Thanks to technology, you can click on basically any image on the Internet and download it to your computer.

However, that does not mean you have permission to repost that image on your own website.

Many bloggers (even lawyers) fail to consider copyright law when posting images online. A Washington, D.C. patent attorney recently paid $8,000 to settle allegations that he used copyrighted stock images without authorization. According to the National Law Journal, image-licensing company Masterfile Corp. initially filed suit in September, seeking $150,000 in damages for two instances of willful copyright infringement.

Attorney Jerry Joseph allegedly used two of Masterfile’s photos on his law firm’s website. According to court documents, Joseph immediately took down the images upon being notified by Masterfile that he was using copyrighted images without a license, but he failed to respond to the company’s attempts to reach a settlement until it filed suit.

The copyright infringement dispute highlights that blog post images can lead to significant liability. Many licensing companies have software that can scan the Internet for images that are used without permission. Getty Images, for instance, aggressively polices the use of its intellectual property. Moreover, it does not hesitate to pursue legal action even when users claim ignorance.

So what can bloggers do to avoid running afoul of U.S. copyright law?

First, it is important to understand that photographs are automatically protected by copyright when they are created. Accordingly, you generally must obtain the owner’s permission — often in the form of a license — prior to using it. While the fair use doctrine allows copyrighted material to be used without permission, it only applies in limited circumstances.

There are many sites on the Internet that offer images for free or for a very small fee. Some provide images that can be freely used, while others require attribution to the copyright owner. Since the requirements can vary by site, it is imperative to read the terms and conditions prior to downloading any images. Some image suppliers even offer legal protection should a dispute arise.

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