Tell Me Where Your Images Are From

March 2022

media insurance policy

Image: Twirling Tiger Media

I recently had the honor of being a judge for a national design competition. Each design submission I reviewed in my assigned category included an array of elements such as imagery, font usage, color palettes, headlines and body copy, and the graphic design that pulled it all together. I found one tiny but crucial thing missing … something can be set in a font as small as 7-point … and something that can be a costly omission: imagery attribution.

The same week I worked as a design competition judge, I reviewed the annual renewal documentation for our company’s Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance policy—a necessity for companies or sole proprietors providing media in any form. (If you hire a content provider that lacks such a policy, buyer beware.)

While judging the design competition and noticing a lack of attribution for imagery, I wondered if many design contestants were unaware of the importance of intellectual property rights infringement and content liability. Were they unaware that the omission of such credit attributed to the creator of an image can be a legal and financial quagmire?

Publishing an image by a creator on any platform or medium without permission and payment for the work, and failing to attribute authorship or provide credit, exploits the creator’s work. In doing so, you are risking copyright infringement action with all of the associated legal and settlement costs, as well as damage to your reputation and the company you represent. The creator or an agent of the copyrighted media may discover the error, and whether it is an honest mistake or not, you are legally responsible.

E&O policies are chockfull of clauses related to the meaning of online “user-generated content,” which is defined as any digital content including, but not limited to, content disseminated through websites, social networks, chat rooms, bulletin boards, databases, blogs or mobile phones which is not created by a company or on a company’s behalf but for which the company is deemed to be responsible. Unsuspecting partners or employees swiping imagery from online sources willy nilly for use in publications or social media posts is a dangerous practice. Let it be known: It is best to assume all images are copyrighted because once work comes into being and is fixed in a tangible form, according to federal law, a creator gets the copyright automatically, whether or not the copyright is wanted.

You should know that I did not discriminate against any submissions in the national design competition based on the omission of an image credit. Perhaps some of the images used didn’t require an attribution because a creator contractually agreed to a work-for-hire status (work prepared by an employee, but companies don’t typically have budgets to employ in-house photographers and illustrators to create imagery), or it fell within an exception to the general copyright statute, such as public domainfair use, or open access/creative commons. I am assuming the images were acquired from either a freelance creative, a creative’s rep firm, a stock image source or a vendor, and using an attribution was simply overlooked.

I am hopeful anyone using imagery has established a license agreement with the creator to use the work and realizes the importance of a mighty attribution alongside it. 

You can read more about copyright infringement in “Imagery: Give Credit (And Payment) Where It’s Due.”

Thank you for reading this.

Maureen Joyce