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Beware the illegal use of photos on websites

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: April 24, 2012

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ARE you using images on your website illegally? We have seen a sharp rise in cases involving illegal use of copyright in photos and other images on websites. The upward trend is likely to continue as more and more websites are created – one estimate suggests around 21.5 million new sites were set up in 2010 alone.

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

DARE is a charity that helps youngsters to resist peer pressure to take drugs. They employed web 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 four-year period over which the infringement took place.

It is always advisable to be careful when commissioning a website or advertising. Using an external agency to handle the work 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.

● Partner Paul Gordon is an experienced litigator who has acted for many large national and international corporate organisations. More of Paul's articles and advice can be found on our website www.willans.co.uk/news/.

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