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I have a hand-coded site. I just started working on a strategy that will allow users to integrate their images and drawings into the site. The problem is that I know users will start uploading images that they stole from around the internet. This is not acceptable and I don't want trouble with other webmasters. So, I need a high level strategy to deal with this problem.

Plan A:
Let them upload the image URLs. (The images won't be displayed initially.) then let a trusted moderator make a judgement. If it is open source from Wikimedia for example, chances are it can be used. If however the image is from another site, it could be an opportunity to contact the webmaster, offer to swap a link for a one-time use of their image (compliment them on site and do a little promotion/networking).

Plan B:
Tie the custom coded site into some image gallery if they have some 'legalese' policy already integrated into it.

Plan C:
Is there a third party image hosting service that permits some sort of hot linking? What are the SEO implications of this approach?

Plan D:
?

In Summary:
How can I let users upload images without getting myself in trouble? (Critique plan A, Finish Plan B or C, or create a new Plan D.)

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You can do at least five things to reduce the risk of copyright infringement harming your business:

  1. Upon upload, remind the user not to share copyrighted material. YouTube does this with an 'I own this video or have written permission to share it' checkbox that has to be ticked before the video can be uploaded.
  2. Add two clauses to your terms: one that waives liability for images you display from users, and another that forbids uploading of copyrighted material.
  3. Provide a clear way for copyright holders to apply for material to be removed.
  4. Provide a clear way for other site users to flag images as objectionable or potentially violating copyright. Self-policing online communities are valuable things.
  5. Make it clear who owns images that users upload, perhaps by offering them a choice of licence for the images they upload. (YouTube offers a restricted licence or a copyleft -style one. Flickr does something similar.)
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Companies don't go around suing everybody who misuses their copyrighted stuff. The legal procedure always begins with a notification of the copyright infringements and specific demands.

Write an EULA

That said, the best procedure would be allowing anything to be posted but have some moderators taking care of removal requests. It also helps if you build a reputation system and punish users who insist in uploading copyrighted data. Describe everything you don't want posted in your site in your EULA - which should be a must to upload or create an account - and other garbage nobody really reads.

BONUS

ThePirateBay stores copies of legal documents from big companies (such as Apple and WarnerBros) threatening to take legal actions if their demands are not met. If big companies like that are so powerless to do anything legally, imagine smaller companies. You should be fine since you're not actually trying to host illegal content intentionally.

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While your right that few people will ever really try to take action, that doesn't negate your moral obligation. –  Rincewind42 Jul 4 '11 at 0:25
1  
@Rince Did you read the part about moderating? That's where you fullfill your moral obligation. The purpose is to make the users' experience more comfortable not yours - with third party sites like you explained in your answer. –  Renan Jul 4 '11 at 1:08
    
Moderators taking care of removal requests isn't covering the moral issue. Your stance is that if there is no complaint made, then there is no issue. However, the correct moral stance would be to screen every photo before it is published. The receipt of a complaint is a sign that the system has failed. Your system makes it easy for you, and easy for the poster but extremely hard work for the copyright owner trying to protect his property. –  Rincewind42 Jul 8 '11 at 14:00
    
Moral values varies a lot from culture to culture. Now unless you find an official written document expressing the world moral laws I don't have anything else to discuss with you. Some people believe information shouldn't be protected at all. –  Renan Jul 8 '11 at 14:47
    
Moderating may make things worse. –  Jim Thio Mar 10 '13 at 10:35

On my site, I restrict the sources of images. My site is published under a Creative Commons license so that I can use many sources such as wikipedia, flickr and such. When an image is submitted, my scripts check the URL matches one of my approved sources and if possible, checks that the license that source published under is compatible with my site.

If a user wants to upload an image to my site, they must first upload it to an image sharing site, such as flickr, then point me at the URL.

This also has the benefit of reducing the problem of malicious uploads. People uploading scripts to hack my system instead of images. Since wikipedia and flickr have already scanned the image for such threats. Course, I still scan them anyway just to be sure but it makes me feel more comfortable.

As for your plan C, I believe this is used by many site. StackExchange seems to use imgur.com to host its image contributions.

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