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Warning: You are responsible for copyright infringement by your website users

Friday, 2 August 2013 | By Vanessa Emilio

Most website owners do not realise that they are responsible for everything posted on their website – whether they posted it themselves or a user of their website did.


It has become common practice to repost images, articles and content in general all over the internet. Most people think: “If it’s on the internet, it’s in the public domain” and they can re-use it wherever they like.


This is not the case. If you are a website owner and permit content to be unlawfully posted on your website then you are ‘enabling’ copyright infringement – and are breaking the law.


Don’t fall for these content myths


For whatever reasons, internet users have convinced themselves that re-posting images and content is perfectly okay. These justifications are common:


  • “If I link back to the original source it’s okay to re-post.”
  • “I’m giving the photographer or author free advertising, so they should be grateful.”
  • “I’m not making any money from the image or article, so it’s okay.”


Unfortunately, all of the above are wrong. Someone owns that image or article and has copyright. If you do not obtain the owner’s permission and you use the content on your site, in your advertising etc, you may be breaching copyright and could face serious legal repercussions.


And if someone posts the content on your website, you (as the website owner) are liable too!


Doesn’t copyright need to be registered?


Copyright is immediate and automatic. A person has copyright upon the creation of any distinctive material: music, words, images, code, inventions, etc. That means that they have an automatic legal right in these works without registration, provided they can show they created them.


How can I be liable if I didn’t post it?


It doesn’t matter if you did not post the copyrighted content yourself or were unaware of it. You are seen to be ‘enabling’ the infringement if you permit unlawful content to be posted and kept on your website. As soon as someone notifies you of a copyright breach, remove the offending material immediately and conduct an investigation.


In addition to images and articles, you are also responsible for comments written by your contributors and advertisements posted on your website. So ensure user comments are not defamatory and advertisements are not misleading. At the very least have a disclaimer to protect yourself if visitors to your site try to sue you.


Follow these suggestions


To help protect you and your business, follow these steps:


  1. Ensure you have the right to use any designs, images, etc on your website and keep copies of the license or other rights.
  2. Before you re-post any type of content from another website, get permission and keep it on file.
  3. Regularly monitor comments and content posted by others on your website – and if anyone complains, take the content down immediately then investigate.
  4. Ensure users of your website know they are not allowed to re-post copyrighted images and articles.
  5. Update your website disclaimer and terms of use to say that any litigation claims against you for copyright breaches, defamatory comments or misleading advertisements are the responsibility of the website user or advertiser.


Remember, it’s not just a breach of someone’s copyright, you may be taking away their income if they are a photographer, journalist or make an income from their work. You wouldn’t want it to happen to you.