September 22, 2014 By Paul Wallin

The Hidden Crimes of Social Media

Have you ever copied a picture from the Internet and used it as your own work? Perhaps you copied a person’s Instagram photo and posted it to your own business website, or created a fake Facebook or Twitter profile using someone else’s picture. If so, you may have violated California copyright laws and could be facing severe penalties.

What is Copyright Law?

hidden crimes of social media
Stealing images is one of the hidden crimes of social media.

Federal copyright laws give the author of a work (such as a photo, film, or written work) the right to control how it is used and distributed. Copyright laws basically exist to protect the right of the author to make money from their works and to prevent someone else from using their work to do so. Copyright infringement is the use of an original work without the permission of the person who created it.1 This includes altering a photo with a software application such as PhotoShop or GIMP because copyright holders also have the right to control altered photos that used their original photo.2

The bottom line is that if you use a photo or video that is not your own, you could be violating someone’s copyright.

How are Copyright Violations Punished?

Punishment for copyright infringement involves civil and criminal penalties. The author can sue the infringer in civil court and be awarded damages up to $150,000 per work infringed. The court can also order the infringer to pay the author’s court costs and attorneys’ fees.

If the infringement was willful, the infringer can be charged with criminal copyright infringement, and if found guilty, he or she could be imprisoned for up to five years and fined a maximum of $250,000 per offense.3 To be willful, the prosecution must prove the infringer knew they were violating someone’s copyright or they did not care whether they violated the author’s rights.4

California’s Right of Publicity Law

In addition to the federal copyright laws, California law gives you the right to sue if someone uses your name, voice, photo, or likeness without permission in order to advertise or sell products.5 This law gives you the right to pass these rights to a family member or friend through your will, giving them control of the use of your name, voice, and image after your death.

Most often, the families of dead celebrities use this law to prevent people from selling products using the celebrity’s name or face. However, the law applies to any person, not just those who are famous.

Why Have I Never Heard of This?

Internet crime
Don’t lose your freedom over Internet crime.

The truth is that most people will never sue over the unauthorized use of their photos, even though copyright law gives them that right. Generally, if someone becomes upset about a photo, social network sites have a process posted in their Terms of Service that can allow the site to delete photos after a complaint, and even remove the account if the user continues to post infringing photos.6

However, in many states, the law becomes more strict with regards to photos of children. In fact, some states are considering laws to make it illegal for anyone other than a child’s parent or guardian to photograph a child.7

How Can I Avoid Breaking the Law?

The easiest way to avoid a copyright problem is to ask for permission. If you have the permission of the person who took the photo or the video, you will be able to post their work online.

Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges related to intellectual property laws, it is critical that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have over 40 years of experience defending people accused of federal crimes. Our attorneys will fight to get you the best possible outcome in your case.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney near you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.


1. [http://smallbusiness.chron.com/liability-posting-photos-facebook-permission-60022.html]
2. [https://asmp.org/tutorials/derivative-works-and-compilations.html – .VAfVmUvLY8t]
3. [17 U.S.C. §§504–505.]
4. [In re Barboza, 545 F.3d 702, 707 (9th Cir.2008).]
5. [Cal. Civ. Code §3344.]
6. [See, for example, Facebook’s Terms of Service: https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms]
7. [http://smallbusiness.chron.com/liability-posting-photos-facebook-permission-60022.html]

AUTHOR: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

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