Images and other photos, like written text, can be copyrighted. If the specific image is not copyrighted it is said to be like in public domain and anyone may use it, but with certain risks. The owner can assert copyright protection over his image. This makes it illegal for anyone who use the image without permission to the owner. The image owner may allow others to use their image with explicit permission.
Copyright does not only apply to movies, songs or books, but also in software program, architectural designs, videogames and choreography, and photos. If your company register a copy right, it gives your company the right to sell and distributes copies.
A law suit is filed to collect the copyright-violation damages. If you violated a copyright law, the photo owner can request the judge for an injunction, stop the violations, and seize all copies that are already in existence. You can also lose a large sum equal to the money or financial profit you made from committing such crime. Furthermore, you can be asked to pay for statutory damages instead of the actual damages.
Statutory damages are asked before the final judgement. The court can ask you to pay anywhere from $750 to $30,000, depending on what the judge thinks is fair. If you are proven to break the copyright law willfully, instead of ignorance, you can pay up to $150, 000. However, if you are not proven to break the copyright law intentionally, the judge can lower the fee to as low as $200.
If you willfully breaks the law for financial gain, it is considered as a criminal act. It’s also a crime if you reproduced more than $1,000 worth of materials or posts online, or pitched the idea that the original is to be distributed commercially. If you are caught, the police have the authority to destroy the illegal materials and force you to make compensation. Some copyright owners may pressure you to settle out of court.
That’s why you should always contact the owner of the image to see if they want to control use of the image before using it.