I have assumed your are operating your website in the UK. However if the website (or the server which hosts it) is in the USA, similar provisions and protections to those which I am about to outline will apply under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
It would appear from what you have told us that your current editorial arrangements already protect you from liability both from copyright claims, and also claims of defamation (see section 5
of the Defamation Act 2013 for more details).
Under an EU Directive (which was brought into force in UK law by the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002
), you are operating what is termed 'an information society service' and as long as you do not exercise editorial control over what is posted on the site by your users prior to publication, you are protected by Regulation 19:
19. Where an information society service is provided which consists of the storage of information provided by a recipient of the service, the service provider (if he otherwise would) shall not be liable for damages or for any other pecuniary remedy or for any criminal sanction as a result of that storage where—
- (a) the service provider—
(b) the recipient of the service was not acting under the authority or the control of the service provider.
- (i) does not have actual knowledge of unlawful activity or information and, where a claim for damages is made, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which it would have been apparent to the service provider that the activity or information was unlawful; or
(ii) upon obtaining such knowledge or awareness, acts expeditiously to remove or to disable access to the information, and
However, if you do exercise a degree of pre-publication control over what your contributors post then this particular protection will not apply and you will then become liable for any infringement of copyright which may inadvertently occur. This is a similar situation to what happens in print media, where content is often subject to legal scrutiny prior to publication, mainly to avoid other legal pitfalls such as contempt of court, defamation etc.
So long as you operate a policy of immediately removing anything which someone complains about as infringement, you should be able avoid litigation nine times out of ten. The alternative is not allow your contributors to include images in their copy, but rather get them to supply you with the details of an image they wish to use and you, as editor, get the necessary clearances to use the image. If the sorts of images are generic to the particular subject matter your site specialises in, then you may be able to obtain what is known as a blanket licence to reproduce images from a particular picture library which provides images relevant to that subject.
However it is not always possible to get it right, as even big players like Agence France-Presse
found to their cost recently.