A friend of mine recently received an unexpected, rather large bill from an expensive, online stock image company. His website development had been outsourced to someone overseas through a well-known website that matches up developers with people needing web related services.

The developer had decided to copy images from the stock image website instead of paying for them. Since the developer is overseas, my friend doesn’t have much of a lawsuit – at least not one that would be worth pursuing. He is working with the image company and with the advice of his lawyers to come up with an acceptable solution. I certainly hope things turn out well for my friend.

Apparently the stock photo company has software – spiders or robots – that search the internet looking for illegal use of their images. Many of us could easily be in my friend’s position. He didn’t do anything wrong and yet he may have to pay for the images since they showed up on his website.

It has definitely made me rethink my own practices. I’ve found that many of my students and clients don’t know that they can’t just copy images off the internet and use them for their own website. My friend’s current challenge has prompted me to help my other friends, students and clients understand more about picking, choosing and using images on their website or web development in general.

1) Outsource to other countries at your own risk – The communication gap can be really stressful and cost you in many ways – the time difference and language barrier can cause many problems. When people ask me to fix their website after having had it built overseas, many of the comments in the code are in another language. Obviously, if it’s not written in Southern slang, I have trouble reading it. The code is often poorly written, and the comments would really help if I could just understand them.

Obviously, outsourcing can put some strains on your legal rights. I don’t know what those are exactly, but just hearing my friend talk about what he’s going through, I understand enough to know that legal rights with people outside the country are obviously different from those within the US. That makes sense, but I’d never really thought about it before.

2) If you don’t have the legal rights to use an image on your website, DON’T use it. If you didn’t take the picture, make sure you know who did and whether they want you to use the image. I personally try to take most of the photos on my sites, but for those that I don’t take, I usually get them from websites such as istockphoto.com or other stock photo sites. I read the licenses that I get when I PURCHASE the images and I only use the images in the way that I have rights to use them.

3) If someone else builds your website for you, regardless of who they are or where they are located, make SURE that you have legal rights to any images they may use on your site.

When it comes to images on your website, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Unless, of course, you can afford to get large, unexpected bills in the mail.

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