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A client has sent me an image to use on her home page. If this image is stolen, am I (or my company) held liable?

Side/follow up question: In my personal work contracts, I add a clause stating that I assume all images sent by the client are OK to use and I am not responsible if not. Does this protect me sufficiently?

  • What do you mean by "if the image is stolen"? The image is a digital asset, it cannot be stolen like a physical object. Do you mean that the image is downloaded and reused by someone else without permission? And who do you expect to hold you liable? The client? – sleske Feb 17 '17 at 9:50
  • @sleske: Isn't it fair to use "stealing" to describe someone exercising ownership of property to which they have no legal right? E.g., handing someone an image and saying, "Use this: I have the right to use it." – feetwet Feb 17 '17 at 17:18
  • @feetwet: It may be fair, but it certainly is confusing when it happens in a question asking for legal advice. Getting the terminology right is important to allow others to understand the question and to get the right answer. And it does make a difference whether she is for example worried about someone downloading a publicly available image, or about someone breaking into her computer and obtaining the image (which could both be described as "stealing"). Thus my close vote. – sleske Feb 17 '17 at 21:57
  • @sleske: Ah ha – I hadn't noticed that triple ambiguity in "is stolen." Good point! – feetwet Feb 17 '17 at 22:48
  • @feetwet: Actually, I had not noticed the triple ambiguity either until you mentioned it, I only noticed the two interpretations I mentioned above. Which nicely illustrates my point :-). – sleske Feb 17 '17 at 22:53
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Assume that the image is protected by copyright, and there is no license to copy it. I assume you are a programmer who would be assembling a web page for the client, and you have a copy of the image, let's say on a thumb drive. What you would do is make a copy from the thumb drive, to a server. Without authorization of the copyright owner this act would infringe the copyright. The client might also be liable for contributory infringement.

It is legally pointless to say that you assume that all material is "okay": you cannot disclaim liability for copyright infringement that way. It may be possible to disclaim liability for damage to the client, but it is impossible to disclaim liability that you have to a third part in this manner. Instead, contracts typically have an indemnity clause, which states that the client must protect you by covering your legal costs and whatever damages you are assessed, if their wrongful act lands you in trouble.

Of course verifying that the client has the right to use the image is also the simplest way to avoid lawsuits.

  • The problem with "verifying the client's rights" is that that will usually not be practical - if they claim it's a photo they took, how are you going to disprove them? And even if it's true, how are you going to check that they did not sell the rights to someone else? – sleske Feb 17 '17 at 9:53
  • @sleske: It's quite practical. Generally this is a question that arises w.r.t. third-party images. The client should be able to present evidence of license. If the client asserts they created the image it is reasonable and (AFAIK) sufficient to rely on that assertion, as well as on their assertion that they can license its usage. Even though, in fact, they may have sold all rights to it; and even though they can present a counterfeit license for a third-party image. In any case, damages would be assessed against the beneficiary of infringement, which in this question is the client. – feetwet Feb 17 '17 at 14:33
  • @feetwet: Yes, you can essentially ask the client, and take their word for it unless it seems implausible. I thought you were advising to actually verify the license situation personally. Of course, whether that will be enough when push comes to shove remains to be seen... as always with legal matters :-). – sleske Feb 17 '17 at 15:07
  • Ultimately, it is impossible to verify the copyright status of an image, which is why indemnity is the first line of defense. – user6726 Feb 17 '17 at 15:29
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Ask your clients to give you the source of the image then you can check the image license as a starting point.

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