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Copyright: “Can I be sued for-” YES


(Usual disclaimer: I’m not your attorney and this isn’t legal advice.  All of this is very general ideas about legal principles that I’m just ranting about, and if you have questions, don’t “follow that lawyer blogging advice,” because this isn’t advice, it really is me ranting, go get a lawyer.)

Let’s get this out of the way up front, you can be sued for anything.  No, really, you can have done nothing wrong and have people sue you.  If it is truly legally baseless (as in, even if everything they are saying is true, they still don’t have a case) there are mechanisms in the legal system to use to get the tossed early on.  But if it’s even possibly a claim with a basis, you could be looking at a legal battle, and those ain’t cheap.

This is mostly focusing on bloggers and copyright law.  So you know where we’re going.

Yep, photos!

Yes, photos belong to someone, they are copyrighted as soon as they are created (basic rule of copyright, it’s copyrighted the second idea meets medium), and that owner has the right to control what happens with their work.

So when you’re blogging, where do you get your pics?  I bet you said, the internet, duh.  Yeahhhhhh, don’t.  No, really, just don’t.  Unless you get it from a site that very specifically is made as a photo dump where people can take and use as they please, you’re putting yourself at risk.

Don’t do it.

Get pics from those photo dump places or take what you need with your phone or get friend’s photos.  Ect…

So what if you’re going along, happily blogging, posting pics you find on the internet because hey, it’s the internet, and someone sends you a letter saying you infringed their photo?

Cue the panic.

Today in one of my writer groups, someone said she received an email saying she violated copyright by using such and such photo in 2014 and she needs to follow the link and pay them.

Yeah, sounds legit, sure, let me just fork over my money.

I’m not saying it was a phishing scheme, I’m just saying it smells worse than a fish market in July.

Most artists will send you a cease and desist letter.  They know this wasn’t on purpose, you just grabbed some image off the internet, and they’re willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Not all though.  Some will go for money right then and there, and yeah, if they have a case, your lawyer will probably recommend you settle.

But what about fair use, doesn’t that mean I can use stuff online as long as I’m not getting paid for it?

The short answer is no.

Fair use is an affirmative defense, that means if you go to court and you can prove all the elements of fair use then yeah, you could win and not have to pay anything.

Except those lovely lawyer bills.

Which gets into the heart of this little lecture.  Lawyers are expensive!  I’m not going to go into defending my profession and saying why we’re expensive, just accept that we are.

People run these schemes and sue with the barest bit of a legal claim because they know how expensive lawsuits are and that most people will settle.

Now, this is a horror story, compared to how many pics are floating around the net being used in violation of copyright, the odds of you getting nailed aren’t great, sure, but still.

Why take the chance?  Basically, yes, you can be sued, they might even have a good case, and it could take thousands to settle it, more than that to fight it.  And if you get some email saying go here and pay me money, talk to a lawyer, don’t just believe them, unless you’re absolutely positive this is legit…

Well, in that case, that Nigerian prince thanks you for your donation.


If you like my blog posts (and let’s face it, my snark) check out my books.  I’ve got Evie Jones and the Shadow of Chaos on a Kindle Countdown Deal for $.99.

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