrette is intimately familiar with copyright issues. In his recent blog post, Copyright and Social Media, (http://www.couvrette-photography.on.ca/ottawa_commercial_photography/copyright-and-social-media/) he wrote, “The courts have seen a surge in lawsuits regarding everything from copyright to libel and slander on social media. The average person has little knowledge of their rights and responsibilities, but the hundreds of lawyers who work in copyright, slander and libel in Ottawa certainly do.”
According to Couvrette, “It is nearly impossible to protect your images on the net. Nothing can defeat a simple screen capture from the most basic snipping tool. Placing a copyright banner will slow them down, but even a banner can be cloned out and there are actually programs set to do that right now.”
His advice is: “Assume that the image belongs to someone. Most major companies have a written Code of Ethics. It needs to be drilled home to employees once a month in a mailing if they have access to the company’s social media account. Aside from the financial costs, a company can see its reputation destroyed in a heartbeat and sadly the net is unforgiving about such things. Bad public relations is a thousand times more costly than simply paying for an image or even commissioning one.”
Downloading and re-using images from the Internet is unfortunately very common, as is re-posting images on social media. Companies of all sizes should provide clear guidance to employees and err on the side of caution.