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Are you using images on your website illegally?

10 July 2012

Using images on your website without the permission of the person who owns the copyright can be risky and potentially expensive, as one charity discovered.

DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) works to help youngsters resist peer pressure to take drugs. The charity employed designers to create websites featuring, among other things, 19 photographs of amphetamines, cannabis, crack and other drugs.

The web designers sourced the images from a government-sponsored website, leading DARE to take the view that the pictures were ‘public property’ and they were therefore free to use them. In fact, the copyright had remained with the original photographer, David Hoffman. Mr Hoffman took the charity to court seeking recompense.

Generally speaking, someone claiming copyright infringement is entitled to either an account of profits or damages. In this case, David Hoffman opted for damages. The court agreed an award of £10,000 for the use of his work. This sum was based on what a willing photographer in Mr Hoffman’s position and a willing user in DARE’s position would have agreed on as a charge for using the pictures on the website.

The charity was also ordered to pay Mr Hoffman’s costs plus almost £2,500 in interest for the 4-year period over which the infringement took place.

It pays to be careful when commissioning a website or advertising. Even using an external agency will not necessarily get you off the hook if a claim goes to court, as the Hoffman case shows. If you are using photographs without the authority of the copyright owner, you could face the risk of having to account for your profits, or have to pay damages.

As always, if you need commercial and pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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