by John Eberhard

I want to warn my readers about a new trend that is happening with regard to the Internet.

When content is copyrighted, such as written text and pictures, that means that the copyright owner has the sole right to use that content. And if someone else uses it, he has the right to demand that they stop using it, and he has the right to demand that the other person pay him money for each use of the copyrighted material.

Technically, a person who wants to copyright something has to fill out a copyright form and submit that to the Library of Congress. But for practical purposes, all they really need to do to be able to support their claim to a copyright for content on the web, is to put a notice on the bottom of the page that the page is copyrighted.

I have seen that many people think that they can “borrow” content from other web sites, by copying and pasting written text, or downloading photos or other graphics. And I know this practice is widespread.

Over the last two years I have seen several instances where a person or company did this – borrowed content from another web site – and then were later threatened suit by the original owner of the copyrighted content. And the monetary demands were not small. In most cases in the $2,000 range or more.

Owners of stock photography sites, where you pay a fee for the use of a copyrighted photograph, have been doing this for years, i.e. locating people who had used their photos without paying money, then demanding money from those people. But lately I have seen owners of other web sites taking the time to try to locate people who had used their copyrighted content, then hiring a lawyer to send that person a demand for money.

We could comment on why this is happening now. Maybe it has something to do with the state of economy. Who knows? But the point is that borrowing copyrighted content from other web sites has now become a very dangerous practice. Search engines make it relatively easy for someone to search for their written text content, or even for the names of photo files if the borrower did not change the file name.

So the upshot of all this is to realize that you CANNOT use written text or photo or graphic content from other web sites, whether they show a copyright notice or not.

Secondly, I recommend that anyone who has borrowed written text or graphics from other web sites, spend the time to search through and remove it from any of their online content. I am not a lawyer so if you think you have a potential liability, you might want to consult a specialized copyright attorney (they are not cheap).

Good News

The good news is that there are a number of sites where you can find free photos for use on your web sites and blog posts. I use a site called Stock Xchange (www.sxc.hu) which offers free stock photos and has a lot of content.

Over the past several years I have purchased a lot of photos from iStock Photo (www.istockphoto.com) because they started out with very low prices, usually $2-5 per photo. In the last year, however, they have started dramatically raising their prices. So I have not been too happy about that. Then lately I found a site called 123RF (www.123rf.com) which has lower prices like iStock did in the beginning.

There is also a concept called "creative commons" with photo sharing sites, where people can upload their photos and allow others to use the photos for commercial purposes. Flickr has a creative commons area, where you can download photos and use for commercial purposes. And there is a lot of content there.

Here is a helpful article on creative commons: