First of all, I want to apologize to those who are subscribers that you received several notices from my blog today. I was purging my blog of any images that I don't remember where they came from. This system sends out notices whenever I update any blog posts that were created in the old system. This post will explain everything.
I had a rude awakening on May 6 when I received a nasty letter from Alamy a "License Compliance Company" in Seattle, Washington. You can click on the link to read a pdf copy of the letter.
My first reaction was embarrassment, of course. I realized that I really didn't have permission to use the image in question. I thought my blog was not "big" enough that anyone would come after me for such a thing.
Wrong. Companies troll the internet, looking for "violations."
I thought that if I insert a link to the site where I copied it from, it was considered fair use.
Wrong. I've been receiving an education on what is considered "fair use" and this doesn't ensure anything. Follow this link for more information about fair use.
The site where I found this image had an open invitation to take any part of their blog and distribute it elsewhere. I thought they owned the image.
Wrong. Without writing and asking them permission for it, there was no way for me to know who owned the image.
I thought I had as much right as anyone to the image because it was of a group of young Amish people playing volleyball, with the net stretched between two buggies. I figured if anything, the photographer could get in trouble for taking a photo of people who had obviously not given permission for the photo to be taken.
Wrong. Federal law governs copyrights, while state law governs whether someone has permission from the subjects to publish a work.
I thought because I don't profit from my blog…
Wrong again. It does help some in a court case if I can show that I didn't profit from the image. I merely used it on the blog post about Amish youth, which was for educational purposes. But it does not prove innocence.
I should have known better. But my embarrassment at having been caught is not as great as my indignation for the way people who have made an honest mistake are being treated.
I went back to this site where I found the photo. I found this notice again at the bottom of their page:
Permissions: Please feel free to pass on, reproduce and distribute any material on Daily Encouragement Net, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this material, not protect or restrict it. I do request that you keep the contact, copyright and subscription information intact.
I also saw this notice, which gave me the impression they owned the rights to the photo:
A word about the Amish and photos: The Amish vary in how strict they take the prohibition of facial photos. However based on my conversation with Amish friends they consider the inevitability of having their photos taken when they are out in public, especially in touristy eastern Lancaster County. But like most of us would they resent the paparazzi type gawking photographer. When going onto their turf I purposefully leave my camera unless I am invited to bring it. We also often take photos when we are driving about (Brooksyne does from the passenger side)…
I got in touch with the blog writer to ask permission to use the photo, and he referred me to this site. He mentioned that he might have gotten it through an email. He must have, for I could not find that image on the site to save my life. Nonetheless, I sent an email to the second site to ask for permission, and never heard back.
My first response to Samantha Clemens at Alamy was not very professional, I have to admit. I sent it before I knew any of the above. It sounds like a child on a playground trying her best to stand up to a bully:
I'm sorry for using the image you referenced. I don't remember seeing any indication that it was copyrighted, or I wouldn't have used it. I have taken it off my blog.
I will not, however, be paying you anything. And if you pursue the matter, I will be charging you a fee for appropriating the culture I was born and raised in, for it seems you are trying to profit from images of the Amish. Did you have THEIR permission? Seems only fair that you should have a "valid license for use of image" if you are going to require that of others.
Consider the matter settled. Otherwise I will pursue it in court and you will not win.
I received another letter back, even nastier than the first:
Dear Saloma Furlong,
Under the amended US Copyright Act, works created after March 1, 1989 a copyright exists automatically from the moment that a photograph is taken. Our clients have contracts with contributing photographers who are the sole copyright holders, not the subjects in the photograph.
Since the copyright infringement has already occurred, payment for that unauthorized use is necessary. We are acting on behalf of our represented photographers who are entitled to compensation for the use of their intellectual property.
Under US copyright law, it is up to the owner of the copyright to determine which or any infringement actions to pursue. Any previous inaction does not affect the rights of the copyright owner toward future acts of infringement. Therefore, our client has not lost the copyright to this work and can still pursue this matter of infringement.
Federal copyright law grants certain legal protections to the owners of copyrighted works and allows the owners to pursue legal remedies in the court system for violations of the federal copyright law. Most of these legal remedies are civil remedies, which mean that you can be sued for violating the law. Should we choose to pursue further legal action, all of our actions will be conducted within the confines of the law. However, we would like to try to avoid costing you the expense of going to court over this matter, which is why we are trying to settle the issue with you now.
License Compliance Services, Alamy
P: 1.855.387.8725 E: email@example.com
605 Fifth Avenue South, Suite 400
Seattle, WA 98104
I love that last line, don't you? So condescending and I now know they don't really want to go to court — not for my sake but their own. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
At some point, I realized I should probably consult with my son, Paul, who is a lawyer before responding again. He thought not responding was possibly the best strategy, but he suggested that if I want to respond, should I ask them for proof that the image was copyrighted, and that they represent the artist. The letter I received back with bogus attachments gave me no new information and claimed a confidentiality agreement with the client. To which I responded:
Without proof that you represent the copyright holder of the photo in question, or that the photo is even copyrighted, there is no way for me to know whether you have the authority that you say you do. Therefore I will no longer be communicating with you.
I sent this on June 1. I've not heard from Ms. Clemens since. But I have found out there are thousands and thousands of people who have gotten such letters. There is a website with much good information about what to do if you get one: Extortion Letter Info (ELI).
After reading quite a bit about Getty Images, I was still puzzled about one thing. The example letters on this site looked identical to the one I received, and yet the name of the company was different. Then I read somewhere that Getty Images was also operating under the name "Picscout" (and now I cannot find it again). But that still wasn't "Alamy." Then I found someone had published his extortion letter on the site. His letter had the exact same address, phone number, and payment information (to Picscout) as my letter! It seems Getty Images operates under many aliases.
I was encouraged by something ELI's lawyer, Oscar Michelen wrote:
As of this writing, about 1% of Getty's catalog has been registered. That means in about 99% of the cases, Getty cannot claim statutory damages and may not even be able to get automatic Federal Court jurisdiction, which also requires registration. A copyright holder seeking actual damages, can only get the lost value for the image; they are not entitled to incidental fees and costs.
At the time Michelen wrote this page, Getty Images had not yet sued anyone, even though they had threatened many. That has changed. They apparently sued for a single image violation and won the case. It is thought by many that they chose their opponent, which happened to be another law firm that did not put up a fight. Their aim was allegedly to set precedent for other single image cases.
This is not about justice or protecting their clients' rights — it's about greedy people filling their pockets. It's enough to make me want to do civil disobedience to foil their best-laid plans.
I would like to see a full-scale investigation of Getty Images (and all its aliases), to find out if there are actual clients behind the letters they send out. Since they claim confidentiality, what is to stop them from sending out letters and keeping 100% of the "take" when the recipients feel bullied into paying?
Now that I know more about how easily one can violate copyrights without meaning to, I started wondering about the videos I've embedded on my blog from You Tube. There was no way to know if there were any violations in those. To be safe, I went back and took off those I've already posted and I will give links from now on instead of embedding them.
Now that I've dispensed my advice, let me ask you for yours — what would you do in my shoes? Stand up to the bullying? Or give them what they want and hope they go away?