Tuesday, February 26, 2013

{a lesson I learned about copyright infringement}

This post is going to be long. & crazy. But I went through an unexpected experience last week & learned a hard lesson. So I wanted to share it.

Back in October I created an email address for this blog -- livelylivblog@gmail.com -- & because I have so many accounts, I set it up that nifty feature where all emails that were sent to the blog account were forwarded to my personal email. I even tested it out. All emails sent to my blog address were immediately sent to my personal one.  It worked perfectly.

Until apparently it didn't. Because when I logged into the blog email account on Thursday--for the first time in four months--there were five unread emails sitting in the inbox. Two weren't important, but the other three made my heart stop.

They were from the same person--let's call him Tom Jones--a photographer who had traced one of his photos back to my blog. Last May, I wrote a post about going to Jamaica & used Google Images to find a picture of a Jamaican beach. {The post has since been deleted.} I picked the prettiest, dreamiest picture I could fine, uploaded it to the blog, & cited the image by linking it back to the original source.  Whenever I use an image that isn't mine, I always cite it. 

One thing I didn't notice? 

It was copyrighted.

Tom Jones is a professional photographer that is represented by two agencies & is paid every time someone uses his photo. You must also ask for permission before using it.  I didn't do this before using the image of Jamaica {which is actually Singapore} so he emailed me to take it down immediately.

Can I ask...how many of you--meaning every one who is reading this right now--has taken a picture from Google?  For a project, paper, or tumblr post?

How many of you have asked permission of the photographer before using it?

I'm guessing no one, right?  Or just a few of you?

Well if you didn't, it's wrong. If an image is copyrighted, or owned by someone, you can't use it unless you ask. 

Tom's first email was nice & polite, with him simply asking me to take down the photo. He even complimented me on the blog & my photographs. Really nice guy.  But because I didn't receive the email, I didn't respond, so the next email was a little more serious. He told me that if I didn't take the photo down by the end of October, he would pursue the matter more roughly.  I didn't receive this email either.

His final email came in December. This is what it said: "If you don't remove my image of Singapore from your site I will have to resort to using a DMCA take-down notice of your site for copyright infringement."

In other words, I was going to get SUED for copyright infringement. 

Me...a harmless 21-year-old blogger from Philadelphia...was getting sued. 

When I read this last Thursday, you can imagine what this evoked from me. Instant tears. Instant worry. Instant calls to my dad asking, "Can I borrow your lawyer?!" Instant OMG WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?!?  

Here's how I feel about the whole situation:  I'm really embarrassed.  I found out I was being sued for copyright infringement the DAY AFTER I wrote a blog post on how to watermark your photos so this doesn't happen to you. 

Even though I cited the image, & thought I was doing the right thing, it simply wasn't enough. The website I got it from took the picture from the photo agency's website, so I didn't see anything about the photo being copyrighted. But even so, I shouldn't have taken it in the first place.  As a photographer myself, I would hate for someone to steal my photo--especially if it was for-profit.  To think I did this to someone makes me want to crawl in a hole. 

Secondly, I'm incredibly sorry. Tom was rightfully angry, not only because I took his image without permission, but because I {seemingly} ignored him for four months.  But I'm very VERY lucky that he is as understanding & as nice as he is, because after I explained that my emails weren't forwarded, he decided to pull the DMCA paperwork. Therefore, I'm not getting sued & Lively Liv will stay as my little corner of the internet.

I've never heard of someone actually getting "caught" taking an image from Google. Have you? But it happens & it happened to me. 

This situation really freaked me. It weighed on my mind all weekend. Like I said before: I'm sorry. I really am. But I'll be honest...it made me a bit angry. {& I hope by saying that I won't come off as disrespectful, because that's the last thing I want to be.} But...it's unfair that I'm one of the few getting caught. What about the millions of other bloggers, facebookers, pinners, & tumblr-users that use photos that aren't theirs?  I tried to do the right thing by citing the image, but I still got in trouble. What about the people who don't even do that? Or purposely steal pictures & make money off of them? 

I know this experience will make me second-guess every blog post I write from now on, because frankly, it already has. I was going to do a post about my picks for best & worst dressed from the Oscars, but I didn't want to "take" the dress photos from websites without being allowed to. I didn't know if I needed to email JustJared.com & ask if I could use their images. But then I saw that they were actually given to them by Getty Images, so...did I need to email them & ask? Are the photos copyrighted by Just Jared or Getty?  Or are they okay to "use" & simply cite?  I didn't know, & I didn't want to be wrong again.  So I didn't write the post, because writing a fashion post isn't the same without pictures. & that bummed me out.

This is my blog. The place I feel most comfortable in writing & sharing. The fact that this situation is making me uncomfortable in my own space is really upsetting me. Among other topics, I've used this blog to share personal feelings & hard family situations that I've been going through, but never once was I ever scared to post anything. Now I am. & I hate that. But there are restrictions & laws that I must follow, so I will do my best to follow them. 

I know I was wrong. What I did was absolutely wrong. I learned my lesson & it won't happen again.

In the meantime, I will stick to my own photographs. Because I'm pretty good with a camera, & I think my blog will do just fine with original "Olivias" :) 
This is a quote from Roni Loren, someone who went through the same thing as me:

  • if you link back to the source and list the photographer's name
  • if the picture is not full-sized (only thumbnail size is okay)
  • if you did it innocently
  • if your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
  • if you didn't claim the photo was yours
  • if you've added commentary in addition to having the pic in the post
  • if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
  • if you have a disclaimer on your site.
  • if you immediately take down a pic if someone sends you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it doesn't absolve you.)
NONE OF THAT releases you from liability. You are violating copyright if you have not gotten express PERMISSION from the copyright holder OR are using pics that are public domain, creative commons, etc."

So there you have it.

If you take away anything from this, take away this: don't use an image unless you ask. It's illegal.
{Also, triple-check your email forwarding system to make sure it really works. Thanks for nothing, Gmail! I wish I could blame this all on you, but I think I take the cake on this one.}

* I told "Tom Jones" that I would write about this, so I hope he is content with the way I wrote this post. Tom, if you're reading, I'm sorry again.*

**For those wondering: Sally Field, Stacy Keibler, Charlize Theron, & Joseph Gordon-Levitt were on my best-dressed list.  Nicole Kidman, Norah Jones, & Samuel L. Jackson were on my worst.**

***If you have any similar stories or experiences, please share them with me. I'd love to hear them.***


  1. Don't forget about WikiMedia Commons! It's a really good source for images anyone can use without having to worry about copyright infringement.

  2. Creative Commons has it's own engine, http://search.creativecommons.org/, that let's you search Flickr and other sites for images licensed under CC, most of which let you use images with attribution i.e. credit.

    1. Wow. Important lesson learnt. Thanks for passing on your story. And I hope it doesn't stop or slow you down too much!!

  3. Proud of you! Keep the blog going!

  4. Hi Olivia, Tom here - Tom Jones ;-)
    This blog post is exactly what I expected from you:

    Well written, full of feeling, comprehensive, in-depth and accurate

    Credit to bloggers.
    I reckon gmail let the two of us down but luckily we are both made of stern stuff
    Tom (Paul)

    1. Paul-

      Thanks so much again for your understanding with the situation and teaching me the correct way to give credit when it is due! I'm so happy you liked the way I wrote this.

      Thanks again,

  5. first of all, that super sucks. Second of all, I have gone after folks for taking my pics. As you know, I'm incredibly open on my blog. Sometimes that means posting pics that I don't want reposted for all the world to see. A few of my images were taken by medical websites and fitness blogs and reused without permission and I kinda freaked the freak out. So I get it. And I don't even make money off of my pics. Ha!