The Internet makes it easy to do research and find high quality photos and videos – even those that may appear to be FREE, but that really are not. While the Internet is great because it allows businesses of all sizes to compete, it also introduces some new challenges. One of the biggest problems that I’ve been seeing in the industry in the past few years is with companies being slapped with huge penalty fees for copyright infringement issues from unlicensed images or audio that team members innocently included in company products or web sites. I’ve even seen companies have to pay $20,000 for just 5 images that were used improperly by a contractor who doesn’t even work for the company any more. But the company still had to pay.
Nearly every business is at risk for this HUGE potential liability unless you have the proper procedures in place to ensure that all of the images, audio, and other media that get included in your products and web sites either have the proper license or didn’t need one. Despite popular belief, just because you find something online, that doesn’t automatically make it FREE to use.
Here are some steps to take to minimize this ever-growing risk:
1. Develop a company policy for how to track and handle media that gets included in your products and web sites. Below is an example of what your policies and procedures might be.
A. Explain to all of your team members that they cannot just freely download content from the Internet. Just because they find it online doesn’t make it free. Explain to your team members that they are not allowed to just click “Save-As” and use an image or other file that they find unless they purchase a proper license for it. Then, inform them of your policy for getting approval on any media that needs to be purchased, and your policy on where and how the receipts should be stored for future evidence to track the media licenses that were purchased.
B. You could also give your team a list of free web sites that offer the images or other types of media for commercial use without requiring any payment. You could allow the team members to download anything from those sites as long as they keep the proper record in your system of where they got each downloaded media file to show that it was on one of the truly free sites you authorized.
C. You will of course need to customize your policy to come up with something that isn’t unduly burdensome on the work flow of your team, but that also ensures that you are limiting your risk of copyright infringement as much as reasonably possible.
2. Once you have worked with your team to develop your policy, make sure you put a clause in your employee and contractor agreements that reflects your company policy. That will help you ensure that your employees and contractors understand the importance of following the policy.
Once the policy is setup, you should then review it periodically and ensure that your team members are following it. If you put those procedures into practice, you’ll be able to greatly reduce or even eliminate one of the biggest liability concerns that you have today.