Image Copyright Infringement Information if Threatened

I Want You In Prison

Image Copyright Infringement & Information if Threatened by Litigation. I’m writing to inform all readers about image copyright infringement and what recently happened to me.

Mid-February, I was contacted by a large Image Stock company that specializes in selling images over the web. They sent a letter and evidence regarding my website and the 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 mentioned a cease & desist order and the threat of a lawsuit for “damages” if I didn’t settle with them in the next 15 days, $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 them, quickly removed them from the website. To make myself clear to this company, I wrote an email explaining myself and that they had been removed. I also told them they would be getting ZERO as I strongly felt I had not caused any “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. Come to find out, that just isn’t so.

Scare Tactics & Litigation

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 have a case, especially if you’ve made money on their image. I also found it interesting that these large companies hire third-party companies to track each image. 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 is a very lucrative business. Many of these letters are scare tactics because they do work.

Do I Hire an Attorney?

Here’s where it gets interesting. A month later, I received a letter from the company’s 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 Gable’s finest infringement attorney. However, to my dismay, the retainer was $25,000 to hire them… I decided to sleep on it.

Information if Threatened by Litigation

That afternoon I began researching image copyright infringement and ended up getting great advice from 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 is copyright infringement?

How serious is 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 Florida agency SuperStock. It 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 website. James Ong, Co-President of SuperStock, said, ” people think 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 and 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, not to my liking. – Read the Blog Here

Is The Image Registered?

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 regarding getting infringement damages paid if the image was not registered before the infringement (or within three months of the image’s first publication). Registration is required to recover attorney’s fees and statutory damages, which often motivates infringers to pay without litigation. Courts may award statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per work, with the minimum damage award 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 I was glad to get the annoyance off my back for $750. My time is money, and spending more on this was not worth it. If you’re in a similar circumstance, let us know what’s happening to you by commenting below.

About Ashton Coleman

Ashton is a tech & social media savvy professional who understands the industry providing white-glove service with a wealth of experience, an impeccable reputation, and a keen ability to efficiently handle all facets of real estate. Ashton’s territory has grown significantly since 2002, marketing & selling extraordinary South Florida coastal real estate from Miami Beach to Lighthouse Point. A Certified Luxury Homes Marketing Specialist (Million Dollar Guild), with a multitude of other residential certifications, Ashton provides both exceptional service and unique selling techniques. His success is attributed to an unparalleled work ethic with years of experience including top-tier professional services where the ‘art of the deal’ is mastered in contract negotiations, deal-making intricacies and the end, results-driven real estate.

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10 thoughts on “Image Copyright Infringement Information if Threatened

  1. I am glad that you learned the lesson here but you did escape about as well as you could. Typically, these large agencies are very good about registering their images or other works, the fee is nothing to them, and they probably would have hit you for the full sum. If Jammie Thomas can be sued for a quarter of a million for sharing about 25 dollars worth of music, this situation could have gotten very ugly.

    It’s just a lesson. I don’t approve of companies that make their living threatening people, but they do exist and it is a reason to be careful.

  2. I downloaded an image off of the google image, and it was titled “copy”, and it did not have a trace to the website or copyright owner and it was not on the image. I had this image as a small thumbnail on my site and I had put in a title through Adobe.

    I did not even remember having this website because I was billed automatically monthly and I have around 3-4 websites. I had it registered for 2 years, but did not put the photo on it until about a year ago.

    I was notified by the “owner” of the photo and when I actually looked at his photo it did not look like the one he had used and I questioned him. He assured me it was from his website out of his “stock.” The title to the photo is not the same as the “stock” photo he had and it doesn’t look clear as his. This photo looks similar to his. I don’t know who made the copy, but I did try to find it from google and since I did not, I used it. I can’t find the photo I found on google anymore when I recently tried to find out who originally copied it. It wasn’t me.
    Now I got a threatening email, not physical mail letter, from the photographer and I just pulled the website completely. I did not even need this site. Unfortunately, I didn’t pull it soon enough.
    This website was not for marketing, it was for information only for people to write in about Access TV shows. Access TV is not ‘COMMERCIAL.”. No goods were advertised on this site and it was a one pager, no frills yahoo site. I think probably 10 people ever viewed it. Don’t know. No one wrote to me from that site at all.
    So, the photographer said we could settle, and he wouldn’t sue for $150,000.00 like his lawyer would like him to if I would pay his price. His price is $3,850.00 he says that was generated from a software program that computes all the data to arrive at a price. He is also giving me 20 days to pay this.
    My company is an LLC, and we have $28.00 in the account right now. No employees, it is a home based business. Like you, I have zip.
    His photo that he says I used, and I say I did not know it was his because of the google thing, is copyrighted and registered through the library of Congress.
    I talked to him personally on the phone and told him I did not mean to use a photo that was copyrighted, but there was no information on the photo I got.
    He wants’ me to accept his invoice that states on it in a paragraph that this payment of $3,850.00 is for retroactive payment of the use of his photo, and that if paid by July 24, 2008 there will not be a law suit $150,000.00.
    I looked at his copyright document and he copyrighted it through the library 12-2003. Original photo was in 1994, so if he posted it on his web and someone else was able to copy it, that is possible and it does not have copyright mark on it, (the copy I found) which is entitled “copy.”
    Anyway, I do not have and cannot get $3,850.00 in 20 days and think it is very unreasonable.
    Your comments are welcome. I have to write a similar letter. If he sues, he will not get anything because there is nothing owned by my company. Nothing, not even office equipment, etc.
    Thanks for your time. Anyah D.

  3. I found your article highly valuable so as to clear my dilemma so as to whether I need permission to use the images I obtain from google for my blog. Frankly I am spooked and a trifle freaked out. Man I guess this can happen to anybody. In the near future I’ll be more careful to evaluate so as to from where my images come from. Thanks for the advice!!!

  4. I was extremely spooked with the persistance of the company and after 8+ hrs. of research, decided they did have grounds for litigation. A lot then had to do with the ‘registration’ and I’m still unclear whether or not the images were registered by this super stock company. I played hard ball and gave the attorney a letter of hardship (which was true) and they did settle quickly on a $750 flat fee to avoid future troubles and fines. Better than the $13,000 they were after me for and a lesson I’ll never forget. I now have a Nikon D90 and make sure to follow the rules/laws of copyright. What I couldn’t believe is the fact of removing it not being enough, the fact of ‘tracking photos’ for given months/years plus the fact of departments that survive on going after their images for LARGE sums.

  5. Well I have the same problem but the alleged infringement was part of a template I purchased.

    The template was all over the web on most of the big template sites at the time and I proved it to them but their position is that I am still liable.

    Honestly, how in the world is anyone going to know if any image is copyrighted or not?

    For me paying the now reduced fee of $700 will hurt a lot, hiring an attorney would hurt more, and losing the case would be devastating. This seems so immoral in every way but in the end I suspect in the end I will have fallen victim to this legal robbery.

  6. This is outrageuous. It goes to show that we have too many lawyers, judges and politicians in this country, and there is an unholy alliance between them. The honest ones need to step forward and expose and stop the abuse by the bad apples, or the people will lose all respect and they will be the biggest losers.

    Thank you for posting this. Another example of the courts running amok:

    “Jury orders music swapper to pay $1.92M” (for swapping 24 songs…)

  7. I just got an email about the cover image on a book I sell through an on-demand publisher. The book is on organization theory from a libertarian perspective, and has that famous picture of the management-type guy with his head up his ass on the cover. I was contacted by Roy Davidson of Davidson & Company, a graphic design firm, and told me it was his image from 1996, and saying he’d like to discuss compensation for my use of it. I got the picture from Google Images; there are thousands of them on the Web, with no information about copyright or the copyright owner. It’s about as common as “tubgirl” or “goatse.”

    I have no idea what his intentions are. I’ve netted a grand total of about $1500 off the book in nine months, and I imagine the cover image contributed little if any to sales because purchases have almost entirely been by readers of my blog or my previous books, or on their recommendation. I can’t believe he’d undergo the legal expenses and hassle to sue me, just for the sake of garnishing 25% of under 20,000 income or seizing a 1988 pickup truck.

    Even though I oppose copyright on principle, I’ll be happy to pay a reasonable licensing fee (a few hundred $$), or simply republish the book with a new image if the fee’s too high.

  8. I am in Singapore and run a small company developing software. I enganged a company in India to develop our website (static site with 5-6 pages) at the cost of $1,500. I assumed that they would use legitimate pictures and images as their invoice had indicated – pictures included.

    Three years later I get a letter from an image stock company demanding payment of over $ 5000 for using their pictures. As there came a doubt about the legitimacy of the images, we removed them from our website immediately, pending our confirmation from the Indian vendor.

    Obviously I was shocked and, in my bewilderment, protested my innocence. I had no idea where the vendor had picked up the images from and referred them to the vendor.

    If my vendor had told me the cost of the images, I would reject them outright in the first place, anyway.

    They asked me to settle the matter with my vendor and continued demanding payment of over $ 5000 – this was more than the cost of the website development.

    I find their demand unreasonable and unfair. If the images are protected and for sale, why not have a watermark on the “Sample” and send the actual image to the buyer upon purchase. It looks like an entrapment tactic.

    And get this – the vendor that did the website has closed down. I am still protesting and do not find any justification that I should pay.

    My question is this – would the law compel you to pay for something that you did not want to pay for in the first place?

    Naturally, when you engage a vendor to do something, the presumption is that he will use legitimate materials. You would not want to insult every vendor by asking them about the legitimacy of their business model.

    If you engage somebody do design a bedroom wardrobe and he copies the design, who is liable? Do you demolish your wardrobe for this reason ?

    I trust that the laws are written in the spirit of justice.