I once freelanced as Managing Editor for an online startup. This company needed a writing staff built from scratch, which I was happy to do, but less happy to have one employee more or less imposed on me because of the new hire’s friendship with one of the owners.
I didn’t see it as much of a problem initially since this new hire’s credentials looked pretty solid. But the writer didn’t have blogging experience, so some of the things you might tend to assume or take for granted? Couldn’t be done in this case. Since I didn’t know this person from a hole in the ground, I felt the need to lay out a few ground rules just in case.
I carefully explained to the new hire (at the risk of insulting someone’s intelligence) about the rules about attribution. “Generally, if you’re promoting a product, it’s OK to use product images from the official site. It’s best to attrubute sources, but when you’re helping to sell a product, the owners don’t seem terribly interested in suing you”.
This site was retail-related, so there would be plenty of promotional writing–almost ad copy. But we also did non-promotional writing, so I also mentioned a few other cautions. “Use royalty-free stock images wherever possible. If you do use someone else’s work in reference to their web page, blog, or work, be sure to attribute the source. Be transparent. Don’t just lift things without permission–give attribution at the very very least.”
That advice–given years ago–still played too fast and loose with the rules of permission & attribution. It should have been far more hardcore scared-of-getting-sued. So I blame myself when I learned that this person, who was still with the company after I moved on, got into a serious amount of hot water for disregarding my advice.
According to my sources, this person lifted some images from another website without attributing the source, and did so for a post that was non-promotional. So basically this employee “borrowed” non-royalty-free images, didn’t attribute, and didn’t get permission. Everybody does it once in a while, right? Right? RIGHT?
Except in this case, the person who owned the copyright to these images got in touch with the company and demanded compensation. And he got PAID. As in, compensated big time in order to avoid legal action.
Did you know that in such cases you can complain to the web hosting service of the offending web page and–potentially–have the site taken off the web for good due to Terms of Service violations?
Read the fine print in that web hosting agreement of yours and you’ll see…those who are borrowing images, text, or other content without attribution, permission, etc don’t just live with the possibility of getting a Cease and Desist or even a potential lawsuit. They also run the risk of losing the entire website.
Permission and attribution take far less time to accomplish that building a whole new website from scratch.