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The Costly Mistake: Copyright Infringement and Your Business

Posted On: April 2, 2024

The Costly Mistake: Copyright Infringement and Your Business


In the digital age, the ease of access to images and content on the internet can be a double-edged sword for businesses. While it provides a wealth of resources for marketing and promotion, it also poses significant risks when it comes to copyright infringement. For many businesses, the unauthorized use of copyrighted photos may seem harmless or unintentional, but the consequences can be severe.

In 2023 alone, we witnessed an uptick of claims related to copyright infringement of protected photos. This scenario has become all too common: an insured or their employee unknowingly takes a photo from the internet and uses it on their website, social media platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn, only to receive a letter or email from an attorney representing the photo's creator, notifying them of the infringement.

The typical sequence of events unfolds predictably: the insured may promptly take down the photo, citing it as a mistake. However, this action doesn't necessarily absolve them from legal responsibility. The attorney representing the creator often follows up with a monetary demand, which can be substantial, especially considering factors like the length of time the photo was posted, the number of photos used, or the frequency of their posting.

Ignoring these demands or failing to reach a satisfactory resolution can escalate the situation further. In some cases, it leads to the filing of a federal lawsuit, serving as a wake-up call to businesses about the seriousness of copyright infringement.

What's crucial for businesses to understand is that accidental use of copyrighted photos is still a violation of intellectual property rights. The consequences can extend beyond financial penalties to damage to reputation and costly legal battles.

Fortunately, there is some protection available under Commercial General Liability (CGL) Coverage B. This coverage may include a duty to defend and indemnify against "personal and advertising injury," which encompasses offenses like infringing upon another's copyright. However, relying solely on insurance coverage is not a foolproof strategy. Prevention is key to avoiding costly legal entanglements.

Here are some proactive measures businesses can take to mitigate the risk of copyright infringement:

Educate Employees

Ensure that all employees, especially those responsible for marketing and content creation, understand the importance of respecting copyright laws. Provide training on how to properly source and use images and other content.

Use Licensed or Royalty-Free Images

Encourage the use of images that are either licensed for commercial use or available under royalty-free licenses. There are numerous stock photo websites where businesses can find high-quality images for their marketing needs.

Implement Strict Policies

Establish clear policies and guidelines regarding the use of copyrighted material. Require employees to obtain proper permissions or licenses before using any content that they did not create themselves.

Monitor and Audit Content

Regularly audit your website, social media accounts, and other marketing materials to ensure that all content is properly sourced and licensed. Implement tools or software that can help identify potential copyright violations proactively.

Respond Promptly to Notices and Consult Legal Counsel

Contact your insurance professional to find out if you have coverage and for assistance in responding. You can also seek legal advice from an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law. They can provide guidance on navigating copyright issues and help minimize the risk of litigation.


By being proactive and vigilant, businesses can protect themselves from the costly consequences of copyright infringement. While the allure of using readily available online content may be tempting, the potential risks far outweigh the benefits. Investing in proper education, policies, and legal safeguards is essential for safeguarding your business's reputation and financial well-being in today's digital landscape. 


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