Ultimate Copyright Infringement Claim Guide for Webmasters & their Digital Content
At ClickDo we work with online content that is used by many in different ways and therefore understand that the diversity of types of content where copyright applies has increased.
This leads to a lot more uncertainty about the so-called copyright of digital content and how and for what copyright infringement may become an issue.
As we work with many webmasters, bloggers, marketers, and writers, we want to create more awareness of copyright infringement claims many may face if they knowingly or unknowingly use copyright-protected material without getting permission from the copyright holder.
This can easily happen both ways: either you use someone’s copyright-protected content without proper attribution or permission/licensing, or others do it with your work.
That’s when a copyright infringement claim comes into play, which many UK businesses or webmasters with an online presence may be exposed to. Because someone can accuse anyone of having used their copyright-protected content and it is then down to the accused to prove their innocence.
If you have been involved in a copyright claim or you are concerned about copyright issues with your website content, continue reading to understand better what to expect.
What Is the UK Copyright Law?
The current UK copyright law is The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This copyright act gives creators of musical, dramatic, and artistic works the right to take control of the ways in which they can use their material.
The rights protect copyright owners from their works being:
- issued & lent to the public
- broadcast & publicly performed
The difficulty with copyright on the internet is that the work someone publishes online can appear on various websites, without the copyright owner’s awareness or consent. For example, if a photographer publishes their photos on their website, clearly labelling them as licensed with the price for the license, these images are then indexed on search engines, unless the copyright owner deindexes them.
When people find the images on search engines, the license will not appear here. However, search engines advise users that the images may be copyright protected. If the images on search engines leads back to the original owner’s website, the user will then be able to discover there that the images are copyright protected and license and that they must pay the license and ask for permission from the owner to use them.
If the indexed image on search engines does not lead back to the original copyright owner’s website and original internet source of the images, it would be much more difficult for the user to identify whether the images are licensed or copyright protected as often people publish copies or screenshots, which are then also indexed and lead to different internet sources and websites.
That’s where a copyright infringement claim should be carefully reviewed to ensure that it is legally sound and authentic.
Whenever we at ClickDo receive a copyright infringement claim we first check whether it is a copyright infringement scam, of which we have received many in the past. So, we research the claimant on the web to understand their background better. In most cases the copyright license claimed can only be found on their own website, which makes it very one-sided in our view as one cannot get this information from an independent source.
We therefore summarize the current legal grounds and exceptions for copyright infringement claims below.
5 Rights UK Businesses & Webmasters have against Copyright Claims for Images
In the below listed copyright exceptions, you may be able to use the owner’s copyright images/material without seeking their permission but you need to be sure you meet all the requirements as outlined in the legislation.
1. Educational Purposes
Copying someone’s copyright-protected material for teaching purposes is fine. If you meet the following conditions:
- It’s just to illustrate a point/explain a concept. You would also have to acknowledge the material and its creator properly.
- Your audience consists solely of teachers, students, and other school staff. Not parents. This rule applies if you’re showing or playing copyright-protected works in your classroom.
- If you want to record a radio broadcast/TV program to show to your students, you’ll need to ensure that there is no licensing scheme in place.
- Making copies of copyright-protected works using a photocopier or any such device is fine. Granted that there is no licensing scheme in place.
2. Fair Dealing
If you’re dealing with copyright works fairly, under the fair use clause you can use the copyright images without permission.
What does that mean?
If the material is for:
- private study & research
- news reporting
you have the right to use it.
All you need to ensure is that you don’t cause the owner to lose revenue.
And make sure you only use part of the work. That would be reasonable.
3. Aiding Physically Impaired People
It is not considered infringement if you’re making copies of copyright images to make them accessible to disabled people.
For example: making braille copies of images for visually impaired people.
You could even make changes to copyright works, such as:
- Adding audio descriptions to images for visually impaired people.
- Making subtitled broadcasts for hearing-impaired people.
- Making accessible copies of images in newspapers and books for dyslexic people.
PS: The following exceptions apply only if the copies are lawfully accessed, and for non-profit purposes.
4. Text & Data Mining
If you already have access to read a copyright-protected material, you can use it for computational analysis. If it’s for non-commercial purposes.
Text and data mining, after all, includes using analytical practices to analyse information for trends, patterns, and more useful information.
You would, however, need to buy subscriptions to access the material.
5. Parody & Caricature
Using a reasonable part of content for parody & caricature is accepted.
For instance, a cartoonist may reference a famous illustration to make a caricature.
Or an artist may choose to form a larger artwork using smaller fragments from a wide range of films.
Questions to ask about an alleged Copyright Infringement?
If you receive an email or letter making a copyright infringement claim against you, it is important to establish the legitimacy and authenticity of the claim and the claimant as according to our experience there are scams circulating that try to intimidate webmasters by accusing them of copyright infringement and claiming often 100s to 1000s in compensation and fees.
Because we were unable to identify general guidelines available about how copyright licensing fees are calculated, every copyright owner can individually establish these it seems. This makes it harder for the accused to figure out whether a licencing fee is justified, fair and authentic.
As it stands a copyright owner can inform you about the price they charge for the use of their content, which would likely be shown on their website, or some use a license fee calculator or contract which they will share with you.
We therefore check the following, before we respond to any copyright infringement claim:
Is the claim coming from the original copyright owner? – Only they alone can make a claim against you for copyright infringement.
Does their claim present sufficient and authentic evidence that copyright infringement has occurred? – Because it is the responsibility of the copyright owner to prove who has committed the infringement and how. A sample copyright notice can be useful to check what should be covered in it.
Is the calculation of the fee they demand to be paid for the infringement substantiated, e.g., are the fees publicly available for transparency/are they reasonable? – Even if you have committed the alleged infringement, you’re under no obligation to accept the settlement sum proposed by the copyright owner if you believe it’s disproportionate to the alleged infringement (source).
Does the copyright owner repeat demands for money and threaten or pressurize you? – If this happens you should report them to Trading Standards.
Is the copyright owner, exclusive licensee, solicitor, or agent putting pressure on you to pay them money for alleged infringement? – Then they may be taking part in unfair commercial practices or aggressive practices. These include misleading you or harassing you to try and make you pay compensation when you don’t need to (source).
ClickDo owner and CEO, Fernando Raymond, comments on his experiences with copyright infringement claims:
“What can be confusing and frustrating when receiving a copyright infringement claim is that the copyright owner might not have solid evidence for their claim, e.g., they might not be able to prove that the website is owned by you for example, yet based on their own research, they may conclude that you are liable. It is then your responsibility to prove that you are not liable for their claim.
Another confusion may arise when the claim letter is addressed to your company but emailed to a different email address that they connect with your business. You may be suspicious when receiving such correspondence, however, if the copyright owner puts the claim forward in court, it will be pursued.
It is extremely difficult to identify whether a copyright claim is legally justified or a scam hence why many, including myself, will be confronted with the law, which is also why I want to share this experience with my readers and followers to create more awareness.”
How to Avoid or Deal with Copyright Infringement Claims?
The main problem with copyright law is that it does not clearly define how a copyright owner should ensure that their content is visibly protected by copyright, especially on the internet.
The law instead suggests that any content available online should be assumed to be copyright protected, unless otherwise stated.
This can however lead to confusion as any content that is indexed on search engines will appear there. So, even if the content is labelled or marked on the copyright owner’s website as copyright protected or licensed, this will not show on search engines or other websites that may use the content.
In this case, it is not possible for a user to establish the legal status of the content without any reference being available on public domains. However, this does not protect you legally and you should therefore always assume that the content is copyright protected and refrain from using it (more alternative suggestions to follow below).
IP lawyers such as Harper James Solicitors offer their advice online with regards to copyright infringement:
It is worth knowing that there are various tools available to protect content online and Google offers a copyright infringement report form and so does YouTube: Overview of copyright management tools – YouTube Help (google.com).
Anyone who wants to protect their work online should create and add a copyright disclaimer to make it clear to all viewers that this content is protected by a copyright license (there are also tools that can disable the copy/paste option of content on a website).
For the best transparency a copyright owner could include the following elements to their protected content:
- A signifier/symbol that makes it clear that it’s a copyright notice
- Their name as the copyright owner/author
- The year the work was published
- A declaration claiming their rights over the work
Copyright disclaimer examples are available here.
They could also maintain an IP & Copyright Policy for their business accessible on their website for better transparency.
If you choose to use online content, always attribute, or reference the source adequately, however, often copyright owners will claim that this is not sufficient and demand to pay their licensing fees. Learn more about copyright for digital images and photographs here to fully understand the scale of using copyright protected internet content.
If the content is attributed to an agency such as Getty Images, then you may have to pay to use it as most agency’s content is licensed.
Using stock photos that offer commercial licenses for free use of the downloadable material and adding the image sources is usually the safest bet to avoid copyright infringement. However, such images do not always work for certain websites such as blogs that cover news for example. If you want to use images of public personalities such as politicians or celebrities, you need to ensure that the sources provide you with a licence allowing you to use them in the way you intend to.
Currently, it appears that social media posts can be embedded with a full source reference as they are clickable in a post and lead the reader directly to the source account, which is publicly accessible.
For the images you use, provide credits of the source/photographer. You can find free images on many stock photo websites and online photo editor tools and we recommend to create your own images where possible or making them unique by editing them individually, if they’re not copyright protected.
Because for the purposes of SEO and branding, you want to provide your readers with helpful and insightful content that they cannot find anywhere else so that they always come back to your website for more. We have therefore also updated our own content publishing guidelines.
Looking at the latest developments in AI it is likely that more AI-generated content will be used online in the future, but currently the legislation does not clearly cover how such content would be judged in terms of copyright. So, make sure to read the fine print when using AI-generated content on your website.
Who investigates Copyright Infringement?
You may be contacted by the original copyright owner, which could be a photographer for example. In this case it is often easy to determine whether they are a genuine person and the legitimate copyright owner.
There are also several copyright infringement agencies like CopyTrack, ImageRights & Pixsy, and PicRights Ltd.
With such agencies it is trickier to identify whether a copyright infringement claim is legitimate as they often claim to act in the name of the original copyright owner and they will provide evidence such as a letter signed by the copyright owner. But it would be extremely difficult for any defendant to establish whether such documents or letters are authentic or not.
Copyright infringement agencies act as active enforcers of copyright protected images. They send emails to those who have in their eyes unlawfully used the copyright-protected works of their clients, whom they will refer to in the claim letter.
They will initially send a letter with the copyright infringement claim and an email to the business or webmaster contact they find online. They include screenshots of their client’s original work and where they found it on your website, and ask the person to pay for the license, which they calculate with their internal license calculator. They may provide an online login for the defendant to check their claim and pay with a credit or debit card.
When you receive such correspondence, it is wise to first check the authenticity of the agency and their claim. Do some background checks about the agency and consult with organisations like Citizens Advice, the IPO, the Federation Against Copyright Theft and Get Safe Online before you make any payments. It is vital to confirm the legitimacy of the copyright claim. For this, you can also consult a solicitor and usually they offer an initial consultation for free.
When we researched copyright infringement agencies, we came across reports of their practices in forums where people share their experiences with them. Their tactics are often described as intimidating and many report that their concerns about the claim were not taken into consideration.
You can read this government article about what to do when you receive such a letter to better understand your rights and responsibilities.
If you feel that the agency has not dealt with you in a fair manner, you should file a complaint to them. If this doesn’t lead to a result after 8 weeks, then you can file a complaint against them with the ICO.
You can also report scam or phishing emails that contain links to payment portals, asking you to add personal or payment details to the Action Fraud Police and they will investigate these.
For every business owner, blogger and webmaster, copyright law can be an overwhelming minefield that can lead to serious legal disputes with potentially high costs involved. Our ClickDo guide tries to offer more information about copyright infringement to better understand the current situation in the UK based on our experiences as a digital marketing agency.
Please be advised that we cannot offer legal advice and recommend you discuss any claim made against you with a legal advisor or expert. We know that many webmasters and businesses can become victims of such activity, hence why we share our research with regards to the best practices. As a marketing agency that offers web design and SEO and website consulting services, we endeavor to create more awareness by sharing information that can be helpful when managing online content.
- Blogger and Educator by Passion | Senior Online Media & PR Strategist at ClickDo Ltd. | Contributor to many Education, Business & Lifestyle Blogs in the United Kingdom & Germany | Summer Course Student at the London School of Journalism and Course Instructor at the SeekaHost University.
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