Website owners are battling or quietly settling an increasing number of copyright infringement claims for images posted without permission. To avoid such claims, webmasters should be careful to make sure they have the proper permission from the copyright owner. Just because an image is on the Internet and easy to cut and paste from another website, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites does not mean it can be re-used without permission. Images are protected even if they do not display the symbol ©. Save yourself headaches and legal fees by first going through the proper channels to obtain the clearances you need to use others’ images. This article focuses on copyright issues but depending on how a photograph is used on your website, other permissions may be needed. For example, publicity rights laws may require that you obtain permission from the people in the photograph, and trademark laws may require permission from the owner of any logo or branding appearing in the photo.
In a case titled Garcia v. Google, Inc., 12-57302, the recent ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers nine states, including California) suggests that an actor has a protectable copyright in the recording of his or her performance. In this case, Cindy Lee Garcia was hired and paid to act in a film entitled “Desert Warrior.” Ms. Garcia’s role was minimal. She was given only 4 pages of script and filmed for 3 ½ days. While “Desert Warrior” was never released, the film’s writer and producer dubbed over Ms. Garcia’s performance and included it in a different film called “Innocence of Muslims.” “Innocence of Muslims” was posted on YouTube. The context in which Ms. Garcia’s performance appeared in the film was interpreted as anti-Muslim by the Muslim community. Following the film’s release and posting on YouTube, Ms. Garcia received death threats. Despite Ms. Garcia’s numerous requests to Google that it remove “Innocence of Muslims” from YouTube, Google refused.
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