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Yesterday's Technology section of The Guardian published an article about a church being sued by Getty Images over unlicensed use of 2 images on its website. A volunteer designed and built the website without any thought to copyright - if the images are readily available on the internet they must be ok to use, right?
Sadly, this is a common misconception about not just images posted online, but content in general. Many small businesses building a website for the first time may not realise that unless they have created images on their website themselves they will most likely be liable to pay for a license to use the image.
The Guardian article complains about the way in which large picture agencies such as Getty have used heavy-handed tactics to inform small businesses about the illegal use of images, but fails to touch on a greater concern - Getty has the resources to pursue copyright violations but can financially withstand some amount of copyright infringement but what if you don't have the same level of resources?
What if you are a small business with your own great content, images, videos and even website code and you find that is being taken without your consent and you have no way of knowing or worse still, you do know because your content is on another website that is ranking above you in search engines?
Unfortunately finding out if somebody's using your images without consent is a lot more difficult that checking if your copy has been plagiarised. To find out if your text has been reproduced on another website you can use Copyscape or you can just cut and paste unique snippets of your text into Google and bookend the snippet with double quotations.
If you do discover a site has been using your content without permission you should ask the owner to remove the content or pay you. If they refuse then file a DMCA with Google and speak to their hosting provider.
As more and more small businesses use the internet for business, more people will understand the implications of online copyright theft. As recently as August the Government and the UK Intellectual Property Office announced the intent to raise the maximum fines for online copyright infringement in England and Wales. Although penalties are not yet as high for copyright violations online as they are offline, hopefully the UK government is starting to realise the scale and implications of online content theft and is finally taking steps in the right direction to combat the problem.