FAQ: So Your Company Has Been Found Using Alex’s Photographs Without Permission. What Next?

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These are either Belizean Infringement Ants picking a poor photographer to death, or Belizean Lawyer Ants dismantling a copyright infringer. Take your pick.

In August I hired ImageRights International, a reputable copyright enforcement agency, to assume the routine handling of commercial infringements of my professional work. There are a lot. Starting in September 2014, companies began receiving letters from ImageRights’ partner law firms seeking to resolve these infringements on my behalf.

Q. Why are you doing this to me?

Don’t take it personally. I stopped being angry about most of these cases a long time ago. The reality is that handling copyright infringements like yours with simple cease & desist letters was costing me thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours per year. The more time I spend on infringements, the fewer new images I add to my portfolio, and the more I have to charge my regular clients to compensate.

I handled these cases myself for over ten years, usually demanding nothing but image removal, and I am tired of it. The problem is growing worse each year, and I no longer have the time to bear the costs of your infringements.

ImageRights’ system is efficient. Submitting infringements to them takes much less of my time than researching and sending a DMCA takedown notice. ImageRights offered me a way to get a significant part of my life back, and I took it. The hitch is, the legal teams cost money. Although I am also paying them a service fee, my payments aren’t enough.

Q. Are you bluffing? Will I be sued if I ignore the letters ?

I am serious. You may wish to consult with an attorney to evaluate your situation.

Q. You are wrong, I did license that image, and I resent being accused of something I did not do.

Goodness! My heartfelt apologies for my mistake. If you forward the license agreement or receipt to my lawyers, we will drop the case and I will fully refund your original license payment, while you may continue to use the image(s). I have made an erroneous accusation before, and I felt terrible about it.

Q. Why are your lawyers asking so much? Images on your site license for only $100-$400.

Paying my fee alone still leaves me on the hook for legal costs incurred by your company’s actions. Lawyers cost more per hour than I do. Our government’s copyright enforcement framework treats infringements as civil matters that generally require legal counsel. It is not a good system. Fortunately, there are proposals in the works to replace it with something less expensive, but until meaningful reform happens, it is what we have. I don’t like it either. Write your congressional representative.

Also, infringements have to cost more than regular license fees. Otherwise there would be no deterrent, and no point to copyright. Imagine if the penalty for stealing groceries was just that you’d have to pay for them when caught. If you aren’t caught every time, you’re better off just stealing by default.

I am not getting rich doing this, and I would have preferred it if your company hadn’t used my photography in the first place.

Q. It’s just a photo! Surely a photo can’t be worth that much.

It is not “just a photo.” Photography is how I supported my family for years, and photographs incur significant time, travel, equipment, and research costs. I did not travel to rural Argentina, spend weeks processing images and identifying the animals, and purchase $10k worth of camera gear to give your company free marketing materials.

Q. But I have found a lot of other companies using the image, too! You can’t single me out.

Many companies license my work to display on their websites without a distracting copyright mark. You may have seen the images on one of my client’s sites.

Also, copyright enforcement is nonexistent in many developing countries. I have no way of dealing with infringements on the part of Vietnamese companies, for example, but they are still visible via Google.

Q. Why aren’t you answering my messages?

I am contractually obliged not to speak with you. Once you have settled the issue with the lawyers, then we can talk. Again, it’s not personal.

Q. People receiving Getty’s notorious demand letters just ignored them, and most of them were fine.

I am not Getty and my lawyers are not Getty’s lawyers. Considerably more effort and attention went into researching and vetting your case than went into Getty’s ham-handed, largely automated process.

Q. Why didn’t you just contact me directly? I would have removed the image.

There are dozens of you every month. I don’t have that kind of time.

Q. What if I just remove the image?

Since you already used the image, you owe license fees. Plus, I’ve already incurred legal costs and I would like those back.

I probably shouldn’t tell you this, since it is legal-ish advice and I’m not a lawyer, and since it is against my financial interests to tell you, but if you plan to deal with the letter by ignoring it, you may be best off not removing the image at all. If you remove it after receiving notice, then the legal team knows you’ve read the notice and have knowingly chosen to duck the fees. Should we end up in court, a willful infringement may put you on the hook for substantially more damages than you would face from a blissfully ignorant infringement.

Q. How do you decide to enforce a case?

If the infringement appears on a personal blog, forum, or web page, I usually ignore it. If I have time, which I generally don’t, I may issue a takedown notice to remove infringing copies from personal sites most likely to feed downstream infringements. If the infringement occurs on a corporate or organizational webpage, product, broadcast, or similar, even if it is just a small internal image, I generally submit it to ImageRights.

Q. I am hiring my own lawyer, so there.

All the better. Lawyers are trained to deal with these situations. You and I are not. Things will go more smoothly with lawyers.

Q. You are a horrible person, and I will tell everyone how horrible you are for this.

Please do. A reputation for aggression may deter future infringements, and that will save all of us a great deal of trouble going forward.


A few links:

U. S. Copyright Law
– Bugging out: How rampant online piracy squashed one insect photographer At Ars Technica, an article I wrote addressing my perpetual copyright problems.
– Before I started this process, I posted this notice on Google+ as a last ditch attempt to avoid the lawyers.

47 thoughts on “FAQ: So Your Company Has Been Found Using Alex’s Photographs Without Permission. What Next?”

    1. Auto-generated based on IP address, which is neat because you can display the same image over multiple otherwise unrelated blogs and platforms, without any effort on your part. Don Park did it with geometric shapes. Andreas Gohr used the same idea replaced with the monster you’re looking at next to your name, and Scott Sherrill-mix incorporated those into a wordpress plug-in which is very likely what you’re looking at right now. From there is has branched out and morphed into many projects on different platforms.

  1. I might add one thought on the topic of “Surely a photo can’t be worth that much.” If the photo isn’t valuable, why did you take up scarce page space in your ad or other media to reproduce it?

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  5. “I will tell everyone how horrible you are for this.” I’m still laughing at your reply to that.

  6. coloncancercommunity

    Thank you for that. I’ve been working temporarily in the “hind end” of the photography world doing simple real estate photography. Agents, managing companies for buildings etc. truly think that these images are “free” and theirs for the taking! I just work a local area, so I can’t imagine what it would be to be finding infringements on the global level where you work.

    Also, your images are truly amazing!

    1. Social Media – Personal
      People acting in a personal capacity are welcome to share my photographs on blogs, web pages, and social media accounts without prior permission, provided that all images are accompanied by a link back to http://www.alexanderwild.com. Failure to attribute an image properly may result in a takedown notice to the web host.

  7. This is a tough scenario. I applaud your action. Sometimes it is an innocent action. Professionals should know better. Hard to take action on one group but not the other. I would love a follow up post to see if this reduces the infringement.

  8. You’re an ass. Get a new profession if you don’t want to be copied anymore. I’m glad you have to pay an agency to enforce these infringements. Glad it adds to your costs of an artform anyone could do. Like it’s really that hard to snap a photo. Seriously. Get over yourself.

    1. Check your thinking, do we really want a world of ‘professional’ amateurs. Do you have a link to your portfolio?

      No doubt if the Internet disrupts your industry you’ll still be seeking money for your efforts?

      The Internet isn’t free, your probably just used to selling / exchanging your data for ‘free’ services. Open your eyes.

    2. Like Obama says “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Right ?

      LOL

  9. Sir: by the way, I wish you ( sincerely ) the best of luck defending your work. I can see that you have both talent and an eye, and I am glad that you make a living at it. I wish the worst of luck on the offending thieves.

  10. Great picture at the top. How much does it cost to license something like that for a personal blog site or a Twitter background?

    1. I should have read. I see you would let me do that for free and simple request I point people to your website. Very fair.

  11. Good post — this presents a side to the whole copyright/IP issue that it’s easy to overlook in a debate that’s often dominated by stories about patent trolls, frivolous DMCA takedown notices, and proposed 90-year copyright terms that benefit only big media empires.

    One thing I would suggest though is that you call attention to Google Image Search. A lot of people who use your photos without permission won’t even be aware that you’re the original owner, nor will they even know how to find out. But if they upload an image of unknown origin to Google Image Search, it will very often lead them straight to the original version.

  12. Pictures cost money but code not? How much did you pay the software running this website? How about the bootstrap? So you’d gladly use free software and lawyers? I can tell that even you feel the gap … don’t sue the people to feed the lawyers, find a better way and make yourself feel better.

  13. The software is given out for free. His images are not. See there’s this thing called freedom. And because some software developers decide to allow use without restriction, it’s not stealing. Freedom also allows Alex to protect what he considers his intellectual property. You cannot ignore this or negate it because then you compromise the freedom that even allowed you to make the comment. No hard feelings. Just putting it out there. I’m a software developer and have no idea who Alex is. I stumbled upon this browsing the web. 🙂

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    1. Hi James. I’m not terribly protective over my text. I’m happy for other folks to re-use this FAQ as long as it’s credited and linked. Although, I’m not sure how well the particulars carry over to others. I have a more general image use policy here: http://www.alexanderwild.com/Image-Use

  16. Thank you for this. Although I am an amateur photographer, I’ve had a couple of my images stolen mostly by folk in China and Russia. I’m going to look into the service you mentioned. I know that I can’t make a claim for lost income, but that is my copyrighted property. I might have given them a reasonable deal if they had asked. Instead, if Imagerights International takes me as a client, I’m sure the cost will be much more for those images. Again, thank you.

  17. I’m curious about something (perhaps not specific only to Alex’s photos) – if an article containing a properly licensed image is shared on another site (essentially duplicated, per the terms on the original website regarding attribution, links back, etc.), does the second website need to obtain a license for the image as well?

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  20. Great job! I wish people would start seeing photography as someone’s hard work for once. And here’s hoping you’re able to sort through this so that it won’t happen again.

  21. Just a heads up, your site is currently stating a copyright of:

    “All text and images appearing on myrmecos.net, except where indicated, are copyrighted © 2002 – 2014 Alexander Wild.”

    It should read 2002 – 2015. As any images or content made in 2015 do not fall under your sites constraints.

  22. I find all this poetic. Mr. Wild, have you ever considered spending less time complaing about your photos being used (which you have posted on the Internet) and spend your lawyer money on taking a few classes in business and marketing? Maybe you should have your website closed to the public and charge an fee to members. When you decide to sue someone for stealing your photos on purpose to use for profit I would agree. Suing some small business owner because they initvertainly used or had their web guy use the photo seems drastic. You choose to purchase expensive equipment and go where ever to take your photos. You also u
    Choose to upload them to the Internet. Not every business is out to screw you, but you are out to screw them for what in most cases is a simple mistake. Yes I know your stance that ignorance is no excuse. And that will bite you back! Carma gets everyone.

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