A photographer has landed himself in legal trouble after using a photo from free licensing site Unsplash. He was hit with a copyright infringement notice, demanding a fee. Upon trying to find the image again on Unsplash, he discovered it had been removed from the site.
The use of Unsplash and free image licensing has been the subject of debate between photographers online, and this case is sure to only stir the pot.
Photographer and business owner Simon Palmer recently used a stock image from Unsplash for his blog. His team had a brief of “copyright-cleared images” only, so naturally, they assumed images from Unsplash would come without issue, given the nature of the site.
However, Palmer has now been contacted by Copytrack, who demanded a fee. Upon trying to seek out the image on Unsplash, both the photo and the photographer who uploaded it have seemingly disappeared.
Palmer tells The Phoblographer:
I contacted Unsplash, and raised a ticket with them, and until today, I hadn’t had much communication aside from one of the folks at Unsplash saying they would pass it on to the person who handles the legal issues.
It’s here the story gets messy. Upon doing some digging, Unsplash found the image Palmer used was not actually owned by the user who uploaded it, thus meaning the usual license provided by the platform is not valid. The email from Unsplash breaking the bad news also admitted it’s a common occurrence and that “often, photographers are unaware that their images are uploaded on the platform and most would certainly not give away their images for free.”
Despite Palmer raising the point that Unsplash should be liable for images they license through their site, Copytrack’s website FAQ reveals the operator of the website where the image was displayed remains primarily responsible for the infringement, regardless of what any third party said.
Palmer is concerned he’s the victim of copyright trolling, and that he’s been set up. After all, it’s easy, right? Upload a photo to a site like Unsplash, wait for someone to use it, then remove it, and file a claim.
What this holds for the future of Unsplash remains to be seen.