Jonathan Appleby, Copytrack.com 2018
Copytrack know all too well that managing content online can seem like nothing but a mess. 85% of online images are used without a licence showing serious work needs to be done to combat digital image theft. Internet users are often left confused when talking about copyright online, especially when trying to get their heads around rights of use – “It’s free to use, right?” It’s vital to understand when you can and can’t share images online to prevent digital theft. This leads to interesting excuses created to deny digital image theft.
But why is digital image theft online so common? Why is little done to prevent it? Despite it being easy to obtaining digital content, it is copyrighted and has to be paid for- shock horror. To help us understand what the hell’s going on, new author and long-time lawyer Marie Slowioczek-Mannsfeld has come to the rescue. Together with Robert Golz she has written the book How to use Photos Legally Online (FotosRechtssicherNutzenIm Internet) that finally outlines all the dos and don’ts when it comes to obtaining and using content online. This is what Marie had to say to Copytrack about image theft online.
Do we all have to pay for images that we share online?
Whoever earns money only should be sure that they’re not infringing on other’s rights. This is especially valid for someone who is using the images on products. It’s just not a question about being fair to the photographer, but also infringing copyright can be expensive, annoying, and take time to resolve. This is where the book comes in, it helps ensure image users avoid these issues, when you know the rules.
The biggest misconceptions when it comes to digital content
The biggest misconception is that everything available on the Internet is for free. Many internet users think that everything they find on Google can be copied and used without further ado. A common misunderstanding is also that copyright notice is needed to protect a picture. That is not true. A photo is also protected without copyright notice. Another common misconception is that you can use an image if you give the source. This is true in a few exceptions, but in most cases, it is not correct.
Why is content online stolen so often?
Because it’s so easy. On the Internet you have constant access to everything 24/7. All you have to do is enter a search term in Google and you will get the image you are looking for, which can then be downloaded quickly and in good quality. You don’t have to register, you don’t have to pay anything. And all this takes just a few minutes. And often there is a lack of knowledge that images are also protected by copyright online.
Why do you think digital theft isn’t taken as seriously compared to theft in the real world?
I think that’s because of two things. On the one hand, image theft is very widespread on the Internet – it is considered a trivial offence. On the other hand, this is in the nature of the digital world. If you steal a carpenter’s furniture- it’s gone. He worked for nothing. If you steal a digital image from a photographer’s website, at first glance they don’t have any damage at all. The picture’s still there, he can sell it on. It’s just a copy after all. One can already imagine: Why does the photographer act like this in the first place? The fact that the photographer makes a living selling prints or copies of his photos is often not thought of.
What are your top tips for business looking to utilize images for their businesses?
Do not rely on free image databases on the Internet. If you want to use photos commercially, spend some money and purchase a license from a reputable agency. If there is something wrong with the rights to the image, you can take recourse at the agency if necessary. And if you buy images from an agency, make yourself familiar with the license terms. Agencies are subject to severe penalties for violating the license terms. Often there are also good overviews, which summarize the rights of use in detail.
“The internet/technology is developing faster than the laws that govern it.” In the future, do you think the law will ever be able to govern the internet affectively without restricting its users?
The legal system is a lengthy one, especially if it works internationally, for example at European level. That is why the legislature cannot react so quickly to any change or new invention. I am positive, however, that one day it will be possible to regulate the Internet in a sensible way. If we look at what has happened in recent years, we are probably on the right track. In addition, there is also the further development of the law by the courts. However, as long as there are still questions about the tolerability of framing, so there is still a lot to be done.
“…no one likes it
when they’re proven wrong.
A lot of digital image theft is
not committed with intention,
but instead a result of a lack
Law varies from country to country; however, the internet is a global body. What kind of issues does this create and what can be done to resolve them?
A picture that is used illegally on the Internet can be accessed around the clock from anywhere in the world. That begs the question: Where did the infringement actually happen? The answer to this question is important, because it determines not only the law under which the use of images must be examined, but also which court has local jurisdiction. However, the question is often not so easy to answer. This is definitely a problem of the global nature of the Internet. Once the applicable law has been determined, the principles of copyright law are internationally similar, but the laws differ in detail. A clearly infringing act in Germany, for example, can be completely legal in the Netherlands. Finally, of course, the question of the amount of damages is also open. For example, Austrian copyright law stipulates that the author may claim twice or their appropriate remuneration as compensation for damages. German law does not recognize such a doubling. All this requires special knowledge, which can often only be assessed correctly by an expert. This often makes cross-border enforcement of copyright infringements cumbersome and expensive.
It would be great if copyright law were to be standardized internationally. But this should remain a dream. It would already be helpful, if the copyright law would have been as evolved as the trademark law, which has been harmonised throughout Europe. When it comes to copyright law, there are some approaches and guidelines at European level, but we are far from being standardized.
Will the internet ever be a safe place to share work, or is the risk just part of the internet’s nature?
Pictures will always be stolen on the internet. However, I think that the advantages of presenting and offering your own pictures to a photographer on the Internet outweigh the disadvantages of digital image theft. It is not the case that photographers are completely unprotected. There are technical possibilities to prevent image theft in different ways. It’s there at the photographer to figure it out. You don’t leave your front door unlocked.
At copytrack we work to try to make the internet a fairer place, and help ensure photographers get paid for their work. However, we’re often met with a lot retaliation, and called scammers, why do you think people react in this way?
Firstly, no one likes it when they’re proven wrong. A lot of digital image theft is not committed with intention, but instead a result of a lack of knowledge. This means many image users have no guilt about using the images and become a little sceptical when someone tells them that they have broken the law. As well as that there are many scammers online, who are always trying to convince gullible people out of their money. So actually, it’s completely understandable that people are sceptical when a service like Copytrack approach them asking them for money. Often, however, even after the explanation of the facts of a case, there is a lack of the empathy and understanding. There is still a lot of educational work needs to be done.
Marie Slowioczek-Mannsfeld is the Head of Legal at Copytrack, and has been working with intellectual copyright for over 4 years.
More information and a sample reading of her book can be found on the publisher’s homepage (German only): Fotosrechtssichernutzenim Internet