Have you heard about the latest stock photography scam?

There are always swindlers trying to take advantage of well-meaning entrepreneurs, but this latest stock photo scam can make a huge dent in your bottom line. The basic ways that scammers exploit business owners, designers, and others is by either posting images as being free for use with a Creative Commons (CC0) license and then change the license terms to something more restrictive OR they trick people into mistaking their restrictive licensed photos for CC0 images. The way it works is for the con artists to submit their photos to CC0 websites or to submit them with confusing license terms, then they trawl the internet for websites which are using the image, and then slap the website owners with a copyright breach notification.

People who get caught in these scams are either careless or simply don’t knowing enough about copyright law to begin with, which can make for expensive lessons.

The worst part of these scams is that they work! If the image owner pulls the photo from the CC0 site you downloaded the image from, it can be difficult to prove that the image was taken from a legitimate CC0 source or was listed as being available for free commercial use. Here are three simple ways you can avoid being taken by one of these costly cons.

  1. Be sure the image you’re getting from a Creative Commons website is actually licensed for use under CC0 terms. Some CC0 sites also list images with other licensing requirements. Selling those photos directly or referring users to other sites where they can purchase images with different license terms is how they make an income to support hosting costs. Be sure the images you’re choosing from are actually CC0 whenever you download them.
  2. After you’ve confirmed the Creative Commons license, but before you download the image to use, take a screenshot of the page. Ideally the screengrab should show the image you plan to download and the statement of licensing terms or details about how the image can be used.
  3. Store the screenshot of the image, with its licensing terms, with the downloaded version of the image you will be using or modifying. You can use this documentation as a quick way to reference and prove you were using a CC0 image in the event any doubts are ever cast or you receive a threatening notice from a copyright holder or lawyer.

evidence of licence

These scammers often look legitimate and they can be very intimidating, that is why they’re so effective. They can especially be frightening for individuals or organizations who don’t already have legal staff on retainer. Remember that you are innocent until proven guilty, and present your evidence to the authorities in your area or any legal representation you may seek to determine what your options are.

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Have you been caught in a stock photo scam? We’d love to hear what happened & how it was resolved.

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