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Author Topic: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?  (Read 20706 times)

Chockstone

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Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« on: November 03, 2014, 06:51:55 pm »

Someone approached me recently via email and offered to run a Google reverse image search in bulk across my whole landscape photography website. I was curious and told them to go ahead. Well was I surprised when the report arrived showing literally thousands of copyright breeches across the world. A quick scan revealed everything from small time bloggers and forum posters, to a large number of travel related commercial websites, and on up to larger businesses and even some government departments.

What to do? Photography represents a large portion of my income, and image licensing is about half of that (the other half being print sales). It’s a business I’m trying to build up, so to me this is serious concern. I tried contacting a few off the top of the list highlighting the copyright breech and asking they either take the images down or pay my licensing fee. Explanations so far have been:

1) When my images are used with copyright watermark cropped off or photo shopped out:
- They did a Google image search, found images without a copyright watermark and assumed (quite incorrectly) that they were free to use.
- They bought the website from someone else or had it developed by someone else and have no idea where the images came from.
- They fail to respond, presumably out of guilt, but the images are taken down.

2) When my images are used with copyright watermark still in place:
- They and thought I'd be flattered to have them appear on their website (sans payment).
- They thought it was okay to use any image (sans payment) provided the copyright watermark was left in place.

Granted I've only contacted a small handful of the thousands on the list, but in all cases thus far they have immediately taken down the images from their website and have no interest in purchasing a license. Given these are the calibre of people who are prepared to commit a crime to avoid spending a few dollars that doesn't surprise me.

What I'm looking at then is probably a solid three weeks of work to:
- Open each URL and verify the image in question is mine.
- Identify the company or individual involved and cross check against legit paid invoices.
- In the case of theft, search their site for contact details.
- Email them with links to the offending pages requesting take down or payment.
- Respond to replies and verify images are taken down.

I don't have three weeks spare for what could be zero profit. I could possibly find half an hour in a week free, but at that pace the list will have grown back to the same size by time I get to the end.

One other issue that this has highlighted to me is how many copies of my work out "out there" without my copyright notice on them. I suspect this has come about from using image hosting/printing sites that don't watermark their small preview images. Of course as photographers we know that "copyright protection does not depend upon registration, publication, a copyright notice, or any other procedure — the protection is free and automatic. A photo is protected by copyright automatically from the moment it is taken". (See: http://www.copyright.org.au/admin/cms-acc1/_images/732757805533a4bbed9e2a.pdf). However the general public seems to take the view that if it's not nailed down it's free to take.

So anyway, does anyone have any advice on how to proceed? I'm tempted to just scan the list for anything that looks like large commercial/government organisations and deal with those, leaving the rest.

sharperstill

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2014, 05:06:50 am »

That would be my advice, particularly gov sites.  Don't forget to screenshot each one before you contact them.
I noticed with interest a new portfolio website service out of the UK which has a method of displaying the image without using the imagefile. Have a look at pixelrights.com. Not affiliated.

Jon
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jjj

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2014, 06:12:10 am »

I've heard of a few photographers that make more money from infringers than they do from legitimate clients.  :-\
Which is a sad indictment of the current state of photography as a business.

Can't recall any of their names offhand, but they had an efficient system for dealing with infringers which made it very worthwhile doing.
Though if you'd rather be doing photographic stuff, employ someone else to do this for a reasonable cut. May be worthwhile with the amount of work stolen.
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mbaginy

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #3 on: November 04, 2014, 06:31:09 am »

     I imagine it would take a great deal of time to deal with infringements and become quite complicated (if not impossible) when the infringers are located in foreign countries.  And the entire process would probably be quite costly too.  In my view, only lawyers will be making a profit from prosecuting infringers.
     The web offers the criminal-minded a great opportunity.  I don't know which "protection" actually works and still allows images to be presented in an attractive manner.
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Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #4 on: November 04, 2014, 09:03:13 am »

You didn't mention if you registered your copyright. Huge difference for statutory damages.

EDIT: Well, at least in the U.S.
« Last Edit: November 04, 2014, 10:19:18 am by Slobodan Blagojevic »
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Gulag

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #5 on: November 04, 2014, 01:34:19 pm »

What happened to musicians has happened to all digital craftsmen in the age of the Internet.  What is behind the curtain is the brutal hands, such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc,  in velvet gloves,  appearing as the vanguard of progress and better society; but, they are nothing but the mastermind of digital theftery because it's in their financial interest to see to it. They have internalized profit while externalized cost to everyone else - the doctrine of capitalism.  In the meantime, perhaps, we can do what this guy is doing:

« Last Edit: November 04, 2014, 01:38:37 pm by Gulag »
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David Eichler

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #6 on: November 04, 2014, 09:59:32 pm »

You didn't mention if you registered your copyright. Huge difference for statutory damages.

EDIT: Well, at least in the U.S.

Just FYI, in cases where someone has removed a copyright notice from a photo, I believe that a substantial fine applies, regardless of whether the photos were registered with the copyright office or not. I also believe the removal applies to copyright notices in metadata as well, though I guess it might be harder to prove who removed that.
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DeanChriss

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #7 on: November 05, 2014, 01:47:07 pm »

... I'm tempted to just scan the list for anything that looks like large commercial/government organisations and deal with those, leaving the rest.

Theft of work is always outrageous, especially in this sort of volume. Unfortunately there is no way to prevent theft of anything that is freely available online to more than 3 billion people, and attempting to deal with thefts after they occur is an exercise in frustration. New thefts can occur faster than you can deal with them. IMO, looking for commercial interests that are using the photos, that are also located in places where you could take legal action if appropriate, would be the best approach. I'd start with the those that you think could cause the most damage (i.e.; loss of income) and work my way down if time allows. In practical terms there is no return, except a bit of satisfaction, in spending time writing to a some blogger who posted a photo belonging to you.

It is definitely possible to legally prosecute copyright infringement and win, but you need to pick your battles carefully. It is a time consuming process that requires a financial investment that will hopefully be offset when you win. A better approach is usually to settle for removal of the photos and payment of the fee you would normally get for use of the images in question.

Disclaimer: The above is my personal opinion and should not be considered as legal advise by anyone.

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Justinr

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #8 on: November 06, 2014, 03:51:28 pm »

I find it slightly Ironic that everybody rushes round telling the world how wonderful there mobile is at taking pictures and you don't need photographers any more etc etc. And yet the world and his dog are also rushing around pinching photos that er.... are taken by professional photographers rather than doing the job with their wonderful mobiles instead!
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Deardorff

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #9 on: November 08, 2014, 11:00:14 am »

Put together a few hundred of the larger users or business users. Concentrate more on those who have REMOVED your copyright notice or information. Then go to the FBI and insist on filing a formal complaint for them to investigate.

They would do it for Disney Corp in a heartbeat - after all, copyright was extended as Mickey Mouse was going to go out of copyright protection. They will do it for you if you push and maybe contact your congressmen and Senators to help with pushing.

FBI with prosecution and prison and major fines a real possibility will get the attention of these thieves. Why not let the Feds do the threatening - it is their job and your taxes pay for them.

You may have to push but going after the bigger businesses and offenders this way will help you and everyone else whose images are stolen.

Then go after payment from all the commercial users including reporting to credit agencies those who don't pay. Hit them in the bank account - a credit report showing non payment of bills can hurt their credit rating.
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PeterAit

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #10 on: November 08, 2014, 11:39:10 am »

Put together a few hundred of the larger users or business users. Concentrate more on those who have REMOVED your copyright notice or information. Then go to the FBI and insist on filing a formal complaint for them to investigate.


I appreciate your optimism, but I fear it is pie-in-the-sky. As you say, Disney would get their complaint dealt with, but not people like us. The FBI would laugh in your face. They are too busy tapping all of our phones. Or is that the NSA?

I had an annoying but strangely refreshing issue with copyright a few years ago, involving text rather than a photo. Someone in Australia had used a large section of text from my web site without permission or even acknowledgement. When I contacted them, their response was basically "So what. I am in Australia and you are in the US and there's nothing you can really do about it." I didn't like it, but at least I knew where I stood!
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biggiesnows

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2014, 10:55:02 am »

Are you in the US or UK? I've used Copyright Defense League in Brooklyn, NY with great success. They have bots that crawl the web to find your images. They're not a legal firm but they refer the cases to a copyright law firm. They only refer cases where the images have been registered with the US Copyright Office.  I got about 25% of the settlement amount but it was definitely worth it.

Good luck.

biggiesnows
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Isaac

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #12 on: November 10, 2014, 11:25:17 am »

As you say, Disney would get their complaint dealt with, but not people like us.

Depends whether people like us bother to register our photographs with the U.S. Copyright Office: which is "a prerequisite before United States authors can bring an action for infringement in federal court" and "Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law."

pdf "A guide for completing your electronic copyright registration"

When I contacted them, their response was basically "So what. I am in Australia and you are in the US and there's nothing you can really do about it." I didn't like it, but at least I knew where I stood!

Do you think it was in their interest to give you the best legal advice or was it in their interest to dissuade you from getting legal advice?
« Last Edit: November 13, 2014, 06:58:29 pm by Isaac »
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jjj

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #13 on: November 11, 2014, 12:42:06 pm »

Do you think it was in their interest to give you the best legal advice or was it in their interest to dissuade you from getting legal advice?
Indeed.
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Brent Daniels

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #14 on: November 24, 2014, 09:42:37 am »

There are now companies that do registrations, searches, and run the collection process including funding required litigation to protect photographer's IP. They do take a percentage fee for this however they also take up all the time, stress and cost of dealing with these infringers. Many very large international corporations as a general business practice will infringe because the facts of life is they only get caught 1 in 4 times. When they do get caught they generally can beg it off as an error and pay a fee equal to what they would have paid if they operated ethically, or not pay at all. I hate that they do this but I can understand why they do it.

Unless we as artists stand up to this systematic theft of our property & rights it will continue, and grow. So check out ImageRights.com .

I am not affiliated with Image Rights but they are presently running an action for me that frustrated me to no end for years. I did not have the financial resources to take on a huge multinational beverage company, and they knew that. Now I can.
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Peter Mellis

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #15 on: November 24, 2014, 10:46:23 am »

If you can find an organization, with a good track record, that can handle this for a cut, then it's the expedient route. They might do one pass at all of the offenders and then narrow down to those they perceive as "the low hanging fruit"; not too different from where you might end up, with no effort on your part.
If you decide to go after some of these yourself, first go after public companies that are image conscious and/or might have rights issues of their own (publishers, etc.) Direct your initial effort at the President or the Chairman of the Board, not some corporate flunky. In many organizations these types of issues are pushed down the food chain, with orders to fix it, especially if they are image conscious.
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Phil Indeblanc

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #16 on: December 01, 2014, 07:39:11 pm »

I thought that in the USA you are protected, BUT you cannot claim the 3X damages.

Maybe this would give reason to bring back FLASH sites :-)
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pcgpcg

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #17 on: December 11, 2014, 11:52:11 am »

For a stress-free approach to this problem:
Never post hi-res images to the web.  By this I mean something that could be used to make a good print larger than 8" x 10".
Consider that unauthorized lo-res images (screen-saver quality) that appear on the web with your copyright notice is free advertising.
You are not losing any money with this approach as the people that post those images won't pay for them. They are just advertising for you.
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Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #18 on: December 11, 2014, 12:15:47 pm »

For a stress-free approach to this problem:
Never post hi-res images to the web.  By this I mean something that could be used to make a good print larger than 8" x 10".
Consider that unauthorized lo-res images (screen-saver quality)...

With today's screen sizes and resolutions, screen-savers are actually hi-res images and can be printed easily and beautifully, exhibition-grade, on canvas, up to about 25" wide, without any interpolation.

pcgpcg

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Re: Thousands of copyright infringements – What to do?
« Reply #19 on: December 12, 2014, 12:56:10 pm »

With today's screen sizes and resolutions, screen-savers are actually hi-res images and can be printed easily and beautifully, exhibition-grade, on canvas, up to about 25" wide, without any interpolation.
Yes, that is true and it will only get worse as screen resolution continues to go up.  In general though, I think the vast majority of folks who do screen copies are using them for decorating their blogs or Facebook pages, and not making prints or in a commercial venture.  When I post a photo online I never post anything greater than 1000x1000 and it always has a visible copyright notice.  I intentionally do not make a huge distracting watermark because I WANT people to copy and repost my lo-res images. I consider this free advertising that might drive someone to my website.  If they clone away the watermark and upres the screen copy and make a cheap print at FEDEX to hang on their wall, I still don't care and I'm glad they are enjoying the image.  They would never have paid for a signed print anyway. I doubt that this ever happens.

If, however, someone would attempt to use an image in a commercial venture, as the original poster experienced, I would rightly be concerned.
It's a strange, new, and evolving digital world, and perhaps I am being naive, but this is my stress-free method for walking into it. :)
« Last Edit: December 12, 2014, 01:23:34 pm by pcgpcg »
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