Images on the internet copyright-protected?

We’ve almost all done it: place an image that you found somewhere on the internet on your own (private) website or Facebook page. That seems harmless. There are so many freely accessible photos on the internet that it seems logical to assume that these can also be freely used by the public. But that is untrue. Most photos are copyright-protected. They can only be used by consent of the photographer (or another copyright holder). Attorney Hidde Reitsma discusses a recent ruling where this issue was addressed.

Infringement of copyright

In this case, a professional photographer lodged a counterclaim because the respondent had placed two photos made by the photographer on his own website and Facebook page. According to the photographer this was an infringement on his copyright and his personality rights. The court found that the photos are copyright-protected because they have their own original nature and bear his own personal mark. This means that for each publication or reproduction the consent of the copyright holder (the photographer) is required. The respondent did not ask this consent.

Respondent: no consent required because the photos were already on the internet

However, the respondent, who found the photos on Google Images, states that he was entitled to use both photographs because in Google these are labelled: “for commercial reuse, including adaptation”. According to the respondent this means that the photos can be used without informing the photographer. The respondent notes, by the way, that the photos can still be found very easily and publicly on Google Images. The court does not accept this reasoning. According to the court it is a frequent misunderstanding that everyone can use everything that is online. Also if this is not explicitly stated, photos are often copyright-protected. This is not impaired by a label attached by a search engine such as Google.

Damages equal to licence fee

The respondent infringed on the copyright multiple times because he placed the photos on several sites and even on an invitation. He also infringed on the personality rights of the photographer, among others by failing to mention his name. Based on this wrongful act, the respondent is liable for damages. The damages claimed by the photographer of €2,400 are based on the usual licence fee that he would be owed for legal use. The court finds this a reasonable amount and awards the damages.

AMS Copyright Lawyer

By the way, the facts of this case also show that the use of the photos by the respondent had a (semi) commercial purpose. Courts will act sooner against these types of infringements than against the 14-year old teenager who places a photo of a cute doggie on her Facebook page. But a note of caution: the damages to be paid to photographer were already substantial, but add to that the full legal costs of €2,600 (which can be claimed fully in intellectual property cases).