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Today's royalty-free Stock image sites are relatively open, meaning that theoretically, anybody can submit any kind of content, including copyright-protected content created by others.

It's even happened to myself: I accidentally uploaded a photograph to a german Stock photo site once, only to discover later that it wasn't my own photo at all, but one I had downloaded from another stock image site!

Using content that was uploaded this way to an open stock image site could, theoretically, have problematic consequences for both the designer and their client. Although the content was used in good faith, the third party could make claims, as their work was used without permission; it will most often be impossible to shift the blame to the stock content site one got the image from.

Is this an issue at all?

How to protect against this kind of thing? Is there any protection?

Or is it simply an unavoidable risk when using content from free or cheap stock imagery sites? Is it necessary to switch to paid stock sites that control their sources to avoid this risk?

(Disclaimer: I am asking out of curiosity; and because I would like to see this kind of question on this site. Whether this is in graphicDesign.SE's scope or not, the community will have to decide!)

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I think the question is on-topic as this has to do with the business-side of graphic design. Dgital rights is an issue that will only become more prevalent and has direct consequences on what designers do. –  Philip Regan Jan 10 '11 at 14:03
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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

IANAL, but clear documentation of permissions and focused management of assets on your end are really the only ways to obviate possible use claims. If a stock imagery site isn't able to provide clear documentation about the permissions status of an image, then don't download it and find something else that does. Also, having an asset or content management system that also allows you to track right ensures that you are using the correct pieces of art in the correct context, and that will help ensure against accidental uploads. The stock image community is very diligent about making sure no one re-uses their work without permissions and it pays to be just as diligent as them.

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...and it pays to be just as diligent as them. spot on - this is probably the only way to minimize the risk –  Pekka 웃 Jan 10 '11 at 14:10
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What is IANAL short for? I would look it up, but I'd be a little worried that Google might assume it to be a typo and give me 'corrected' search results that are rather not safe for work... –  user568458 Jul 2 '12 at 10:55
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@user568458: IANAL = "I am not a lawyer" –  Philip Regan Jul 2 '12 at 11:56
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To give yourself extra reassurance, you might try using Google's search by image function. Other search engines do this too. Drag and drop the image onto Google and the search results will show you sites that are displaying that image. If an image has a source other than the site you found it on, you will likely be able to find it this way.

Here is a URL that tells you about this feature:

http://www.google.com/insidesearch/features/images/searchbyimage.html

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