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Mistakes I've Made

The $7,500 Blogging Mistake That Every Blogger Needs to Avoid!

If you’ve ever taken an image from Google search to use on your blog, you need to read this blog post. It’s both humiliating and anxiety inducing to write all of this down, but I’ve been carrying this secret for over a year now and I want to make sure that no other blogger has to go through it.

In February 2014, I created a post about a green pepper coupon. (Yes, there are actually sometimes coupons for green peppers) Anyway, I finished creating the post and instead of doing the RIGHT thing which would have been to either pay for a stock image or take my own photo, I went to Google, typed in “Green Pepper” found one that I liked, Right click->, Save As and uploaded it to my blog post…and then I forgot about it.

In October 2014, I get an email from an attorney with a large attachment which to me looked like a Cease & Desist regarding the photo. I promptly removed the image and repled that I had complied with the request and removed the image. No big deal, right? WRONG! The attorney immediately responded and said the removal of the image was not good enough, and that we would have to talk damages. DAMAGES? I thought. Okay? So I went to the photographers site to see how much he was asking for his ‘green pepper’ picture, figuring I would pay the fee and carry on.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER WAS ASKING $750 FOR A PHOTO OF A GREEN PEPPER!!

But it got worse, the legal documents were now asking for $7,500 for damages. At this point, I started to worry and do some Googling, maybe this was some scam that was happening. I looked up the attorney. It checked out. While Googling, I found dozens of message board threads accusing this same attorney of extortion :( I then emailed the attorney back and lambasted her for extorting money from me for a picture that could easily be purchased on a stock photo site for a couple dollars.

Now here’s where things get a little screwy. After some more Googling, I found out that the copyright holder of the image owned a collection of spammy travel related sites, stuff like “jamaicacondorentalsbythebeach.com”. (not his real website, but you get the picture) On each of these websites, he had a link to a “gallery”. The gallery housed the image of the green pepper with the keyword “Green pepper” linked to the image. I bet you are probably wondering WHY in the world he would have his PRIZED green pepper images on a travel site. Well you see, the more sites that link to his green pepper images the higher up in Google image search they appear. The higher they appear the more likely someone is to use it without authorization, which would allow him to sue. Besides myself, I know of one other person this ‘photographer’ sued. This WAS a racket. This man was purposefully optimizing his images for search to trap people who used them and then would sue them.

I brought this up to his attorney and she suggested that I get an attorney, because she wasn’t going anywhere, I was at fault and she was going to make sure I paid the damages. And so I did just that. I got an Intellectual Property attorney and told him the situation. His advice was to settle the claim. Even though the likelihood that this would go to court was small, if it did I could be held responsible for the damages AS WELL AS the court costs! You see there is this loophole in copyright infringement cases that CAN require defendants to pay the court costs..he said the could likely exceed $50-$100k dollars.

I can’t tell you how many nights I worried and cried over this. Dozens of nights. Weeks. I spent days sick to my stomach. I eventually settled the claim for less than they were asking…but still wayyyyy more than I ever wanted to pay for a stinking stock photo. Plus, I had to pay several hundred dollars in lawyers fees….all for a picture of a green pepper.

Please, please, please learn from my mistake! Don’t EVER take something from Google! If you need an image from your blog, I recommend going to Allthefreestock.com which houses hundreds of FREE stock photos for your blog!

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Chrystie is a mom of 3 kids and wife to one. She's sold 4 blogs in the last 10 years and now helps other women start their blogging empire. Her love for really bad reality TV is only trumped by her love for margaritas without salt. Her other addictions include spray painting everything gold and embarrassing her kids at the bus stop. #thatmom

This article has 172 comments

  1. Jessica

    Ok well now I’m panicking because I have taken pics from Google.. I do a recap on The Bachelor and that’s where I got my photos!! Do you think this would be avoided if you linked back to the source if you get the pic from Google? Just curious if that came up in your research at all…

    • Chrystie

      Hi Jess!

      To be completely safe I would say to NOT take photos at all! However, in your niche things are a little different because there are LOTS of photos floating around. The reason mine was enforceable was because the images had been trademarked with the USPTO. I’m willing to bet not a lot of Bachelor photos are trademarked in that way :) So funny that you write about the Bachelor, did you know that my sister is Ashley Rosenbaum? :)

      • Kate

        Hey,
        can I reblog your post here on my own blog? I don’t have that many followers yet but I think the topic is important for everybody.
        I have a blog for my art and writing and almost used google images until a friend warned me of exactly what you are talking about! :)
        Greetings from Germany
        xx

    • Silvia

      Hi Jessica, (sorry Chrystie for jumping here). Have you tried to get a media access account with abc? I have accounts with a lot of Disney media sites (which abc is part of) and it is great since then I have permission to use the content, then saying courtesy of …. Hope that works.

    • KD

      I write for a newspaper and there are specific guidelines for something like this. If you are recapping a show such as the bachelor on a blog you can use a site like Flickr to get images as long as they have a creative commons license and you properly attribute the photo. Google is a slippery slope for any images. There are some images with copyright and others that are public domain, but nearly any that are of celebrities or entertainment related typically have a copyright of some type. It is definitely important to check the source of an image before using it with any blog post.
      I know plenty of writers who have been sued for using unauthorized images and depending on the source of the photo (such as Getty and Reuters) the cost can sky rocket.

      • ad

        There are a couple of considerations here. The first is that commentary and criticism are both allowed under the Fair Use Doctrine, so you might not need permission at all.

        The second is that only the owner of an image can make something available under a CC license (or any other license, for that matter). So, if I make a screen shot of someone else’s show, I don’t suddenly own that image. That would be a derivative work, and their copyright would supersede mine, in the same way that I couldn’t photograph someone’s painting and license my image for use.

        One additional benefit of getting a content creator’s permission to use their artwork is that you now have someone with a vested interest in sharing your blog post. If you came to me as a photographer, got my permission to use an image I’ve made, I’m going to turn around and share it so my audience sees my work in the wild, effectively expanding the reach your blog has into a new audience.

      • Rachel R.

        Getty also has embeddable images, depending on what it is you need.

    • Elizabeth

      NO! It doesn’t help if you link back, or give credit to the photographer, or say “I don’t own the rights” – none of those things makes it okay to use a photo you don’t have the rights to. (That’s terrible grammar, I know, but I’m trying not to say it all “legalese.”)

  2. Jessica

    You’re kidding!!! Now that you said that, I do see resemblance!! That’s so crazy… it’s one of my favorite shows… but needs to be made fun of just a little bit. :-) I watched a bit of your sister’s Season, she was adorable! And thank you for answering my question.. I’m so sorry this happened to you! I’m going to be very careful in the future!

  3. Becky @ Disney in your Day

    This is crazy! I try to use all my own images, but will occasionally do Google. Similar to the above commenter I write about Disney, so if I need a screenshot from a film I’ll use Google since I can’t really take my own. But I’ll have to do much more research into this now.

    • Chrystie

      It’s very crazy! I wrote the blog post because I don’t want it to happen to anyone else :)

  4. Lynda@fitnessmomwinecountry

    Oh my god. I am so sick to my stomach right now for all of us out here. Although I do pretty much do my own photos, I have found on google here and there. I am so worried now. Is the site you mention in your post All The Free Stock.com really safe?

    • Chrystie

      All the Free Stock is a collection of all of the free sites out there..so I haven’t run into any issues with it. There are so many beautiful photos on that site as well..definitely check it out!

  5. Dia@ All The Things I Do

    I am so sorry about this. I will be sharing this on social media, thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Logan Can

    Oh, no! That is horrible! I definitely try to use my own photos. I think I have used a couple of stock photos in the past, but for the most part, my own photography feels safe. I hate that this happened to you and costed you so much. Thank you for spreading awareness so that it doesn’t happen to others!

    • Chrystie

      Hi Logan! Yes you are right! Your photography is the BEST photography to use :) Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Silvia

    Chrystie, great blog post, thanks for sharing. It is very important to know this information. It is important to know that just because is on Google doesn’t mean is free. I try to take my own, or apply for media accounts with the companies I blog more about, but in a few occasions I need a picture, so I usually contact the owner and I get permission in writing. So far it has worked for me.

  8. Summer @ Coffee With Summer

    Oh my gosh, I feel for your anxiety in all of that. I couldn’t even image. I’m so glad you wrote about this because I see SO many bloggers taking images all the way to not disclosing their affiliate links properly. Most think nothing will ever happen, but it can. Definitely sharing this! So sorry for what you went through.

    • Chrystie

      Hi Summer! Tell all your blogger friends, it’s scary :)

  9. Marie

    With all due respect, I think you got a crappy attorney. You never should have been made to pay these damages and should have gone to trial, because the case more than likely would have been thrown out. Did your attorney deal with the extortion claims or the fake websites? If you are aware of another victim, you may have been able to file a class action countersuit. Regardless, you should not have paid.

    • Chrystie

      Hi Marie! Believe me that thought crossed my mind..but I was so sick over the situation, I just wanted it to go away as soon as possible :(

    • Peter Carey

      It likely would not have been thrown out. If the image is registered with the copyright office, as indicated (and which costs money and time to do), it is protected from copying.

      I totally agree that the method this photographer/jerk used to create a useless site to bait people in is horrible, but it is not illegal.

      As a photographer who has been on the other side of the coin, I have received settlements from companies trying to profit from my images without compensation (mostly travel companies advertising their great trip to India with my images). I flew to India to take those images and I charge a fee to use them as it is my livelihood. It’s my image. An analogy is if you create a nice pottery bowl, do I have the right to take it and use it as I want?

      Of course not. Again, this method of trapping people is disprectful and repugnant.

      • Dowless

        people can claim or charge, but getting the money is a far different issue!

  10. Deborah

    I am so very sorry that you went through this!! My heart is racing just thinking about it. I am definitely going to share your post to warn others.

  11. Marlynn @ UrbanBlissLife

    Oh I am SO sorry that this happened to you! But yes, I tell all of my social media and blog clients to never, ever, ever under any circumstance whatsoever to take an image from Google. For my clients, we pay for images through stock photography companies and make sure we have all of the correct licensing through them. For my own blogs and social media (bloggers also shouldn’t use images they don’t own on social media as well), I shoot all of my own photos. I am so sorry that you had to go through all of this, but it’s so important that you shared your experience so others can know just how serious it is. Thank you for sharing!

    • Chrystie

      You’ve got it right! Ever since this happened, I’ve been getting really good with my own camera :)

  12. Angela Tolsma

    Yikes. This makes me really wonder about other images. I have only two images from Unsplashed but it scares me to think about this. Otherwise I always use my own images that I’ve personally taken. Or have linked back to the blogger who took them. Scary.

    • Chrystie

      Hi Angela! Yup, always best to use your own photos! :) Thanks for stopping by!

    • ad

      It’s worth remembering that just crediting/linking isn’t enough. You need to have permission from the copyright holder to use the image.

    • Dhishna

      Angela,

      If you are talking about unsplash dot com then you are good to go.
      Here’s their license: https://unsplash.com/license
      Basically you can do whatever you want with the photos.
      Also, if you are using photos from other blog, ask for explicit permission to use them. A link back does not suffice.

  13. Amanda Butler

    This is a terrifying situation!! Thank you for sharing your experience!

  14. Willow

    How scary! I use all my own images, but I am afraid someone may steal my photos someday. I have a copyright notice on my site, along with what is okay to use (including excerpts and links), but I’m sure that won’t stop everyone. This is a good reminder for bloggers to check into copyright laws, etc.

  15. Ryan

    Just some advice if you turn to google images: below the search bar there is another menu…choose search tools, then choose usage rights, and choose the option accordingly …”labeled for reuse” is prob best. Google will then only show you images that are labeled for reuse :) hope this helps someone.

    • Chrystie

      That’s a great tip Ryan!

      • Leslie

        Thank you so much for this post/warning. I am really new to blogging, I literally just published my blog last week. I do not have many posts but I immediately updated the 3 images that I got from Google. I followed Ryan’s advice and made sure to use photos labeled for reuse! I was so sick to my stomach over your story. Thanks again, you saved my amateur blogging butt 😉

    • Chris

      Ryan/Chrystie, remember however, marking for ‘re-use’ in Google Images is only the same as any of us adding a #tag. It gives us an indication of intent by the postee but not actual ownership, re the previous comment on screencaps. Jurisprudence is still required…

  16. Rose

    My jaw dropped from reading this. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your story because I am sure there are many other people out there that have done this without thinking twice about it. I’m glad that you were able to sort this out at a lower fee because I can only imagine how freaked out you were. *hugs*

    • Chrystie

      Hi Rose! This happens more often than you know. Since this happened to me, I’ve talked to probably a dozen different bloggers who have been through the same thing. Unfortunately, it’s extremely humiliating to admit that you made a mistake, so not many bloggers talk about it.

  17. Shannon Ketchum

    Thank you sooooooooooooooo much for sharing this! I am going to check my blog to make triple sure I haven’t used any Google images. I take 99% of my own photos, but I will definitely make SURE I pay for any stock images or use free stock images.

    • Chrystie

      Hi Shannon! It’s always best to double & triple check :)

  18. Pat Anthony

    It is amazing how Google has my photos offered as available to share it seems.

  19. Chelsea

    What a horrible person for doing that! I understand you shouldn’t use someone else’s photos, but that’s pretty sick and twisted that he was luring in people that didn’t know any better.

    • Chrystie

      Yes..I was definitely wrong, but there are shady people out there!

  20. Suzi Whitford

    Chrystie, thank you for being so open and honest! As bloggers it is great to know we’re here to help each other out!

    This just gives me more motivation to take the push present my hubby gave me and put it to good use! If I get my white balance right, I’ll be golden with my own pictures. Even went to Michaels to buy a few props, how fun!

    Just for the reason that there are silly scammers as you explained above, I want to make my pictures free for use by other bloggers.

    • Chrystie

      Haha! Glad to hear you are going to be taking your own photos :) Thanks for commenting Suzi!

  21. Krissy @ Mommy Misc

    When I first started blogging I uses to take photos from Google Image search. I figured that if I just saved to my own computer and uploaded it, 8 would be OK. Not long after I started blogging I started a new job and my boss (at the time) said that he got sued over using a photo from Google images. Right after he told me this I went and took all my photos down. Now I only use royalty free stock photos or my own photos. Very good post. :)

  22. Katina

    I had to send a lady a letter from an attorney for stealing a picture of me dancing. She created a beautiful meme…but it was my image on my website. This stuff happens all the time. I always use paid stock photos now. I rarely use the free ones anymore. It’s so risky. I am so sorry you had to go through that.

    • Chrystie

      Katina, I had to do the same thing! So many people used to use my picture from Extreme Couponing on their website. I know how it feels :(

  23. Jody

    I just read about this same thing on another blog a couple days ago. Ugh!!! What a horrible, sleazy thing to do to someone. I am just starting out and was wondering how to get awesome pics. Now I know Google is not the way. I am so sorry this happened!

  24. Olivia

    Holy cannoli, that is a lesson hard learnt. I’m so sorry that you had to go through that…..thank you for sharing this information, it will make me think twice or even three times as to where my images are coming from…..

    Do you at least have the right to use the green pepper picture now?

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  26. Melissa

    Ugh. I am so sick about this! I have tried to use only my own photos or requested permission but I do know there are the occasional google pics I have used. I am going back through to delete! I also use a stock photo collection you pay for so hopefully that has helped. But I am literally racking my brain- and soon my blog- to check! Thanks for sharing! I am so so sorry.

  27. Gale

    Thanks ever so much for sharing this and so sorry for your pain/suffering! My question now though is this: would you still have been sued if the source of the photo was credited aka does citing the original owner of the photographer help avoid a court order? Just wondering but confirming that going forward I will continue to take as many of my own photos as humanly possible (or get a friend to take them for me)!

    • Chrystie

      I believe so! The photo was registered with the USPTO which makes it copyright protected. This is vastly different than most images on the internet. So even had I credited the site where I found it, I still would be at fault :(

      • a photographer

        Even if it wasn’t registered it wouldn’t have been ok. Copyright doesn’t depend on registration, but registration ups the amount that can be collected, I.e., penalties.

      • mimi

        ALL images, regardless of whether they’re registered with the USPTO, are protected under copyright law. Whoever created the image owns the copyright — from the moment he or she clicked the shutter.

    • Ashley

      Crediting the person doesn’t make it okay. You’re still in breach of their copyright.

      To use a metaphor, it’s like if I broke into your house, stole your computer, then told my friends, “Oh this is Gale’s computer.” Just because I’m telling people where I got it doesn’t make it okay to steal it from someone. You’d still file charges against me for theft and try to get your computer back.

      Hope that helps. :)

  28. Michelle

    In the past, I had read that if you put a link to where the pic is from, then it’s okay to use (if not clearly copyrighted on the pic). Is that no longer correct? I’ve used pics found through a Google search in the past, but have always listed the link of where it came from. I’ve used that free stock pic site you mentioned too, but not always.

    • a photographer

      That was never correct, just part of internet mythology that won’t die. Sigh. If it doesn’t specify it’s Creative Commons license or you don’t have specific permission you can’t use it. Linking or crediting “may” be enough for some image owners but you have to ask to find out.

    • Ashley

      That’s not correct—see my reply directly above your comment to Gale. :) You’re still in breach of the person’s copyright. It’s like if I broke into your house, stole your computer, then told my friends, “Oh this is Michelle’s computer.” Just because I’m telling people where I got it doesn’t make it okay to steal it from someone.

      (That’s obviously just a metaphor, but the same principal is applied here.)

  29. Christine - The Choosy Mommy

    This actually happened to a co-worker when we both worked at a top personal security company. However, she did think she was using a royalty free photo but the small print cited that if it was going to be used for commercial use then there was a fee. The project she used it on was a webinar which then got posted online. She never paid anything for it but got a similar email like you did and ended up costing the company thousands of dollars. Such a shame. I’m sorry this happened to you.

  30. Laura

    I had no idea about the quasi-phishing! I knew not to use stock photo but would have never known someone would have purposely done SEO for a green pepper photo! Also totally recognize you from extreme couponer right?

  31. Mellisa Louise

    Thanks for sharing your experience with this. I’m new to blogging and am so glad I know this now. I love your blog!

  32. Heather Serra

    WHOA! Just whoa…so unfair! I can’t believe that was even legal. I think the punishment should fit the crime….$7,500 for a pic of peppers?!

    • Chrystie

      Crazy, right? :)

      • a photographer

        The amount isn’t for using the image, it’s higher to include the penalty for using illegally and to serve as incentive to get you to settle. And in some cases as deterrent from doing it again. This guy probably hopes you WILL do it again. He may be shady but unfortunately what he’s doing is completely legal. And sadly, as you now know, what you did wasn’t.

  33. Sally

    Yikes! So sorry that happened to you! I have the same question as Gale. If you credit to the source you found the photo, is it okay to use?

    • Chrystie

      Honestly, I would say don’t even do it unless you have permission BEFOREHAND from the photographer :)

  34. Carolina

    As someone who has had her work stolen and republished by others, I can see the other side of this. If you go into publishing to make money or as a hobby, you need to learn the rules and that includes the rules of copyright. The part of the copyright laws you refer to is not a loophole at all but a way to make sure the little guy whose work gets stolen can get compensated. Put yourself if pepper guy’s shoes (and for the moment, ignore the suspicions of dishonesty) – if someone were to take his image and make money off it and he had to pay legal fees himself to try to get recompense, he would be in the hole for trying and would be vulnerable to nonstop theft, and others would profit from his work. I do feel for you that you didn’t do this intentionally and that this particular guy wouldn’t work out a reasonable agreement with you, but the laws are there for a good reason.

    • Suzi

      I agree with Caroline. Yes, it sucks that you got your hand slapped so hard… but the simple fact of the matter is, YOU were in the wrong. It doesn’t matter how scammy or sleazy that dude was. You messed up. Instead of focusing on what a jerk that guy was, maybe focus on how you did wrong.

      I’ve had my stuff stolen. My blog posts. My writings of religious analysis. One of those incidents got so very nasty that I ended up contacting the host and having the entire website shut down after the thief had the nerve to threaten me. Having been the creative person who has had her stuff stolen, I really don’t have that much sympathy for you. At least you didn’t add insult to injury and hotlink your image from the guy’s site and steal his bandwidth, too.

  35. Kelly

    Can’t thank you enough for sharing what you went through & warning us. Will not be using Google pics! And thanks for the freestock recommendation!

  36. Kathy Brandon

    So happy you wrote this article and shared your story. I was just talking to a client last week about this very topic. Thank you!

  37. Lori

    Chrystie, yikes! I feel for your stress and heartache. I know how bad it is to loose sleep worrying…

    Thank you for sharing your story. This article will help so many others, for sure.

  38. Ray

    Hi all, sorry to hear this happened to you Dia, however I’d like to add that this trick, in different forms, happens all the time. I’ve been in the business for over 15 years now and I’ve seen attorneys fatten up simple cases to million dollar woppers. I personally don’t feel great about the tactic, but I’m not the lawyer in the matter. But believe it or not, along with that poor victimized green pepper, you too were victimized by the legal process. Perhaps someday you would be able to further expose these shysters.. anyways we all have lessons learned and appreciate you educating your readers on your experience.

  39. Tamara

    That is just so crazy. I would have lost it. Thank you so much for being honest and open about this as it is a hard lesson to have learned, and so kind of you to warn others.

  40. Mandy

    Hi Chrystie!

    I am wondering if this applies to photos taken from free stocks sites – such as Librestock or Pixabay? I use them when I don’t take my own pictures.
    Thanks

    Mandy

    • Chrystie

      Hi Mandy! Those seem to be ok! I have also been using those sites for images :)

  41. Alexis

    Hi! I am sooo sorry this happened to you. My goodness! Thank you so very much for sharing this experience. Definitely a blessing to be forewarned. This did get me to thinking, though: Do you know by any chance what has to be done in order for us to protect our own photos on our blogs?

  42. Meg

    I feel for you. You paid a lot more than you should. It’s really a shame that some took advantage of you. It’s awful that there are people out there like that and that you’d had to go through so much over something like this.

    However, as a photographer whose images are constantly stolen, I’m really disappointed by your post and the comments here. The fact of the matter wasn’t that you just made a mistake. You broke the law. Taking someone’s image without permission is illegal, plain and simple. You just had the unfortunate luck of stealing a photo from someone with no heart.

    I feel like your post was misleading. Any photographer could have legally charged you $750 for the image and $7500 in damages if that’s what they thought their image was worth. And by spinning it the way you did I feel you did a disservice to the blogging community because your post comes across as “I made a mistake and someone took advantage of me,” versus “I broke the law and someone took what was rightfully and legally (maybe not ethically) theirs.” You didn’t deserve this by any means. And bravo for your bravery and strength of character to write and share this post. But the moral is not “don’t take images from google or else you might get sued” but rather, “I did something illegal and here are the ramifications of my actions.”

    • Julie

      I had the same feelings. These people definitely were seemingly shady and had one convincing blackmail racket going, but you’re entirely right… The issue at hand should be the lessons learned from doing something that’s legitimately illegal, that is NOT okay. I do absolutely believe it was an accident, but it’s a very serious and illegal accident. I hope people read this and take it very seriously and don’t take photos that aren’t theirs without written consent by the photographers. The amount of people asking “but what about photos from…” is quite disheartening however. The biggest clue to be understood here for readers is to never just save random images and use them yourself. Links, tags, and credit lines don’t matter one bit… Just stop taking photos that aren’t yours unless the photographer said it was okay and you have it in writing.
      I know of photographers who simply send a bill to people who’ve stolen their images, lol, and I rather like that tactic. Personally I’d first tell the person to take it down and if they didn’t the next thing I’d do is send the bill. But whether the photographer is ruthless or super sweet, it unfortunately doesn’t change the fact that illegal is illegal and this is a serious offense. I truly hope people can learn by this seemingly embarrassing story of honesty… Props for her having the courage to put it out there, and props for anyone who realizes the real warning within.

  43. Madonna Weaver

    I have just self published my children’s book and I had to be aware of photographs, drawings etc and would contact the person who took the photo etc to gain permission to use it and then it went into acknowledgements in my book. I would not use the picture if the owner could not be found and if it was in the public domain to make sure I could use it and still acknowledge it in my book.

    Madonna

    • Chrystie

      Sounds like you played it safe, which is definitely the way to go!

  44. Lexie

    What about using photos from Pinterest for blog post rounding up stuff from around the web and including direct links to the blogs and their names with the images?

    • Chrystie

      Hi Lexie! Always best to get the owners permission BEFORE using it, even in a Pinterest round up!

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  46. Sue

    Chrystie, I applaud you for telling your story and making others aware that just because it’s found on Google, it doesn’t mean it’s free to use. Copyright Law is not an easy thing to understand and I’m sure your post will encourage others to learn more about it. I am a photographer and I’ve had my photos stolen/copied/edited without my permission before (shockingly by other creatives who should know better) and the other side of the story is not fun either like Carolina said above. The photographer in your case was very sleazy but most of us aren’t like that, I promise. We just want a fair deal the same way you would if you found your blog content posted somewhere else with someone else taking credit for all the work you put into producing it. You’ve done a remarkable thing by sharing this so other bloggers can be careful not to unintentionally use someone else’s work in an inappropriate way. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy thing to do. :)

    • Chrystie

      Thank you for your comment Sue! I know there are lots of legitimate photographers out there who go through the same thing.

      • Sue

        Hopefully this experience will help us all to be more conscious creative professionals and better people in general. I hope you have a wonderful 2016. :)

  47. stephen osoko

    Wow! Thanks for the advice

  48. Michael Nixon

    Unfortunately, people just roll the dice and simply use photos without permission all too often. That’s the last thing you ever want to do, especially if you are building your blog into a business. Rest assured, it will come back to bite you. Treat this seriously and just pay a few dollars.

    • Chrystie

      Yes..this was a lesson I learned the hard way, but happy I did. I just hope that I can prevent this from happening to others :)

  49. Christina

    This is absolutely fair. Stealing and image is stealing an image.
    Copyright belongs to the owner of the photograph – which in 99% of cases is the Photographer, the person who pushed the button.

  50. Natalie

    I’m so sorry that happen to you. I can only imagine how stressful that was :( Thank you for sharing experience and informations with us. I’ll share your story to spread the word.

  51. Camillia

    My goodness. I’m so sorry you had to go through that traumatic experience but thank you for sharing this. I take photos from Google all the time. I never knew that it was that dangerous. I’m going to stop that immediately. Just wondering though, do you know anything about taking GIFS from say Tumblr? Is that still illegal? Also if you credit the source, does that absolve you from blame?

  52. RandiG at FrugElegance

    So sorry you went through this experience. But extremely thankful that you decided to post about it. Many will learn from your lesson. I will be pinning on my “blogging how to” board. Thanx so much for sharing!!

  53. Jayne

    Canva.com is also a good option. They have many, many free pieces or you purchase some images for 1.00 each.

  54. Vicky @ Avocdo Pesto

    Have also learned this lesson the hard way! Same thing happened a few years back on one of my travel sites! Definitely not taking any images from google again!!!

  55. Joanne

    What a horrid experience, thanks for sharing and helping us bloggers stay on the right path x

  56. Kristy as Giftie Etcetera

    I happen to be an attorney and a blogger. I thought your willingness to share your story was both helpful to me as a blogger and classy.

    I take my own pictures, but I still worry about this.

  57. Julia Flaherty

    Would you suggest going through old posts and taking them down if they contain images that potentially fit this category, or removing them? What sort of measures should bloggers take when it comes to their archives?

    • Chrystie

      Yes! You can never be too safe! This image was found 6 months after I posted it!

  58. Carri

    Here’s the thing that always confounds me…. how in the world do they find a photo of theirs on anyone’s blog ? I mean I’m guessing there’s a ton of folks who have or do the same thing… how do they find them ? I’m a blogger and a small business owner and I know people in my line of work are always arguing about “should or should I not” use copyrighted work…I don’t because I’m also a professional photographer and I wouldn’t want my copyrighted work used without my permission….but I would no more than a man in the moon have time to search the internet to check to make sure no one’s using any of my photographs. Seems his scam must be a full time job. So sorry for your experience…but thanks for your lessons learned.

    • Kim

      There are reverse image searches that a photographer can use to find where their photos are being used without their permission. Unfortunately it’s necessary to do that because of the mistaken assumption that “if it’s on the internet, it’s free!” I’ve had hundreds of photos stolen – and even ran across people SELLING my work online. It’s frustrating.

      • Chrystie

        I’m sorry that has happened to you so often. My hope in writing this blog post was to help bloggers be aware of the ramifications, but also to prevent more unauthorized usage for photographers!

  59. Tara

    I can not believe this happened to you!!!! Thanks so much for the tip. I usually use Creative Common photos on FLickr. Never had a problem, but still, that’s crazy!

  60. Karl Drinkwater

    Thanks for sharing this. There are some pretty scummy people out there, but often the law is on their side, and its risks/penalties can far outweigh the seriousness of the issue. Those fees are ridiculous, I feel for you. Serious crimes have lower penalties than that.

    I’ve listed some other sources of images on my blog at http://karldrinkwater.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/sources-of-images.html, thought we should always double-check the licence.

    I’m angry and sorry for you! No-one should have to deal with sleazy copyright squatters with their honey-trap scams and the dodgy legal people who will act for them, and use laws even when they go against what’s moral. Law and morality aren’t the same thing. I’ll stop now, you have my sympathies.

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  62. Karl Drinkwater

    Further: some useful tips for dealing with these kinds of cases: http://artlawjournal.com/tips-responding-getty-images-demand-letter/

  63. Alison

    Interesting…Wonder if you had linked back the photographer or the source if they could have sued you. I guess if you don’t have permission it doesn’t matter either way?

    • Chrystie

      Exactly! Should’ve never used it in the first place.

    • Julie

      Based on the questionable (at best) actions of essential blackmail by the lawyer, after she removed the photo, I’d say yes they absolutely would have done the same thing either way. A link back to the photographer or a credit line ONLY are enough if the photographer expressly agrees to that beforehand. Otherwise it falls back into the “theft” pile, and a link back to the photographer doesn’t matter at all.

  64. Patti P

    Thanks for sharing this. As someone who wants to expand my blog this year, this is very useful information to have.

  65. Katie Vance

    Hey Laura, great post and good warnings! I’m curious – do you know if the images on Google labeled for reuse with modification are still no-gos for blogs?

  66. Jenn

    Yes… This is too familiar. Had a thumbnail of a baby on a site from 2009! Not more than 3 hits on the page and 6 years later guess what! Same thing. Managed to get them down too but still. It is legal extortion!

  67. marshall

    Great article and thanks for sharing! I’m assuming the same principles/rules apply if you’re using Google images for presentation slides you create?

  68. Chrisy @ Homemade Hooplah

    This happened to another blogger I know. It’s a hard, costly lesson :(

  69. Edgar

    Good stuff learnt something. but what about people from other country, u cant bring ppl thats not in US to court no?

  70. betty

    Hi, thank you so much for your post. Sorry for what happened to you.
    I wanted to know if I removed the images before they realize and send me the warning letter, will they still have a case against me? I have realized even after removing some images I thought were free, when I search the information on the photos, I still see the link to my blog. What can I do to be sure that once I have deleted the images I will be safe?

  71. Melissa B

    Something like this happened locally and they had to pay up. Heed this advice! It’s only a matter of time before other lawyers find the same profitability factor.

  72. Maria Longhi

    I am a photographer and I think that what they did to you was very wrong. I have had people take my photos, and as long as they do not say they shot the image and is not on there photography site, I really do not have a problem with it. If they are making money on the photo that is a different story.

  73. Jackie Rose

    omg I normally take from google images too, I remember Perez Hilton had a similar situation in the past…I think I will need to quit doing that…

  74. Joe Photographer

    PLEASE STEAL MY PHOTOS. I want to make some real money.

    Chrystie thanks for posting your troubles. Hopefully people will learn from your lesson.
    I suspect I know the attorney you referred to because she specializes in photography legalities.

    Just for peoples info. It is real easy to find pictures that others have stolen, see tineye.com or google images.

    Yes, even photographers are known for stealing others work. Check out to see what goes out there.
    http://stopstealingphotos.com/

    Good luck to everybody and stay safe in 2016 –

  75. Rick

    I would have either ignored the email as that is not enforceable. One could simply say I’ve never received the email. And if that didn’t work, use the bankruptcy card.

    I think lawyers in general are, well I’m not going to say what I think. But this was/is clearly a chase of cyber ambulance-chasing. And a good lawyer could have ripped this other lawyer to pieces based upon present phishing practices.

  76. Beks Ho

    Oh Chrystie! I am so sorry this happened to you but good on you for putting your story out there for us other bloggers to learn from!!! There are some great stock image deals out there, particularly through app sumo for a deposit photo’s account – I stick with that but I was close to using a Googled image for a logo once.. easily done.

  77. Barbara Fisher

    Thanks for the tip. That is awful. I am brand new to blogging. I just posted my first today.

  78. Megan Vance

    So sorry for this. I only used a pic from the internet once on my blog and it messed up all the fonts for some reason. I like to use my own pics. But thanks for sharing, good to know.

  79. Kimba

    Christy, it can indeed happen to anyone. I used an image from Photopin, gave attribution, believed the image to be under a creative commons license – and cited that license. Too many details to add here, but the bottom line for me was that I ended up paying $300 for a one-time use license for an image of a squirrel. All the good intent in the world didn’t matter – I made a mistake and paid the price. It is not an urban myth: there are companies, hired by photographers, who crawl the internet looking for misuse of images. If you blog, proceed with caution and an over-abundance of caution. I chose to pay rather than risk going to court. Could I have won – maybe. Would I have paid more than $300 in lawyers fees – most definitely.

  80. Skeptical

    Did this really happen or did you read an article about Getty images and decide to blog that it happened to you because you needed blogging material? I just went to go do some research and it’s a clear cut extortion scam that can easily be dunked! In fact, it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen! Any attorney would have said you’re only going to pay the fair market value because that’s what a court will rule on so, if you found three other photos for sale just like the green pepper, and they sell for $4 guess what will be awarded? Seems this is a bait and extort tactic you fell victim to as this is money grab that preys on the unknowing like you for income. An attorney would smell through it. My ex husband is an intellectual property attorney and I called him immediately and shared your blog with him his words “if she went to an attorney I doubt it.” he said your attorney should have found out if in fact they actually held the rights, and then discussed fair market value. He said at that point they most likely would have slithered away when they realized they were going to file thousands in court fees only to be awarded a few dollars. Still, the information her is very valuable! Do not take pictures from Google as it could cost you, especially if it’s a professional photographer who’s fair market value will genuinely be in the hundreds.

    • Chrystie

      I assure you it REALLY did happen and I have all of the correspondences to prove it. The photographer did indeed have the rights to the photograph with the USPTO and YES if it had gone to court things may have gone in my favor, but what I was unwilling to do was take the risk that I would also end up with the court costs, which is why I settled it as soon as I could.

    • mimi

      It’s not just about the fair market value, but the courts can also impose fines on you for copyright infringement i.e. your penalty for breaking the law. I’m surprised your husband didn’t mention that.

  81. vivianna

    So thankful I read this! Thank you for sharing & being so honest Chrystie!

  82. a wanderer

    The tone of this article and comments of ‘sorry this happened to you’ as if you were a passive victim are rather irksome.

    Our content gets taken a lot — and it’s not just dumb bloggers but newspapers, study abroad programs, academics and in one case, a multi-million dollar company.

    Imagine trying to keep a store in the black when people come in and steal your products whenever they want. Our content sometimes ranks higher on other websites who are using it without permission. Sometimes the people who take it are our direct competitors, selling the same products.

    This means we’re earning less than we should for years of labor. Suing copyright infringers is a much better more viable way to make money. I don’t blame the guy for suing, and what he did was perfectly legal.

    • Hannah

      Exactly. I am irked by the tone of this blog, calling a photographer shady for taking legal action when someone stole his copyrighted content. I also find it hard to believe that Christy was unaware that her actions were theft. Anyone on the internet for more than five minutes knows that.

  83. Chet

    Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell someone!

  84. AnAmericanHomestead

    This is a racket…but a legal racket. What these people are doing is scaring people out of their money. They start with a high dollar amount and settle for less. It’s within their rights to go after you in court but THEY WILL NOT DO IT!

    I had classes about this in college and what is considered “fair Use” and what is not. If you were using their image to sell your product…you’d be in trouble at court. However, if you were using their green pepper image to describe green peppers…the judge would probably dismiss the case and reprimand them for clogging up his docket with crap cases.

    Large corporations have the money and lawyers to go after people who use their copyrighted images to sell other products and they do so often. What these people did to you is send you a bunch of paperwork and legal docs to scare you and it worked.

    But, To actually go after you, they would have to travel to your district court, file the paperwork for that particular district and then track you down and give you a subpoena. No big deal for a large corp. But for a racket like this…they are not going to go through that mess for a picture of a green pepper that cannot guarantee a favorable ruling in a district court where their lawyer would be considered an outsider.

    They are simply after your money and counting on the fact that all of their paperwork is going to scare you….so they ask upfront for a large amount and settle for less. Easy money.

    I mostly use my own images for our blog. Most of the other images I pull from the web I alter with text. But if this were me, I’d tell them to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine and then just ignore any further emails. Maybe then even report their emails to known spammer networks.

    • Julie

      Altering a downloaded photo with text does not constitute ownership of the photo, so you’re still using photos that aren’t yours. For both your sake and for the sake of the photographers whose images cross your path, I hope you’re not taking ones that aren’t free content, or that you’re smart enough to get permission first. Just because the tactics used by this particular photographer and/or lawyer were bullying does NOT mean the law was not in fact on their side… They still owned the copyright. So to suggest telling someone to “stick it” when they request damages after you stole from them is pretty appalling. Whether they were A-holes in the way they did it or not (and they seemingly were) it doesn’t mean she didn’t break a law by taking and using the photo. Most photographers will just request someone take down the photo, but some out there push it further. And whether moral or not, whether ethical in their amount demanded or not, the attitude of “just take whatever photo you want and tell them to stick it if they have a problem with it” is just asking for trouble. And more than that, it also puts the person with that attitude in the camp of immoral and unethical JUST as much as these extortionists were.

    • mimi

      Read up on fair use. She was using the image of the pepper on a blog she profits from. If she stands to make any money in any way from the use of the image, it is most definitely not fair use.

  85. Michelle Meyer

    Thank you!

  86. Barbie

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, but so thankful you shared this information. First of all, why are people so sue happy? I mean you did the right thing as soon as you were contacted and took the photo down. I always use photos from UnSplash MorgueFile or other free sites, as well as creative commons on Flickr. The scary thing about that is sometimes people use other people’s images on Flickr and put them into their own galleries.

    • Mick

      She didn’t do the right thing in the first place!
      If I steal from a supermarket, the when caught I offer to simply return the product do you think the owner won’t call the cops?
      She is a cheapskate, and is still telling folks to try run their blogs/businesses by using free stuff instead of supporting the creative industry!

      There is also a massive amount of mis-information here, stealing a picture and giving credit will not keep you out of court.

  87. Kaitlyn S.

    Thanks for the link to the free site! http://www.pexels.com is another great one for free stock photos but they are limited so I’m always looking for more!

  88. J4L4N

    I’m glad you learned your lesson and were willing to warn others. STEALING is illegal. If you want to do it and use the “everyone else is doing it” excuse you can’t be surprised if you get caught and have to pay. Simple lesson, don’t take ANYTHING that doesn’t belong to you.

  89. Chelsie

    I know I did this when I first started blogging because I just had no idea about the legalities of it all! I definitely am working on going back and taking care of those first posts! I’m so sorry this happened to you, but I’m glad you are sharing this experience with us so that others can avoid making this mistake!

  90. Sammy

    Oh my gosh you poor thing what a horrible and expensive experience to have been through. I’m glad you continued to blog and do what you love as i’m sure most others would pack up shop and been discouraged to continue.
    Thank you for sharing this.
    Regards Sammy

  91. David

    Could have been much worse – here’s a “photo of a stinkin’ pepper” – sold at auction for $341,000. http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/photographs-n09129/lot.24.html

    Your blaming the owner of the copyright for running a scam sounds like blaming the vegetable stand guy for putting a table on the street where passersby can easily steal his produce.

  92. Jill Levenhagen

    Sorry, I left out the colon in my web address in my previous comment so it doesn’t link to me. Here is the link to the free photos: http://www.jilllevenhagen.com/shop

  93. Danielle Smith

    I appreciate you sharing this and reminding writers/bloggers that while there ARE photos available for stock use online, simply typing your preferred photo in to search is NOT an option.

    I have been on the other side of this, having had photos stolen (family pictures) and used for large scale advertising in other countries, on websites for everything from dentist’s offices to domain services and even other bloggers have used our pictures to sell holiday cards and other personalized items.
    (This was the first time it happened to me in 2008: http://www.extraordinarymommy.com/stolen-picture/)

    While it seems clear the owner of the green pepper photograph is angling for it to be taken, and the cost is unfortunately steep, sometimes hiring an attorney is the only way to protect your property. Just looking through the comments here, there are a large number of people producing content online who appear to have been previously unaware that simply Googling an image, right clicking, saving and reposting is not only unacceptable, but illegal.

  94. Jill Levenhagen

    I am going to share this on both my pages (photography site & blogging tips).
    I wanted you to know that I offer free stock photos on my site. Around 900. Maybe some of you will find some you can use there. They are great for blogging. And I love leaving negative space for text. :)

  95. ann

    This is scary, occasionally, I have used a photo. Sometimes there are photos that cannot be “borrowed.” I always credit them.

    I also have many photos that google has used. I don’t see any one being paid for.

    I will just as a caution, not use google photos.

  96. Angie @ My So-Called Chaos

    This is REALLY important information to share, and I’m so glad you did! I read this and shared it a few nights ago. It’s so crazy!

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  98. Angie

    Thank you so much for posting this! I will share your story with my middle school students – as part of a digital citizenship lesson – and all my colleagues at school.

  99. Dereco Cherry

    That sucks you had to go through this just for a stock photo. What’s worse is that people intentionally set out to set people up like this. I heard this was possible but never knew anyone had gotten sued over a picture.

    On my blog I take all my pictures for it with my smart phone and edit them myself. They might not be the best but they work and I don’t ever have to worry about someone saying I used theirs.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Hopefully more bloggers see this and learn from your experience.

  100. Mickie

    Chrystie–thanks for sharing your story. I can imagine how difficult that was to share. I work with teachers and we talk all the time about copyright. They always think, “That can’t happen to me.” The truth is, it can. I’m so sorry you had that experience but thank you so much for sharing your story. We are all better because you chose to be brave and share!

  101. Peter Carey

    Another option, if you have an image you really love and works perfectly for your piece, is to use a service like Tineye.com or the original location Google indicated (it’s on the right side of the image screen when you do an image search). If the image came from a photographer’s site, simply ask them to use the image and you will be in the clear. If they say No, then don’t. If they don’t answer, then don’t.

    I allow bloggers to use my images for free when the intended use is personal and not for profit. This means a post about how you love green peppers would be fine. But a post about how you are now selling green peppers would not. When someone actually takes the time to ask for permission via my contact page, I almost come to tears that someone realizes I put in effort to create that image and it’s polite to ask permission before you use other people’s stuff.

    The short of it: Any image you snap is owned by you and you control the copyright (or, the right to copy it). The same goes for all images. You can’t use them unless the owner say it’s okay via something like a Creative Commons license (of which, there are many) or clearly stating it is free for us.

    Beware of some free sites as they scrape hard working photographer’s sites an offer something they don’t own.

    Use Google image search, go to the page hosting the image (hint, it’s NOT Google) and ask.

    I’m sorry this creep got his talons on you and thank you for trying to educate others about proper image use.

  102. Janet

    There is an option under Google Images. Always be sure to select: Search Tools –> Usage Rights –> Labelled for Reuse

    http://onehourprofessor.com/what-does-labeled-for-reuse…/

  103. Gene Turnbow

    Next time, be aware that there are procedures for having copyrighted work removed from infringing web sites, as very specifically defined by the DMCA. This person apparently did not follow them; additionally, they would have to be able to prove damages caused by your inadvertent use of the image, and that you intended to infringe. You can’t just pull a number out of thin air and invoice somebody. Even had you retained an attorney, you would probably have paid less than half what you actually paid. Instead, you rolled over and did exactly what they were hoping you would do, which is instantly capitulate and pay them some ridiculous amount of money for a single photograph of a common green pepper.

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