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If you are like most of the tour operators we know (and we know quite a few here at Tourism Tiger), you care deeply about your business and want to represent it authentically and effectively on your website. There’s one element in particular on a website we find all tour operators put a great amount of thought and care into choosing, and that is the images. Understandably so, as having great photos on your site can help draw potential customers in and allow them to visualize taking your amazing tours.

You may have spent hours choosing the right photos to represent you and your tours – possibly hiring a photographer or even taking photos yourself. And then you may have gone through the process of ensuring they were the right size, dimensions, quality, and subject for the website and individual tours or pages. Understandably, it would come as quite a shock then, to receive a submission in your Contact Us form like this one that a client received recently:

“This is [random name] and I am a qualified photographer and illustrator.

I was confused, to put it nicely, when I came across my images at your web-site. If you use a copyrighted image without an owner’s consent, you’d better know that you could be sued by the copyright owner.

It’s illegitimate to use stolen images and it’s so low!

Here is this document with the links to my images you used at [ …yourwebsite] and my earlier publications to obtain the evidence of my legal copyrights.

Download it right now and check this out for yourself:

[…suspicious link,  but appears to be a google drive folder]

If you don’t get rid of the images mentioned in the document above during the next few days, I’ll file a complaint on you to your hosting provider letting them know that my copyrights have been severely infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property.

And if it doesn’t help, trust me I am going to report and sue you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.”

A copyrighted image is an image that has legal restrictions on when it can be used without permission from the owner. It is possible to be fined or taken to court for using a copyrighted image without permission, but if you’ve received a contact form submission like this on your website, don’t panic, you are not alone! And you are probably not at fault either. We have seen an increasing number of scam contact form submissions that follow a similar format, always containing a link, and using the same indignant and accusatory tone intended to intimidate the reader. These submissions often seem legitimate at first, as the link can look like a google drive link.

The reality is copyright infringement laws do exist and can result in a fine, so here are a few steps we recommend taking to avoid stress if you receive a copyright infringement scam submission:

1- Know Where Your Images Are From and Ensure You Are Using All Images Legally

It is quite scary to receive a message like that if you do not know who owns the images on your website – legitimate copyright infringement could result in a fine or even being taken to court.

Are you worried you may be using copyrighted material illegally or without the proper attribution? Even if you are using photos that your customers have taken on tours with you, remember to ask permission before using the images on your website. Ultimately, it is your responsibility as the site owner to make sure all the images on your site are being used legally, you can check out this essential guide to using images legally online(opens in a new tab). You can read more about copyright laws and using copyrighted images here.(opens in a new tab)

If you are a new tour operator and don’t have many pictures of your tours yet, one helpful resource is stock photo websites such as Unsplash(opens in a new tab), Shutterstock(opens in a new tab)Alamy(opens in a new tab), and Deposit Photos(opens in a new tab). If you are using a stock photo website to source your images, they should provide details on licensing requirements on their website. We recently took the time to use the live chat feature on Deposit Photos(opens in a new tab) to enquire about copyright and licensing for their service for a client and this was their response:

Once you purchase a file on our website, you will get a lifelong license on its use.

Giving credit is required only when using images marked as Editorial Use Only(opens in a new tab). As to other images, credit is not required. However, if you want to credit the author, please use “Author’s nickname.”

The licensing may vary based on the service so always do your research to make sure you are using images legally. If you do not know where the photo came from or do not know if it is copyrighted, do not use the photo on your website.

2- Don’t Click the Link!

Never click the link! Scammers can use links to get you to download malware or viruses that can infiltrate your devices. We recommend not clicking any links in emails or messages you receive if you do not know who they are from. If you are curious if a person is legitimate or not, try searching their name or email address in a search engine (if they are a professional photographer, or come from a law firm they would likely have an online presence).

3- Do Not Allow Links in Form Submissions

At Tourism Tiger, we have addressed the increase in scam form submissions by developing the option to disallow hyperlinks in form submissions all together. If someone tries to submit the form with a link in it, they simply will not be permitted to submit the form. A customer trying to contact you about your service is unlikely to need to include a link in their message and a legitimate photographer can send you a message without including a link if they need to reach you.

In conclusion, if you receive an email or form submission and you do not who it is from, here are the warning signs of a scam message:

  1. The message tries to get you to click on a link.
  2. The tone seems intended to intimidate you.
  3. The person does not provide legitimate information on their business and you cannot find any online presence for them.

If you have followed our advice about selecting your images and you do receive a message that contains the red flags above, first breathe, then go ahead and delete the submission, and finally look for an option to disallow links in form submissions to avoid these scam messages in the future.

Looking for more information on how to choose images for your tour website? Check out our other blogs on Photos that Sell Tours and Essential Photos for Tour Websites.

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