Web Designer used images without paying... Now Client is being sued?

Hi everyone,

Just need some advice/opinions on the following:

A client came to my company asking for a website. I hired a freelance web designer to do it and the freelancer used images from Corbis Images without paying (but i was not aware of this).

The client is happy, pays for the website and then around a year later Corbis Images files a law-suit with the client claiming that he has stolen images and demands £1,800.

Client, annoyed, comes to me… So what should i do? I told the client that a web designer i used on the project did this and i was not aware of it… but i would still pay for it out of my own pocket… As i believe that is the fair thing to do?

I just want some advice though on the following:

  1. Corbis Images says that even if you remove the images (which we have done once we became aware) it is too late and you still have to pay them the money… Is that true, can they do that?

  2. Is there any other way the client (or in this case me) wont have to pay the money?

Any other advice on what you think should be done would help.

It’s also a bit annoying that corbis images are not watermarked… so unlike istockphoto you know if you haven’t paid for it (as it has a watermark)… but with corbis images there was no way of knowing…

Does your contract have anything in relation to your liability (with the freelancer?) if it were me I would pass on the infringement to the source of the problem as technically it was not you whom committed the offence, though ultimately your probably liable for the responsibility as the employer.

The freelancer wasn’t employed by me and there was no contract. It was just a really small and simple typical 5-page static website and all the details were written in writing (via e-mail).

Then I would say the liability probably falls upon you (as whom the client employed to produce the site) sorry but I think on this case your going to have to pay out.

If i have to pay i will pay. But it just feels unfair that a company can just go ahead and sue someone who hasn’t done anything wrong on purpose.

After doing some extensive research i found out im not the only one they have been suing. They have been suing a lot of other companies too for using images they didn’t know belonged to them…

Also In the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 under section 97 i foudn out it says:

97.-(1) Where in an action for infringement of copyright it is shown that at the time of the infringement the defendant did not know, and had no reason to believe, that copyright subsisted in the work to which the action relates, the plaintiff is not entitled to damages against him, but without prejudice to any other remedy.

So if the client wasn’t aware of using copyrighted images (which he wasn’t) and he has removed them as soon as he become aware, surely they can’t do anything?

Damages would mean money over and above the basic cost of the use of such images to reimburse the photographer for stress/grief etc.

It does not mean you don’t owe the photographer, or in this case, the agent representing the photographer, money for using the images in advertising which will now be backdated. You could still be sued for damages if the images were used in an offensive way, or an image of a person appeared that you did not pay to use, each web site holds a signed model release for each image of a person, but because you didn’t purchase a license to use the image, you could be in trouble with the models too, because you have used the image without agreeing to the terms and conditions of download (eg. most web sites specifically state in the terms of download that images of models must be accompanied by a note stating they do not endorse the product or service)

When I bill my clients, I include a stock photography fee, it’s quite low because I use microstock web sites, and it means if anyone threatens to sue anyone, they can defer to me legally, since they paid for images in good faith (and they have proof they paid me for images), and I can then provide proof that I purchased a license for the image. I’m afraid it is up to you to know these things as a designer.

Whether the client is liable, or you are, well, do you really want to tell your client that you feel confident he would win if he went to court? You would make your client stand in court with his fingers crossed??? Not a good business idea, if I were you, I would pay the money instantly to Corbis, ask them for a receipt, and a letter stating they are happy the matter has been resolved. And then write a formal and crawling apology to your client that you made an oversight with terrible consequences, that you absolutely accept responsibility for it, and you apologise for any undue stress caused by the situation, that you have now resolved…

That’s what I would do anyway… good luck!

Copyright infringement occurred at the time a copy of their image was published without their permission. Taking it down does not retroactively erase the infringement that occurred.

It’d be an interesting justice system that allowed that. Crime is OK as long as you stop when asked? So I can beat you over the head with a baseball bat, and it’s OK as long as I stop after you inform me that I cannot do that.

Only if Corbis is willing to settle, it’s up to them, they have the right to sue if you don’t pay.

Pay up and make sure to never let this happen again. If you’re going to outsource work for a client, then make sure any images used in the work you receive are legally licensed, that you have proof of this license, and that this license allows the way you are using and transferring the images.

iStockPhoto images aren’t watermarked… not after you pay for them. The only time you see an iStockPhoto watermark on a site other than iStockPhoto is where someone illegally used the image out of the catalog without buying it.

First post, and you’ll understand why…

I am self employed engineer, sole trader. I commissioned a web designer to do me a little web site. I have just received a demand from Getty Images for the use of one of their images, a similar letter to the case above. And yes, I now know that there is a stolen image on my site that I have asked to be removed asap.

It would seem from reading above, that I will have to pay.

My questions are:
Would I be able to reclaim this from my designer?
Is this the sort of thing I might claim off my insurance? (I know I’ll have to, and will read the small print for the ultimate answer)

Most likely, if you were to sue him, but you’d want to ask a lawyer first, and bring a copy of your contract with the designer.

This analogy is wrong as copyright infringement is not a crime but a civil offense :wink:

Not it isn’t a wrong analogy. Both are against the law it is just that the police are expected to enforce one category of law and it is left to the individual to enforce the other. Who is supposed to enforce a particular law doesn’t change whether it is legal or not.

Copyright infringement is both a crime and a civil offense in the US and other countries.

The start of every VHS, DVD and BluRay movie in our country has this message:

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Wow, That really sucks but I feel you will be the one holding the bag on this one. You might want to try and settle with them. As in talk them down on what they are asking for. Please let us know how this turns out.

You might want to take some time to read http://www.sitepoint.com/forums/showthread.php?t=445041&highlight=corbis about Corbis and Getty cracking down.

Wow, what a blow to have to pay out that much money when you didn’t know the images were stolen. I have to agree that ultimately it would be your responsibility. I would personally contact an attorney that is familiar with internet rules and regulations before I paid. Good luck and be more careful in the future about who you hire.

violation of the 1988 Act can be a criminal offence - IF that offence is proved beyond all reasonable doubt. In the case of Gettys’ spurious claims that can and never will happen, not least of all as there are so many ‘doubts’.
In civil law getty potentially have a claim however with getty there is a huge problem of correct indentification of ownership of the image as their Company structure and subsequent mergers (with a basic lack of legal assignments for many images) are so flawed as to make proof of ownership impossible. If you take a closer look at their enforcement letter try and indentify which company has sent it. Getty ltd of Ireland? Getty Ltd of london? Getty Images in the US? etc
Their letters are designed to trap the unwary. Best advice is to ignore it. They did spread a rumour around the net they had successfully sued a london Haulage firm for copyright infringement. Some gullible journalists/bloggers published that story however to date i still have not found any court record or reliable source that Getty succeeded - any help?

Regardless of whether it was on purpose or not, you essentially sold stolen images and that’s in violation of copyright laws. It’s unfortunate that you didn’t know that it was happening, but you still need to take responsibility for what you did.

After all, you were acting as a professional web designer and had no problem accepting payment for your work. Thus, it’s reasonable for you to be expected to understand the basic laws and policies that govern use of images, etc.

If you have to pay and can prove that you had real monetary damages, you could probably recover that loss from the designer who actually ripped the image.

Darn, that is a tough situation. You should contact your contractor regardless and ask them where they got the image from. I would ask Corbis what damages they have suffered as a result. They contacted you and you removed it, if they didn’t suffer any damages it may cost them more to go to court. Look up their company see if they have any lawsuits like this and if they’ve won or lost. You may be able to find public records of any possible cases. If they have lost many times or haven’t sued anyone before then you have a better possibility to settle with no payment.

That is a fascinating legal analysis, but don’t you think that Corbis would claim that their damages consist of the value of the stolen images, plus the reduction in value of those images as they’ve been further used publicly, plus their legal expenses?

You’d probably have better luck paying Corbis then suing the contractor, or just trying to stall/get out of the Corbis legal problem on something technical.

Asking Corbis what their damages are seems like an odd thing to do as it’s pretty clear what they would say.

Well wouldn’t it depend on the respected value of what the images are worth? Like if they’re barely worth anything to begin with how can a couple thousand dollars of damages be applicable aside from lawyer fees?

Worst case scenario, couldn’t Corbis also then sue him as he is affiliated with the infringed party, so it may be best for him to keep his presence unknown to them?