Beware of copyright trolls using Creative Commons as bait. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:
Most of you already know that you can’t just pluck images from the internet and use them in a website, blog, or article. Most of them are “copyright reserved.” In fact, that is the default setting under the law. It can get your butt sued. Don’t think it happens? Google some of the others who didn’t think it would happen. Lawsuits get filed because lawyers know it costs a lot to defend them and you’ll pay a few grand to get out of one. So most of you know that you can use a photo for which you purchase a license (e.g., iStock or Getty images), public domain (e.g. 70 years after photographer died), or a “copyleft” licensed image (e.g. Creative Commons). Even then, you must be careful to use the image according to the license conditions. Do what the license says to do, e.g., attribution to the author, non-commercial, etc. As you likely know, there are different Creative Commons licenses with different sets of conditions for use.
But what you might not know is that even if you comply, you might get tricked and still get sued. There are trolls out there who are willing to do some ‘dirty deeds done dirt cheap’ to make some moolah. This is especially true now that the loftiest pulpit in the land is itself a lesson in greed and avarice over merit. Ah but I digress.
But what you also might not know is there are some steps you can take to protect yourself against a copyright troll. This is a lesson I learned from a friend who is not a lawyer. Rather, he is a blogger who learned the hard way. He properly used a Creative Commons image but after he published the image, the owner of it switched the licensing to “all rights reserved.” That’s right, you can change the licensing on your photos. That’s not surprising. And no, that doesn’t mean everyone who published the image while it was still a Creative Commons image is violating the licensing. However, what proof will they have of compliance? So my friend now screenshots the licensing each time he uses a Creative Commons image, then stores the image in a place where he can find it. So do I. That’s it. That’s the advice. Screenshot all licensing so you have proof.