Have you hired an SEO company and now find yourself in receipt of a shakedown letter from a lawyer demanding money because one of his images are on your website? You’re not alone. There is tell of certain lawyers finding images being routinely used on many sites going to the U.S. copyright office and then purchasing the rights of the images. Many of these images are being used on royalty free sites. If one happens upon a lawyer’s website, he is one of the few people who likely will pay more if he fights it and goes to court. Courts reason that the lawyer should have been aware of the legal ramifications of using images, any image, without doing the research to assure the lawyer had the true right to the use of the image from the true owner.
- Understanding the Concept of Intellectual Property in the Internet Era
One of the key aspects of the internet era is the free association of ideas and intellectual property. The lawful sharing of ideas, photos, and videos has dramatically expanded the role of the public domain and has enabled an explosion of valued added to public discourse. However, such roles are sometimes blurred by the deceptive use of laws intended to protect intellectual property rights. This is especially of concern for attorneys that run their own websites, especially if they commonly use stock photographs.
- Patent Squatting 101 and the New Era of Shakedown Lawsuits that are LEGAL
There has been much talk about patent squatting and the effects that it has had on innovation. In a similar vein, there has been a sharp increase of the improper use of photo rights claims. By improperly, but legally, acquiring the rights to commonly used pictures in order to threaten anyone that used the images. This can be used by squatting on commonly linked-to images on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other sites. The mechanism allowing for the enforcement of such a provision comes from the The Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, which sought to reduce the unlawful use of proprietary media. However, it has instead spawned a wave of incredible abuse.
- Example of a Recent LEGAL Shakedown
It could be seen on the popular web advice site WebCopyPlus, which was recently shaken down for $4,000 for using a basic image they found on Google. They received a letter from an attorney demanding a, ìCease and desist demand and offer to settle copyright infringement claim, and digital millennium copyright act claim, subject to Rule 408, Federal Rules of Evidence.”
- The Berne Convention Loophole
Some, who many would call “unscrupulous” attorneys quickly seized upon the loophole in the Berne Law to claim as many photos as possible and begin demanding four or five figures for the accidental use of such images. The Indianapolis Business Journal reported on a local photographer that began demanding $1,500 from each of hundreds of people that utilized his photograph of the city’s skyline. The photographer’s recent lawsuit was thrown out only on jurisdictional grounds rather than due to the Defendant’s arguments.
These and other cases represent a serious overreach in the use of intellectual property protections. Well-intentioned statutes have been twisted to threaten even the most basic website owners. If you are running your firm’s web effort please be aware and forewarned.
How To Make Sure you are Not Using Lifted Images
The way your adversary will be finding you is the same way you can find the stolen items or images allegedly on your website. The best tool I am aware of is TinEye. But there is also:
There are some great tips here to avoid having your content and images stolen from the get go. But for most of the lawyers reading this piece, it becomes clear that you may have stolen images on your site, and that a smart, lazy lawyer can legally go and buy the rights to those images, sit on those rights for years, and then sue you. One demand letter and let’s see if you’re willing to play the game of chicken when a federal judge asks you if you “really are a lawyer?” “Why are we here counsel?” “Pay the man.”
Posts by Michael Ehline
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