If you use photos or images on your social media sites, website, blogs, instagram, or newsletters, and you get some or all of those images from the internet and google searches, you need to listen to this podcast now. Copyright extortion is a method of using existing copyright protections to extort money from business owners who innocently and unknowingly used a copyright image.
If you have any of these images on your social media, website, or blog, please remove them now and then listen to this podcast to know what to do if you get an extortion demand letter from corporate media owners like Getty Images or Metafile.
Only use royalty and license free images, or take your own pictures, on your website. My favorite royalty free image site is Pixabay, which you can access at this link.
The FedEx letter delivery surprised me as I was not expecting any important document deliveries. Inside was a three page letter describing my illegal copyright infringement by using a copyright protected image from the internet. Included was the website page the photo was on, an article about revolving doors that I had written two years before. And I had used an image of a revolving door that I pulled from the internet. Was it a copyright protected image? There was no copyright mark on the image or I would not have used it. I thought it was a random image that I thought would highlight the blog article.
They demanded $3,200 in payment or would file a lawsuit against me but something didn’t sit right with me. The letter was filled with legal definitions, quotes, and penalties for copyright infringement. I was fairly surprised that they were so forceful and wondered whether I was the victim of a scam. The payment demanded seemed very high for what amounted to a single use, two years prior, on one blog page. I had not used the image in anything I sold or put it on a product. The whole situation made me very uncomfortable.
Turns out it was a scam and it is a very profitable scam that has been perpetuated by some of the largest image providers, like Getty Images and Masterfile, for nearly a decade. Here’s how it works – they put images on the internet and remove all copyright markings. Unsuspecting users think the images are royalty free so they use them on their blog. Then these companies hire people to scour the internet looking for their images. When they find someone they get their contact details and send them demand letters.
Now most people get scared and cave into the demands, negotiating payments or just paying the lawyer outright to end the matter. These payments can range from $3,000 to $10,000 or more. I did something different. I wrote back to the legal firm stating that I had used the image once, on a blog page, and would take it down, which I had done as soon as I got the letter.
But that wasn’t good enough. I got another letter from them demanding $4,500 and threatening me with legal action. So I did some research, which is how I found out about the copyright extortion scam. I hired a lawyer to write a letter for me and offered them $200 which is what the courts allow for what they have termed ‘innocent infringers’ of copyright. This term covers someone who accidentally or unintentionally uses a copyright image.
I got a few more letters from the law firm and maintained my innocence while offering to pay the statutory $200 innocent infringer fee. After a few months they stopped writing me and I did not hear from them again. Now I get royalty free images from sites like pixabay.com or I take my own photos. I learned my lesson and I won’t use an image again unless I am absolutely certain that it is royalty free. But I have been hearing about this issue from others and it appears that after a brief hiatus the copyright extortionists are at it again.
Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself from copyright extortion:
- Do not use an image on your website, blog, instagram, YouTube, or any other social media site unless you are absolutely sure it is royalty free or you have taken the photo yourself.
- If you have old images you have picked up from the internet, remove them now. You may still get a letter but it’s better to take an abundance of caution. You can replace the images with royalty free ones you get from free sites.
- If you get a copyright extortion letter know your rights. You may be liable for the $200 innocent infringer fee but not more than that. Now if you have used those images on products you sell, that’s a different matter and you may have to hire an attorney to negotiate on your behalf.
- Don’t rush into paying anything if you get a copyright extortion letter. It’s a scam and you do not have to pay what they are asking. But if they persist hire an attorney to write a cease and desist letter, which should cost you around $200, and let the attorney handle the matter.
Note that this only applies to images and media, it does not apply to violating an author’s copyright by stealing or using their work from their blog, which is another matter entirely. There seems to be an appalling lack of integrity by authors, business coaches, and bloggers who think that they can appropriate content created by others and use it in their own products, services, and on their blogs. That is both copyright infringement and theft of intellectual property.
It is something that many authors, including me, are victims of by people who call themselves business coaches, trainers, teachers, and influencers. It has also been reported that several well known authors have appropriated content from others and that is not just unethical, it is illegal and they can find themselves as plaintiffs in a copyright infringement and theft of intellectual property lawsuit.
Bottom line is this – there is a lot of content on the internet but it is not up for grabs. If it is someone else’s property, ask for permission or don’t use it. If you lack the creativity to come up with fresh ideas and concepts and feel you have to steal from others, you are in the wrong business. Use your own work, avoid using any content or images that may belong to others, and if someone tries to use copyright extortion on you, know your rights and don’t let them bully you into paying.