A client of mine informed me today he had received a letter from Getty Images claiming he had violated their copyright on two images used on his website. Along with the claim was a request for over $1000 in "damages".
This is a potential challenge for anyone with a website, because as my client noted, he had no idea where the images on his website came from. He had his site built years ago by a designer who is no longer in business who subcontracted the work to another developer in another country. Being able to find out whether the images were licensed or not is virtually impossible.
So, what to do?
Unfortunately, in cases like this, if you are the owner of a website you are liable for the images on your site. You can ask your designer where they got the images and if they can't tell you, then you'd likely be able to pass along anything you pay to your designer as they're the one who got you into the mess in the first place.
Otherwise, you could be stuck with the bill.
Some of the arguments I have read about alleged copyright infringement discuss how people downloaded images from websites offering "free" pictures. Rarely is anything truly free when it comes to images, so tread cautiously if you're going to do this. I have read some stories about "free" image websites where the images were stolen from another website and then offered as free. If you use one of those images and get a copyright infringement letter, you'd better be able to prove you got the image from a free website, along with the exact URL(s) and the date of download.
At The Web For Business.com, we use only use licensed images from stock photography sites for our clients' websites unless they provide us with images to use. We also ask our clients to sign a waiver that acknowledges any images they provide to us are free of copyright and are properly licensed. If they don't sign the waiver, we don't use the images which protects us both.
Copyright infringement is widespread online. Avoid it by purchasing licensed images for your site. There's a cost, but it's worth it to avoid the stress and possible financial penalties when the copyright lawyers come calling.