335: I've been stung by the Copyright bee. Believe me, that bee sting hurts!

by Fred Showker

Fred Showker's 60-Second Window For nearly three decades, I've invited readers to send in their images and referrals to share with DTG readers. It became so popular, and so beneficial for the sender, I got too comfortable with it and even stopped saving the paper trail. Bad decision. A reader sent in a photo some time ago, and in January, we decided to show it in an article in our Gallery. In May we got an email demanding we remove it, claiming ownership. So we removed it and thought all was well. But all was not well, and here's the rest of the story.

same_bee_pict In keeping with our long-standing policy of honoring copyrights, I explained how the image had come to us -- by the owner, supposedly -- and that we would remove it immediately, or publish it with the correct copyright notice if the author/photographer wished the exposure and publicity. Little did I know what would happen next.

Shortly after removing the image another email arrived. This time the letter read :

My client, who makes his living as a professional 
photographer, still wants to be compensated for 
the use of his  work. Ms. Garvey appreciates that 
the infringement may have been unintentional, 
that is why he is looking to settle this, instead 
of having us simply file a lawsuit and ask for
statutory damages, attorneys fees and court 
costs.   I would like to explain the nature of 
the $2,500.00 amount.

At first I thought it was one of those extortion ploys I've been hearing about. You know, the ones where a photographer will 'seed' a really good photo around on the web, and then when it's shared a lot, he'll return with a law suit threat to get money for the image. So, I searched for the image using Google's reverse image search and found close to a thousand instances on the web -- Whoa!

So I popped out an email to my law firm who responded :

Quoting  begins If they are legit, and can produce an actual proof of copyright then you're better off just paying the extortion money. Getting into litigation will cost more than the $2,500 and you could probably lose, causing you to pay her fees as well. Quoting  ends

Following my attorney's suggestions, I requested proof that they are a 'real' law firm, and the owner actually has a 'real' U.S. Federal Copyright.

They tried to settle everything via email, but, I insisted they send notarized proof in writing. Nearly a month later, a packet arrived in my snail mail box, including a copy of the actual copyright, with a link where I could look it up in the Library of Congress. They had a case.

Further investigation showed that she had licensed her photograph to other users, and in some cases would license it for free for educational purposes. So it sounded like the original photographer wasn't really a bad kind of person. But she had obviously turned the case over to this law firm to collect these fees -- since they demanded all communications be with them alone. So I sent the money to them, and hopefully that's the end of that.

Always be careful to check and get a signed release for photos you plan to use. I've preached this for years, but in this case I did not keep the records of who submitted that image. It cost me $2,500 to learn that lesson over again. There are probably law firms around who look for popular images online, then approach the owner to give them a "share" of what they can collect. I have no idea how much of the $2,500 bucks the owner will get or if she will even get any. For all I know, this is all a slick ruse and she doesn't even know. With a shark like this -- and thousands of "shares" -- a small, automated firm wouldn't need but one or two cases a year. It's a rather brilliant revenue scheme.

I'd like to hear your comments on this topic -- but please, don't send any images!

Thanks for reading

Fred Showker

      Editor/Publisher : DTG Magazine
      +FredShowker on Google+ or most social medias @Showker
      Published online since 1988


SINCE this happened I've been curious about others like
GO The Google Image Search
GO Image stories at Sharenator.com
GO Photo essays at randompicturesblog.com
GO Earthables images
GO wittyfeed.com/story
GO And did Gizmodo also pay up?
GO The Buckhead Honey blog, as is with many of the others, got their image and story from the The Sacramento Bee who has removed the page.
If you click any of these and find they are gone, which I predict will happen, you'll know what happened.

Don't forget ... we encourage you to share your discoveries with other readers. Just send and email, contribute your own article, or follow DTG on Facebook!

The original copy of this post is located at http://www.graphic-design.com/60-seconds/335_copyright_sting.html

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