Internet images could lead to litigation

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Imagine finding a picture on the Internet, using it on your website and finding out what you did may be illegal. It is happening right now in Indiana.

A retired local attorney says hundreds of people have illegally used a photograph he took. Now, he’s seeking thousands of dollars in damages. This case can serve as a big warning when it comes to using the Internet and social media.

Rich Bell says he took a skyline photo in 2000. Since then he says it’s been used more than 300 times by everyone from realtors to media outlets. It’s a basic skyline photograph, almost as if it’s a stock photo. But, he wants everyone who used it without his permission to pay.

In early March of 2000, Rich Bell knew he’d captured a great shot.

“Actually it was my wife that discovered it. She came home one day and she says, ‘you know this organization is using your photograph.’ And I said, ‘no!’” said Bell.

He says it’s flat out stealing.

“It’s just like downloading music illegally,” said Bell.

Bell settled out of court with nearly everyone. But, a handful of people are standing their ground.

“I literally downloaded the image, checked it for copyright, checked it for meta data, checked it for exit data and it was clear,” said Jessica Wilch.

Jessica Wilch designed a website for a Century 21 realtor. In 2011, that realtor got a call. Bell was suing the realtor for copyright infringement.

“Well, first of all, it is my property and I don’t appreciate people stealing my property,” said Bell.

Wilch says this opens a can of worms she isn’t sure the courts are ready to deal with.

“If a photograph is taken and it goes across Facebook or it goes across Snap Chat and you use it or you pass it along and the original owner contests it, where’s the litigation start and where does it stop?” asks Wilch.

In a world of online ‘live, work and play’ it’s likely you have posted or used someone else’s property illegally and not even known it. Copyright attorneys say as soon as a work of art is created, as the shutter on the camera clicks, a copyright exists. If you didn’t take the picture, haven’t bought the rights or received permission from the photographer to use the photo, don’t use it. Wilch has learned the hard way, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“Um, unfortunately it is,” said Wilch.

Defendants believe that Bell uses the way copyright laws are written along with his extensive knowledge of the law to take advantage of innocent people.

Bell and the defendants are headed to federal court September 29. Bell is seeking thousands in damages, photo value and attorney’s fees.

Wilch hopes the case is dismissed.

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