Illinois Bankers Association

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Alert - Use Care When Using Images Taken from the Internet

Does your bank use free images from the Internet on your website or in advertising and marketing materials? Take caution! There are bad actors out there who “optimize” copyrighted images to appear in online searches as free and uncopyrighted. When unknowing businesses use these so-called “free” images, their law firm threatens to sue them for the unauthorized use of copyrighted material. 

Here is how the trap is set. These actors engage search engine optimization (SEO) firms to associate a copyrighted image with search terms such as “free use” or “uncopyrighted.” The SEO firms use a broad range of techniques to make these copyrighted images appear in search results for free images. Unsuspecting users rely on the results of these searches and unknowingly use the copyrighted images. The copyright owner’s law firm monitors the Internet for the use of these images and then threatens litigation against anyone it finds violating the copyright. When the user tries to replicate their original search using just the image, they discover that it now appears as copyrighted and requires a fee for use. To avoid lengthy legal battles, users caught in this trap often agree to a settlement.

To protect against threatened lawsuits and potential litigation, banks should avoid relying on Internet searches for “free” images. Banks also should review their agreements with their web designers, who also may unknowingly be using copyrighted images. In many cases, the web designers warrant that their work will not violate any copyright laws, giving banks an extra layer of protection against this sort of predatory behavior.

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