Beware of Stock Photo Entrapment and Extortion Scam

ExtortionLetterInfoI was sent this email below by someone who wishes to be anonymous at this time. She informs me she is in the middle of a case and does not want to reveal her identity. While I have not yet been able to substantiate this stock photo extortion scam exists, it seems entirely plausible and worth protecting yourself against. For the record, I do not think Getty Images themselves would intentionally engage in this due to their high visibility and profile but I would not put it past unethical photographers to entrap website designers and website owners.

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Found your website very useful.  I have noticed a new scam and am trying to share it so people are made aware.  (if you decide to share this, please don’t use my name as I am involved in an active case and until that is resolved I don’t want to be  included as the source of this info yet.  But once the cases is settled I do plan to provide actual details and evidence and will be happy to forward you the link.

See below:

Regarding your copyright infringement extortion, I have been noticing some new scams that I don’t think people realize yet.

What is happening is photographers and attorneys are teaming up and have found a way to make large amounts of money using the copyright infringement laws. Its pretty clever, they are intentionally providing their images in large format, to wallpaper and screensaver sites and other sites that offer public domain imagery and graphics then they wait for people to start using them on their websites, team up with an attorney and they go out and start asking for large amounts of money to settle.  The way you can tell, and should be suspicious is that most of those free download sites contain images that are 1600px wide or larger, in fact its a requirement in many cases and some of them require proof of copyright before accepting them in other words, they only accept submissions from the owner.  The only way for them to get images in those sizes is from the source, and most photographers NOT wanting their images stolen would never make those sizes available anywhere on the web.  Also their identifying marks are usually very small and in an area easily cropped out.

The other way you will know to be wary, is that most of those sites have DMCA information clearly posted, and offer to immediately remove any image that should not be there so if someone has an attorney and is going out and making people remove these images and asking them to pay, why would they not start with the source distributing these images.  And finally the DMCA is very strict and has a takedown policy, if these sites were in fact providing images that were protected, they would be taken down immediately. And anyone with an IP attorney knows how to do this and if their true intention is to help compensate clients fairly and is trying to actually stop people from stealing images, they would start with these sources.

So they send letters telling you to take the item down and to remit payment to avoid a law suit and its usually a very large amount.  They are clear to say that removing the image is not enough that the photographer deserves compensation and even if you didn’t know, you are responsible and they are unwilling to accept reasonable offers.

What people need to know to protect themselves:

  • First, make sure the people claiming infringement are the true owners and make them provide the copyright information. In some cases its a scam and in some cases they dont’ even have a copyright.  It is true that even if they don’t have a valid copyright they have some protection still,  but their copyright status will make a big difference on how much they can ask for.
  • The other thing, is they need to make sure to check out the photographers website, and see if they have terms of use, clearly marked and protected images, copyright notices on every page, etc. Although it is not required, it can give you a better case for innocent infringement.
  • The other reason why is because this can be further proof that the photographer is intentionally making it easy for people to take his images. He WANTS you to take his image because he WANTS you to pay because he isn’t making enough now legitamately.
  • And most important of ALL, If you can prove you either weren’t the one who actually did it, for instance it was your webmaster OR if you can show that the image you downloaded is from one of those 3rd party sites (should be easy to show by the size and name of the image) then you are what is called an “innocent infringer” which means your infringment was NOT willful because you did not know the images was protected.  The new law reduces fines to innoncent infringers to only $200.

These lawyers and photographer teams will be very insistent that you are a thief no matter if you knew or not, will not be reasonable and are not looking for a fair compensation based on how the image was used, where it was used, size, traffic to the site, how long it was up, etc.  The only way to deal with this situation is to get a lawyer and fight it or offer $200 as an innocent infringer and point out all the facts and hope they realize they aren’t dealing with an easy mark.  IF they wont take it, get a lawyer because most likely you will win in court and not have to pay a dime. Oh and if you point out all these facts they will try to defend that you are still guilty if taking images from a peer to peer site and that nothing is free and you took a risk by taking an image from the web so you are to blame, BUT not all of these sites are Peer to Peer and and many of them clearly mark on their site that the images are for public use.

Its important to note that the law says no matter what, if you use someones image on your site whether you knew or not, as the owner of the site you are responsible so simply ignoring it is not good.  So the best thing to do is never use an image you don’t know.  But what you are trying to show here is that your were not a willful infringer and to protect from people using these laws to extort money from you, especially when the law is still not that great in this area, as many people do not know IP law and are not aware they are doing anything wrong and this law is giving dishonest people a way to make money and as most people know, when it comes to money people are always looking for ways to make it legal or not and will find loopholes and abuse it.  This is one of those cases, and the fact that not many people know  yet its important to get the word out so the law has time to catch up and people wont be able to pull this crap.  Oh and they are also targeting small sites and blogs who don’t have lawyers and easily scare into paying.

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