Question: Is it illegal to post a screenshot of a site without their permission?

I know this is probably a gray area and it’s one of those questions that will receive the answer “ask a lawyer” but the reason I ask if because I got a few emails today threatening to sue for $250k/per “infringement”. So, what defines copyright infringement? If it’s publicly viewable anyways how is against the law to take a snapshot and display it? Also, I thought copyright infringement dealt with profiting from their work, no? If I were to take a picture of a BMW or a Coke can and post it online is that against the copyright laws? :goof:

If your snapshot has the website’s contents, then it is copyright infrigement. Not a lot of sites make a big deal out of it, but if they do, they can make millions :).

I wouldn’t take risks like that, and get rid of their snapshot because the don’t deserve the attention.

It’s one of those weird things because I see thumbnails everyone of sites. Google images for example, what about the snapshot that Alexa has or Ask.com? Oh well, I’ve added a way for people to request a removal, you’re right it’s not worth the headache.

When in doubt, always ask for their permission!

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections § 106 and § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

   1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
   2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
   3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
   4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

–Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107

The key is in how you’re using the screenshot. If you’re using it, for example, as an example of a good (or bad) design, that would be considered criticism or comment. You’d have a strong defense for your use of the image. It is, however a defense, not an immunity.

As for the letters you received: I don’t see where you’re located, but based on the use of dollars as the monetary unit, I’ll assume you’re in the US.

First of all, who sent the letter and how was it worded? Did it come from an individual or from a law firm? Was it a “I’m gonna sue!” letter, a formal Cease & Desist, or a DMCA takedown notice? The first is nothing more than a warning (or threat); the second is a formal request (or threat) which, by itself, carries no authority but can be used as proof of due diligence (and therefor work against you) if the case actually goes to court; the last carries full weight of law, and must be heeded–though it can be appealed.

Secondly, statutory damages are capped at $150,000 per work, and then only if a) the work is registered with the US Copyright Office, and b) the plaintiff can show willfull infringement (USC Title 17, § 504). A lawyer would know this.

(I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, just information. Use at your own risk. Do not use in a confined area. Use only under close adult supervision. Always wear a flotation device. etc., etc., etc.) :wink:

Also, I thought copyright infringement dealt with profiting from their work, no?

NO!
Creators of work have the right to determine how its used. You cannot simply say “I’m not profiting” and be home free.

Having said that I tend to think that showing a small (reduced size) screenshot would be considered fair use. There’s no clear rules for exactly what fair use is (parody and news generally) so if the site owners object you have the difficult task of proving fair use in court, which is almost certainly not worth the effort.

If I were to take a picture of a BMW or a Coke can and post it online is that against the copyright laws?
AFAIK in this case your photo is the work in question, and you would own the copyright. Even that could be open to interpretation. If you photographed the coke can so that it took up the entire shot, and was basically a direct reproduction of the design the Coca-Cola lawyers would no doubt have something to say about it :slight_smile:

No. You are the creator of the work, and the subjects of the work are not copyrightable. They are, however, trademarked so there are still limitations on what you can do with that image. Those limitations are substantially different than those of copyright law.

If, however, you take a photo of a painting (for example), that would be a derivative work (or a blatant copy, depending on circumstances, interpretation, and judges mood that day).

Unfortunately, there are not well-defined rules regarding fair use. High-powered lawsuits and unreasonable corporations/creators have been pushing copyright and fair use into the realm of the surreal over the past decade or so.

Whether you profit or not is irrelevant.

All I know is that you will never see a BMW or a Coke trademark in any photos from a stock image site (such as istockphoto). That should give you an indication that you are crossing into gray areas of the law where even istockphoto will not dare to tread.

Yes, and they get sued all the time. Just search engine “google sued thumbnails” and you will see. But they are big enough to afford being sued. The only reason why Google is now legally able to display thumbnail screen shots is because a site Perfect 10 had sued Google. But the judge ruled in Google’s favor under the “fair use” clause. Details here.