Several years ago, I had been blogging and creating content as usual for my website, pulling images off of the Internet wherever and whenever I wanted.
I'd heard tales of people being hit with lawsuits for doing this, but I thought, "It'll never happen to me ... my readership is too small."
Until one day, when a Fedex delivery person arrived at my door with an Express letter package I had to sign for.
I looked at the name of the sender ... didn't recognize the company ... and so I signed for it, assuming it to be something I should have been expecting.
Instead, it was a letter from an attorney from some company in Canada, demanding that I take down an image on my blog, which I had been using inappropriately for the last seven months.
The letter also demanded that I return a signed document, along with a cashier's check for $750, by a certain date to avoid further legal action.
I was appalled. And a bit scared.
Inside the envelope, they had also included a screenshot of the image as it appeared on my blog.
One image. On one small blog post.
Figuring I was pretty smart, I looked up the traffic on that blog post, and noticed that it had had NO TRAFFIC whatsoever from the date I published it until the very date that the company suing me visited the site and took the screenshots.
Armed with that information, I fired off an email with the evidence that showed how no one had been harmed because no one but them had seen the post, and an offer to pay $50.
Nope. They weren't having it.
And now, they demanded $1,500 to release the claim they had on me!
I was really freaked out now.
I contacted a client whose husband was an attorney, and asked for advice.
She said, "Aww man, that happened to us. We called and explained that our web developer chose the image, and they accepted $250."
So I had my husband call to do the same. (I'm a wimp and surely would have started crying.)
They agreed to take $750, PLUS I had to send it overnight by Fedex, PLUS I had to LIE on the customs form and say that the value of that $750 check was $1.
I tried to get out of it by threatening to report them for fraud.
The guy just fired back an email saying then I could simply pay the higher fee of $1,500.
I was screwed.
So I wrote a check for $750, sent it overnight by Fedex (another $80 to $100), and lied on the customs form.
What a scam.
In doing further research, my husband and I learned that there are companies out there seeding the Internet with photos, and then tracking their use, and pulling the same tactics to those unlucky enough to use the seeded images.
Since then -- and this was years ago -- I have never used a photo without being sure I had the rights to use it.
I even hired a gal to go through another website I owned, and had her replace every single image with images from safe sources.
I didn't want to take a chance.
I hope that now, after reading this, you won't either.
There are plenty of safe photo sites out there now.
I'll close here by sharing a few of my favorites:
P.S. Don't get me wrong. I was guilty. I used the image without permission. But this was back in the days when EVERYONE used images straight from the Internet. It was common practice.
I know, I know ... it doesn't really matter. Just because "they're" breaking the law doesn't make it right for me to do so.
Just learn from my mistake, that's all.
Do you sweat the small stuff? Do you want your online presence to inspire trust and confidence? Do you grit your teeth when others don't care enough about YOUR web experience? Are you all about creating an excellent website and excellent content that makes it easy for people to get to know, like, and trust you and buy your stuff?
I think we might be soul mates. And I'd love for you to join my tribe.
When you do, I'll alert you to new blog posts, new programs and products, and new ways for you to create excellent, frictionless, online experiences that lead more people to YES! I promise to be relevant and real, and to send only thoughtful content and advice.