I’m writing to let all readers know about image copyright infringement and what recently happened to me. Mid February, I was contacted by a large Image Stock company who specializes in selling images over the web. They sent a long letter and evidence regarding my web site Miami Beach Condo Deals.com and images used. Apparently, over the last 6 years of building the site, I had used 2 of their images on my home page and interior pages. The letter not only mentioned a cease & desist order but also the threat of a lawsuit for “damages” if I didn’t settle with them in the next 15 days for $10,000. That’s right, they wanted $10,000! Being an honest person, I quickly tried to figure out how I came across these images and not being able to pinpoint it, quickly removed them from the web site. To make myself clear to this company, I wrote an email explaining myself and that they had been removed. I also let them know they would be getting ZERO as I strongly felt I had not caused any sort of “damage”. Emails followed and they had every comeback to justify my wrongdoing. I thought maybe I found it on Google images and in looking into this, Google does give a disclaimer that the image may be subject to copyright (I never noticed this). My understanding was that a picture had to have something on the image showing it was copyrighted and come to find out, that just isn’t so.
There are people & companies out there who make a living going after people who’ve used their images with scare tactics like the threat of litigation. Yes they do have a case, especially if you’ve made money on their image. What I also found interesting is these large companies hire third party companies to track each of their images. You can also easily go into web archives (Archives Here) to see the duration of use. The company then goes after the individual for settlement which turns out to be a very lucrative business. Many of these letters are scare tactics because they do work.
Here’s where it gets interesting. A month later I received a letter from the companies attorney stating I now owed them $13,000 or would be sued for damages. OUCH! This nuisance would not go away… I called my attorney who linked me with Coral Gables finest infringement attorney finding the retainer at $25,000 in order to hire them… I decided to sleep on it. That afternoon I began researching image copyright infringement and ended up getting great advice off the web. So here’s what i did… I wrote (by hand) a letter claiming financial hardship and not being capable of paying $13,000 for settlement. I said “Do what you want to do and sue.” Luckily, the attorney was once a Realtor so he understood and I agreed to pay an out of court settlement for $750. Today the check has cleared and I’m glad to relay what I’ve learned from this.
How serious in copyright infringement? If a case goes to court, statutory damages can be as high as $150,000 per copyrighted work if the infringement has been shown to be blatant and willful. In one of the first precedent setting cases involving copyright infringement on the web, Atlantis New Media lost a case against the Floridaagency SuperStock and was ordered to pay $10,500 in damages. Atlantis illegally scanned three images from one of SuperStock’s stock photography catalogs for use on its corporate web site. Said James Ong, Co President of SuperStock, “people think that they are safe in the black hole of the Internet. We trust that this case is evidence that they will be caught, and they will be punished.” Read Article Here
In fact, this is what I did in my early days, and I found that some paid, others didn’t. Big companies were more likely to do so, and to pay better; little companies usually said, “Go ahead, sue us.” In the end, the time and energy were draining, not to mention the constant, distasteful “conflict,” which made the whole practice… well, not to my liking. Read Blog Here
My last AH HA is that ‘Registration’ is Critical. Question one in a copyright infringement lawsuit case is whether the work has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. This is because even though photographers have copyright protection from the moment they shoot the protection is often useless with regards to getting infringement damages paid, if the image was not registered prior to the infringement (or within three months of the image’s first publication). Registration is required to recover attorney’s fees and statutory damages which is often the clutch that motivates infringers to pay without litigation. Courts may award statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per work with the minimum damage award is reduced to $200 if the infringement is innocent and the maximum increased to $150,000 if willful. Willful infringement usually means knowledge of copyright protection, which is a good reason to place a copyright notice on all of your work.
In my case I didn’t care whether or not it was registered but was glad to get the annoyance off my back for $750. My time is money and to spend anymore time on this was not worth it. If you’re in a similar circumstance let us know what’s happening to you by commenting below.