Protect Yourself! What You Need to Know About Avoiding Huge Photo Copyright Infringement Fines [Guest Blog]

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Protect Yourself! What You Need to Know About Avoiding Huge Photo Copyright Infringement Fines [Guest Blog]


Photographer Brian Friedman guest blogs about how broadcasters can protect themselves from photo copyright infringement fines and create great relationships with the photography community.

Gold microphone

Great photography like this can drive engagement. Photo credit: Brian Friedman.

At Futuri Media, we pride ourselves on truly understanding our clients’ business and trying to think of everything when we launch a new product. So when we created the POST on-demand audio system, we saw the opportunity for visuals to drive audio consumption, and the risk (huge fines!) that some radio brands were encountering by using images on their websites and social media platforms without getting the proper rights. We decided to build a library of fully-licensed images into POST; you can search for and add those images to audio clips before distributing it to Facebook, Twitter, your station website, and other platforms in just one click.

Recently, there have been some announcements about technology that makes it even easier for photographers to find and go after unauthorized usage of their copyrighted work, therefore putting some brands at risk of huge fines. We asked one of our favorite photographers, Brian Friedman, to write about how and why brands should protect themselves in this space.

A musician friend of mine recently said to me “Imagine if you walked into Tower Records, took a CD off the rack, and just walked out with it. That’s what happened to the music industry, and let me tell you, it sucks for musicians.” As a photographer, I can relate. You would never just walk into an art gallery, take a framed print off the wall, and walk out with it. That’s stealing, plain and simple. But perhaps because we’re so used to liking and sharing photos in the digital age, many well-meaning organizations use the copyrighted work of hard-working photographers without permission.

Today, it’s more important than ever for brands to protect themselves from copyright infringement claims. Why? Sure, it’s the right thing to do, but I’m not just saying that because the art of photography is how I make my living. Brands can face fines up to $150,000 per copyright infringement. And the technology available to photographers to find and act on unauthorized usage of their work, like the just-announced KodakOne service, is getting more sophisticated and widely available every day.

That said, great photos are increasingly important to audio consumption. Futuri Media, whose POST podcasting system comes with a fully-licensed image library built in, has data that shows that audio clips distributed on digital platforms with an image specific to the topic of the clip is 186% more likely to be played than clips with just a jock headshot or station logo. That means more plays, which ultimately means more brand awareness and ad revenue.

I know that this topic can seem complicated to some, so from my perspective as a professional photographer, I’ve put together a guide to what you need to know to protect yourself and tips on creating a mutually beneficial relationship with a professional photographer.

Brian Friedman - photgrapher

Photographer Brian Friedman. Photo credit: Brian Friedman.

Giving credit does NOT equal getting permission. If you’ve taken someone’s image off their Facebook page or Instagram profile, posted it to your website or socials, and given them credit, that may be nice, and that may be courteous, but it isn’t the same as getting permission to use it. If you do this, you’re putting your own website and social media profile at risk, because a photographer could very easily go after you for damages. Plus, the copyright holder can report your social media profile as having stolen their work, and your profile could be shut down. Did you work that hard to build a social following just to have it shut down over a copyright infringement claim? I’ve been ripped off by the same entity on multiple occasions, and I reported them and shut them down. So don’t assume that by crediting the photographer, you’re covered. You’re not. Getting their permission and paying them – that’s doing the right thing AND the safe thing.

Advancements in technology have made it easier and cheaper than you think for a photographer to to protect him/herself.  It costs $50 for a photographer to register all of their unpublished photos at one time. Fifty bucks! And we do it. Once the image is registered with the US Copyright Office (an easy, online process that I write about here) and someone uses it without permission, they’re opening themselves up to litigation that will be costly and likely result in financial damages for your company. Furthermore, advancements in technology have given photographers easy ways of tracking where their photos are showing up on the internet. This trend will no doubt continue, making it turnkey for photographers to know where their work is being displayed online and collect damages without even needing to hire a lawyer.

The notion that being credited in a photo may lead to gigs doesn’t pay bills, nor does it often lead to paid work. As an in-demand freelance photographer for the past 11 years, I can count on one hand the amount of work I’ve gotten directly from being credited for my photo on a company’s website or in social media.

Asking a photographer for permission to use their photo is flattering, and will likely garner a yes and an even more generous response than you thought. When I get asked by someone in the media if they can attach my photo to an article, whether it’s paid or not, I’m already in the mood to say yes. I’m flattered someone would find my work compelling enough to have it accompany theirs. And in my case, I’m in a position to be generous and help them out above and beyond what they have asked. This will then lend itself to a long(er) working relationship where both parties stand to gain from one another, whether by money or by trade.  At the end of the day, asking permission will always set the tone far better than carelessly ripping off and posting a photo will.

It’s safe to say that most brands I discuss this with don’t fully understand the etiquette or legalities surrounding the use of one’s photo. That’s OK! Taking the time to educate yourself about this will keep you out of legal trouble and will help you create better relationships with the photography community.  

About the author

Photographer Brian Friedman started out as a road manager for the legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes. But it was during Haynes’ tour that Brian began photographing Roy and discovered his passion for image making that put him on a road to a new career.  Since then, he has sharpened his skills and his eye to become recognized as a photographer of choice by noted entertainment personalities, corporate leaders, event planners, and discerning individuals.  His clients include iHeartRadio, Cumulus Media, NBC, CBS, 20th Century Fox, and comedians Brian Regan and Bill Burr, to name a few.  Brian’s images have appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, People, Playboy, The Economist, and Pollstar to name a few. View his work at