Apple has settled out of court with photographer Sabine Liewald, whose eyeball photograph was used in the keynote presentation launching the Retina display MacBook Pro.

It appears that Apple had acquired the rights to use the photograph, but the terms didn't cover its use in public displays, in fact it was meant for mock-ups only, according to reports.

Photographer Sabine Liewald claimed her photograph of an eyeball was illegally used during the Apple keynote announcing the Retina display MacBook last June.

Apple and Liewald have reached an agreement in principle to resolve the lawsuit. The terms of the settlement haven't been disclosed.

A quick look at Apple's video of the WWDC announcement suggests that the company has now changed the image used during the presentation. The image now seen in the the keynote (above), is different to the one originally shown (below) which has been used by Adobe since Apple's keynote.

Protecting your intellectual property

The story highlights an issue with intellectual property that any company could fall prey to. In this era of the Google image search, companies may not be aware of the legal restrictions on using images they find on the web without first gaining permission. The use of these images isn't always malicious - many companies don't realise that the images are protected by copyright - but the photographers and illustrators who created those images stand to lose out.

We spoke to Iain Stansfield, Partner at law firm Olswang. Olswang serves companies in the media, communications and technology sectors and Stansfield provides strategic advice to clients involved in the development, protection and exploitation of intellectual property.

Stansfield told Macworld: "There is a general misconception that images which are uploaded to the internet are in some way being placed in the public domain, in the sense that they are then free to be used and not protected by copyright. Copyright continues to subsist in an image after it has been put online, although the photographer is obviously taking more of a risk that it can be copied and used without their permission."

How to protect your photographs

Photographers can avoid being exploited in this way, according to Stansfield. "There are some simple 'self-help' ways of managing this risk," he said. "Asserting the photographer's copyright somewhere within the image makes clear to anybody accessing it that the photographer considers it to be their property. This may deter unauthorised use, or prompt the right questions in the minds of users who may not be aware of the copyright issues. Asserting copyright at source can also be helpful from a legal point of view if the photographer has to enforce that copyright."

Stansfield suggested "watermarking" the image as a form of basic protection. "This can be done by making it incapable of reproduction without also reproducing the watermark," Stansfield explained. "It might be a statement of ownership or some other identifier across the image, making it unfeasible to use commercially without obtaining a cleared image from an authorised source. It could also provide a means for a prospective user to contact the photographer to discuss licensing."

"Metadata can also be embedded in digital files containing the images, identifying the copyright proprietor and containing other key data such as licensing terms," added Stansfield. "There are also software products which can be used to trawl the web for usage of images, either with or without metadata."

The Copyright Hub

Stansfield noted that discussions are on-going in the UK regarding establishing a Copyright Hub. This would be a not-for-profit, industry-led mechanism for copyright owners to register their works and provide a platform for licensing them to users, and for users to track down owners, he explained. This came out of a report on intellectual property commissioned by the Government from Professor Ian Hargreaves, published in 2011.

How to avoid infringing someone's copyright

Companies wishing to ensure that they don't infringe someone's copyright should ensure that any use of materials is approved by someone with knowledge of the legal ramifications.

Stansfield suggested the following strategy: "For large organisations using copyright works created by others, risk of infringing can be managed through establishing processes by which approval for usage must be obtained from people within the organisation aware of the copyright and licensing issues. Where use had been licensed, details of the terms and extent of usage should be available to, and checked by, anybody using that material."

He added: "It is also important to manage processes undertaken by external creative agencies on behalf of large organisations. This can be a matter of making clear in contracts and associated processes what is required and, perhaps, checking from time to time that the right steps are being taken by those agencies."

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