Some time ago, out of the blue, we received a demand letter from a photo licensing company, requesting a license fee of thousands of dollars for use of a photo on a ClubExpress website. The story of this letter is an important lesson for every club admin because of the potential risk to your club that you might be asked to pay large licensing fees.
Using Google Image Search or similar services, it's easy to find photos on the Internet featuring almost any subject of interest. Once you find a photo, it's trivial to download it to your local hard disk, then upload it to your club's website.
Photos are copyrighted works, owned by the photographer and sometimes a photo licensing company. These firms (for example, Getty Images), build libraries of millions of photos which they then license out to magazines, advertisers, web designers and others for use in commercial works. License fees can run into the thousands of dollars depending on the resolution desired and on the intended purpose.
Many of these photos appear legitimately on websites because the website owner has licensed the photo and paid the appropriate fee.
The image file (usually a JPEG or PNG) is especially encoded by the photo licensing company. They also have bots which cruise the web looking for image files. When one is found, they download it and look for the encoding. If it's one that they license, they then check to see if you own a license and if you don't, the demand letter is generated.
People and organizations that use such photos without a license represent a significant source of revenue for these photo licensing companies and they will go after you aggressively.
ClubExpress is protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because we are considered to be an "Online Service Provider". We are not liable for violations done by our customers on their websites, even though these sites are hosted on our platform.
As administrators, please take a few moments to review all the photos uploaded to your websites, to ensure that you have permission from the photographer or the appropriate licenses to use these photos. Be sure to check page headers, content boxes and custom pages. You only need to worry about the public side of your site since bots have no way to view members-only content. And remind your members about these laws as well; a club could be held liable for the actions of its members!
Respecting copyrights is not only the law; it's also the right thing to do.