Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation and photographers have the exclusive right to reproduce their photographs. Unless you have permission from the photographer, you can’t copy, distribute, publicly display (online), or create derivative works from photographs. Copyright infringements – reproducing photos without permission – can result in civil and criminal penalties.
Here in Georgia, copyright infringement is strict liability, which means you remain liable for copyright infringement even though you did not intend or realize you were infringing a copyright.
It’s Easy To Get Caught
Right now, across the nation, there are groups searching for copyright infringement. Beautiful photos of skylines, parks and local points of interest are placed online, almost like bait. The photos are vetted with software so they can be tracked. If they are found in use without payment to the photographer, a demand letter from a lawyer follows soon after. Though copyright cases often end up in settlement, you can be liable for up to $150,000 for use of an image without permission from the photographer. Plus attorney fees. And copyright infringement is NOT covered by Errors and Omissions.
Strict Liability: Unintentional Violation of Copyright Law is Still Violation.
Say you are taking over a listing from another agent or you find pictures of the same property that you want to use. Or you are marketing a property with amenities like a clubhouse and swimming pool and you want to use those beautiful, professional photos. You may think it’s ok and you didn’t intend to violate a law, but that image was likely taken by a professional photographer, and if you use it without permission and payment, you are stealing from the photographer.
Use Photos Legally and Avoid Problems
Hire a professional photographer. A paid photographer will grant permission to use the photos in a particular way for a certain period of time. You can’t necessarily use the images forever. Have the photographer explain any time or use limitations. The permission could be forever to market a property, but don’t assume. Ask. Get a signed release.
Pay the original photographer a fee for use and get a written release.
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