Intellectual Property Warning for Small Business Owners

The owner of a local small business contacted me about an unfortunate situation involving copyright law and online marketing. A year ago, she inadvertently posted two copyright protected images on her business’s Facebook page and website. Recently she received a threatening letter from a company called Getty Images demanding a large sum of money for a settlement amount for copyright infringement.

To prevent this problem for your business, make sure that you have properly licensed all of the images used on your website, or in any marketing materials or social media sites. Assume that any image you see on the Internet has some level copyright protection unless it expressly states otherwise. Copyright protections exist as soon as a “work of authorship” is fixed in a tangible form and they do not have to be registered, although registration is recommended. Copyright infringement does not require either knowledge or intent. Inadvertently or not, if you use a copyrighted image for commercial purposes without permission you are leaving yourself vulnerable to litigation.

There are several online sources you can use to find images that are not copyrighted including: and Even on these websites, make sure that any image you use has a license that allows for commercial use. You may need to comply with certain license restrictions in order to use the image, such as giving credit to the author. Be sure to follow any directions that you are given.

You may also want to carefully review the copyright status of any images you are currently using to market your business. Currently, there is an epidemic of “copyright troll” companies that search the Internet for infringements so they can aggressively seek damages. Though it is important to protect creative rights, the business practices of copyright trolls sometimes go far beyond the bounds of protection, and have even been analogized with extortion. Unfortunately it is small business owners that tend to fall victim of “trolling”. Often small business owners do not have the resources to create or outsource their marketing and web development from industry professionals. If you receive a threatening letter concerning alleged copyright infringement, you should immediately contact an attorney in order to preserve your rights.


*Clement Law Firm, Asheville, NC  *  828-281-8160*