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Borrowing pictures can be costly

When I bought my new-build house, the surveyor carefully measured the distance from the building to the road, telling me that there were regulations governing how close it could be, and that I didn’t want to be in contravention of those. I said that if there was a problem, surely the powers-that-be would have raised it by now. He smiled, telling me that the land around here belongs to the local university, and “They like to play the long game”.

Apparently, if they point out any issues like this while a house is being built, the problems get fixed. If they point them out ten or twenty years later, there’s some serious compensation to be paid.

Patent ‘trolls’ do something similar. Point out that someone’s new product infringes a patent when the product is launched, and there may be some compensation. But by doing so, you might stop it from ever taking off. Wait for the product to become a worldwide success, and it’s a whole different story.

All of which is a long way round to telling you about a legal difficulty which someone I know has just encountered. They’ve received – out of the blue – a large financial demand for using a copyright photo on their website. All they probably did was to repurpose an image harmlessly found through Google search, without any malicious intent. But they’ve been caught bang to rights.

Of course, it’s not the original photographer who’s going around issuing these legal demands. A big photo library which has bought the rights is, some time later, systematically trawling the internet looking for other people using its images. By doing this on a large scale, they can afford the legal fees involved, and the profits must be adding up.

While it’s impossible to defend stealing other people’s work, using bullying legal tactics to get money out of small businesses is repellent. Check what’s on your website, and don’t feed the trolls.