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

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.

At BugShot 2014

Where has Myrmecos gone?

We’re at BugShot 2014, an insect photography course I am co-teaching with Piotr Naskrecki and John Abbott on coastal Georgia’s beautiful Sapelo Island. I am especially excited for this one. The weather will be beautiful, the waning moon will be perfect for blacklighting, the horseshoe crabs will be out, our venue is a mansion on the coast, and we have attracted once again a diverse array of talented biologists and photographers.

If you’re missing out, don’t despair. Our next workshop is coming up in Belize this September.

Friday Beetle Blogging: The Prettiest Darkling Beetle

Google keeps suggesting I’m looking for “Hegemony”, but I’m not. This is Hegemona, a large darkling beetle we encountered in Belize:


HegemonaThese insects are large- about an inch long- and appear nearly black in the field. Under soft lighting, structural colors in the elytra emerge spectacularly. I suspect the bright alternating stripes serve to warn predators of the beetle’s toxicity, as it emitted a noxious odor when handled.

Thanks to Kojun Kanda for the identification.

photo details:
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 400, f/13, 1/125 sec
indirect strobe in a white box

Ants as seed dispersers – part 2

Formica exsectoides carries off a seed of a non-native plant, leafy spurge

Ants are considered beneficial insects for their roles as predators, scavengers, and dispersers of plant seeds.  But when the seeds belong to a pest plant, the ants’ role may change to that of accomplice in an unwanted biological invasion.

Moni Berg-Binder, a student in the Suarez lab at the University of Illinois, is studying the interaction between native Formica ants and an invasive euphorb, leafy spurge.  Leafy spurge seeds have an edible elaiosome that ants find attractive enough to carry back to their nests, so the ants may be assisting the plant as it spreads across the great plains of the central United States.  Moni was kind enough to arrange the ants and the seeds for this photo shoot.

The white bit at the tip of these leafy spurge seeds is the elaiosome, a structure that attracts ants.
The white bit at the tip of these leafy spurge seeds is the elaiosome, a structure that attracts ants.
A tasty snack to carry back to the mound?

Bug Eric takes up photography

and gives us a list of photography’s advantages over specimen collection:

  1. You don’t need permits to take images.
  2. You can take images of wildlife and people (you can’t “collect” those!).
  3. Storage of images takes a lot less room than storage of an insect collection.
  4. It takes less time to prepare an image than a specimen (that may change as I get more sophisticated).
  5. You can share images (I can’t pin an insect specimen to my blog).
  6. Photography makes you more observant.
  7. Images of living organisms are more colorful and robust than faded, withered dead specimens.
  8. You can record behaviors in a photograph.
  9. You can record habitat in an image.
  10. Carpet beetle larvae can’t eat my hard drive.

A new ant with eyespots for defense?

Great to see Alex back, and with such a beautiful shot. I had a little post ready, so I figured I would go ahead and put it up. Maybe it will give Alex a little bit more time to recuperate after what sounds like a tough journey back.

One of the things I have discovered about studying a diverse arboreal group in a system that allows such easy access to the canopy is that undescribed species are relatively plentiful. In my main cerrado site, I have 17 Cephalotes species and 3 of them are undescribed. In my fist study at a second site, just 30Km down the road, a fourth new species showed up. All of these species are exciting in their own way, but one is particularly striking. I thought I would share a few shots with you. The main point of interest that I wanted to talk about is the coloration, and particularly the eyespots in the gyne.


Why might these eyespots be there? Well, evidence suggests that Cephalotes are quite distasteful, so the best explanation is that this is some kind of aposematic coloration. While eyespots are remarkably rare in ants as a whole, they are quite common in Cephalotes. In my experience, though, they are rarely this pleasing to the human eye (or at least this myrecologist’s eyes). After mating, Cephalotes gynes roam the canopy in search of a suitable cavity to start their colony. Hanging out in trees for a couple of years, I have seen this searching behavior many times, but never managed to get a decent shot of it (unlike more talented photographers).

The soldier caste has a similar coloration to the gynes. While this could be nonadaptive developmental spillover from the gyne (it fades out in smaller members of the soldier caste), it may also have some adaptive value. Soldiers, the relatively rare and expensive sterile caste, shuttle between the colony’s various nests on a daily basis, so the eyespots may help ward off possible predators while they do it.


As for what I should call this gorgeous ant, I have a few ideas, but I would love to hear what you all think in the comments.

Anting the Solomons, Part III

…We had reached the top village, we had sifted great quantities of Wasmannia-free leaf litter, and we had learned the local lore about the Kakamora dwarf people that lived in the forest and granted magical powers to those with the prowess to catch one. Meanwhile, the full week of wet shoes and socks was causing our feet to disintegrate at an alarming pace.
Foot rot.
Foot rot.
The day’s hike back down to Hauta village had been excruciating, and keeping one’s balance going down the muddy track was even more difficult than climbing it. We had gotten a few small myrmicines that we thought might be Lordomyrma, but instead turned out to be a variety of Vollenhovia species. Vollenhovia, like several other genera, has diversified into a remarkable number of species in the Solomons.
Another genus that was always thrilling to find was Leptogenys. True army ants do not occur on the archipelago, so other ground dwelling ants have done their best to fill the empty “insatiable marauder” niche. A few different species of Leptogenys manage an earnestly believable impersonation of the real deal, and strong rivers of the ants are occasionally seen streaming across the trail, cascading into ever smaller rivulets until the frontier of their trajectory is a wide wash of scrambling chaos. The species below, which I believe is undescribed, was found nesting under a stone. It wasn’t Lordomyrma, as I had hoped for, but the find did afford me a brief respite from the foot agony.
Leptogenys sp.
Leptogenys sp.
I hadn’t given up on Lordomyrma, though, and plucked up the courage to spend an hour collecting the banks of a small stream near our lunch stop. Every step felt like stepping on coals, but stream banks always seemed to be a good bet for Lordomyrma in my trips to Fiji and New Guinea. Although the little beasts were not to be found, there was an impressive colony of Pheidole (pictured below) that was nesting between the cracks of the stone river bank, spewing forth hordes of minors and majors while victorious huntresses filed back with all manner of arthropods wriggling between their mandibles. The sheer numbers and vigorous activity of the species reminded me again of the absence of true army ants, and the gaping ecological niche that a particularly enterprising species might get a piece of.
Pheidole sp.
Pheidole sp.
I went barefoot through the jungle for the last day of the trek out. The occasional sharp root or twig or leaf was preferable to the sensation of socks rubbing against the exposed under-layers of raw skin. Walking barefoot through the jungle is usually not the most advisable undertaking, but in the Solomons one at least has the comfort of knowing that no poisonous snakes lurk coiled by the trail. The going was rough, but we made it to the river in time to catch the canoe down to the mouth, in time to catch the truck back to the sleepy town of Kirakira.
Of all the stones we turned over, of all the logs we hacked to bits, of all the forest litter we methodically sifted, we ended up with one solitary single worker of the Solomons’ Lordomyrma. The little ant now rests safe and sound in an insect drawer, its DNA having been digested and digitized. I’m fairly certain that if I hadn’t gone barefoot that last day, the jungle would not have granted me that true token of reward. Getting the good things in life takes a little sacrifice.