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Some time ago, I developed a website for a client. During the development process, I used a staging server which is registered to and operated by me to host the site so they could follow development and preview the work I was doing for them.

At this point in development, I added some images to the site as dummy content to illustrate how things would appear when the client had added their own images.

I acquired the images from Google Images and one of them now appears to have been copyrighted with rights managed by a company notorious for suing webmasters for illegally using their images.

The prototype website was not online on my server for long, but apparently long enough for the infringement to have been detected by said notorious company.

Recently, the client received a letter demanding recompense for the use of the image - though again, the website in question was on a server and domain registered and operated by ME.

My question is this:

Can my client's company be held liable for infringement that occurred on MY server/domain?

The prototype website had the client's business contact details on it, so the letter demanding payment was sent to them, even though they have absolutely nothing to do with the server it was hosted on.

I realize anyone reading this is likely not a lawyer with specific knowledge of this type of situation, but if you have any insight to offer it would be much appreciated!

migrated from webmasters.stackexchange.com Jul 27 '16 at 3:50

This question came from our site for pro webmasters.

  • I asked to have this migrated here so that you would get a better answer. It would be seen on both sites. I would think that the company can defend itself, however, it could be expensive. As well, you could be on the hook for this as a 3rd party who is responsible. I hope that does not happen! My question is, how much is the demand for? As well, what proof would they have that the company is liable other than an address on a website? It may be easier just to pay the demand. Otherwise, discovery/negotiations may hopefully show a weakness in their demand. I do not know enough to answer. Cheers!! – closetnoc Jul 27 '16 at 4:43
  • Did the company get a demand letter and/or a notice of complaint filed with the court? Any demand must be for actual or calculated damages and profits. Statutory damages could only be ordered by the court. The statute requires the burden of proof of willful misuse. Defense appears to be one of two options, unintended violation or fair use. This does not appear to raise to the level of criminal intent. Has the company making the demand filed a complaint with the Register of Copyrights? If not, then it appears the must. Just some thoughts for a potential answer. Cheers!! – closetnoc Jul 27 '16 at 17:46
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This would depend on your relationship with the client, and if they had knowledge of the work. If you were an employee then they would be liable, but if you were a contractor - and they did not have knowledge of this - and they could prove it (this might be tricky, but your asserting this would help) then they would not be liable - as the actions were outside your control. Of-course, you/your company would be liable.

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