Computer Insider Jan 14, 2014: Copyright or Internet Scam?
I was recently out to dinner with some friends of mine from University, and in the midst of our chitchat,a strange discussion came up. It seems that at least two of us had over the last several months fallen into the same, let’s call it trap, in terms of using the Internet.
Here’s what happened. Both of us were working on websites separately, and we both needed to have images to put on our WebPages. And I suppose like many people building websites we both went to Google images and search for pictures to insert onto our WebPages. Interestingly enough, both of us had assumed that the images that were being displayed from Google images, where the public domain. Turns out, that’s not the case.
I think it’s important at this point to let you that I am not a lawyer, and in no way attempting to offer you legal advice or direction. If you’re looking for best course of action in any legal matter, you should always consult with a lawyer who’s trained in these matters. That said, I’m a long-term user of the Internet and when something seems just plain wrong maybe, it’s time to part of the public consciousness.
At any rate, what happened was a short time after the webpage’s were actually posted on the Internet, each of us were contacted by an individual who claimed to be the copyright holder for those pictures. The letter I received was quite specific saying that the images were not part of the public domain, I had violated their copyright, and I had a financial obligation to the copyright holder. I found out from the other person at the dinner who would run into the same situation, that they had contacted him and demanded $600 in royalty payments. He contacted a lawyer who did advise him that there really is no whole lot you can do about it presuming that the person that sent the letter was in fact the copyright holder, he’s entitled to be compensated for his images.
What really bothered me about this whole situation was the fact that this appears to be a setup. Again I want to emphasize that this is just an opinion, but it does seem to me, to be very strange that somehow copyrighted material is being released into what some people believe is the public domain via Google, and that information is not only being used by unsuspecting people, but the people who hold the copyrights appear to have the technology to be able to scour the Internet and track down any people using those images and pursue them for compensation.
In fact, and again I have to point out that as far as I know, the person who holds the copyright of any material has the right to demand whatever payments they can, but in the real world of digital photography, and being a contributor to several libraries, compensation for any one picture is generally calculated in pennies not dollars let alone hundreds of dollars.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I’ve got the strange idea that what’s happened is that some people, possibly of less scrupulous thoughts, have produced a series of images, and coated them with some sort of tracking system, release them not necessarily in the public domain but released him to the Internet in such a way to lure unsuspecting users and has allowed them to be distributed by Google, and then to track down those images and pursue the people using them for what I would best describe as excessive royalty payments.
If this in fact is what’s happening, it would probably take make a fairly interesting argument in court that in fact the people who had leaked of those images onto the Internet, did so deliberately, concealing to some level the fact that the images are copyrighted, and have actually made this into a substantial business operation.
In my case, I explained that I was using the image because it was my understanding that it was part of the public domain. As it is always my intention to not violate other person’s copyrights, we immediately stop using the image and apologized for the misunderstanding. They did send an email to me saying that I owed the money but to this point in time there’s been no other correspondence whatsoever, so were presuming at this stage that there will be no claims, however, not being located in the United States, I would think will be a fairly expensive proposition for anyone to take somebody in this country to court, considering the probabilities of them being able to win a judgment in court and then subsequently collect any money in the process.
I wanted to let you know about this because I believe there are a lot of people who presume that images that they find on Google are royalty, and they can use them whenever and however they please. Knowing that there are others on the Internet, who appear to be in the business of distributing material and then actively pursuing compensation, may give you an opportunity to check for any notices of copyright, and time for you to consider what you would say if one day you received an email saying that you were in violation of copyrighted material.