It takes a LOT of time to design a website and nothing is more frustrating than finding a competitor has stolen your hard work and using it against you. You need to fight back, and I’m going to show you how to do it yourself, and, how to take it to the next level if you have to.

Copyright Trolls

First, let me explain how companies profit from people stealing their content, these companies are often referred to as Copyright Trolls where they place images out on the net without a watermark or copyright notice in hopes they’ll be stolen!

Here is how it works: A company places large numbers of images on the internet hoping that webmasters looking for content will download and use them on their own website. There is no copyright notice or watermark attached to the image so many assume they can use the downloaded image free of charge (Google image search anyone?).

Fact is, anything you create and place on the net is automatically copyrighted under common law, you don’t need to do a thing (you created it, it’s original and didn’t exist before). There is NO REQUIREMENT that an image have a watermark or notice attached in-order for it to be protected – it’s protected automatically; however, you can make it easier to prove it’s your work by paying the $30 online registration fee from the U.S. Copyright Office.

All is well, time passes and a year later you receive a notice that you’ve stolen copyrighted material. The notice includes the image and related information along with a settlement agreement for $900. What really get’s people is that it may have been a small image that is in no way worth $900 however, don’t pay and you will go to court!

A client of mine that I set up with a website added content to their website that included an image found on the internet. A year later, the client received the following letter.

Initial Cease and Desist Letter

Getty Images
601 North 34th Street, Seattle, WA 98103 USA

January 11 , 2011

Re: Unauthorized Use of Getty Images’ Photograph

It has come to our attention that you are using an image (or images) represented by Getty Images for online promotional and/or editorial purposes. We have searched our records and were not able to locale a valid license for the use of the image(s) under your company’s name. Attached is a copy of the image(s) in question along with the usage found on your company’s website.

As the leading worldwide provider of digital media, Getty Images is deeply committed to protecting the interests, intellectual property rights and livelihood of the photographers, filmmakers and other artists who entrust Getty Images to license their work.

Getty Images looks forward to amicably resolving this matter and appreciates your cooperation throughout this process. As you may know. use of an image without a valid license is considered copyright infringement in violation of US copyright law, Title 17 of the United States Code. The purpose of this communication is to identify a previously purchased license or reach a fair settlement if no valid license exists.

If you believe you have received this letter in error or have questions, please contact us at 1-800-972-4170 or email [email protected] Should you wish to resolve this matter by paying the settlement fee, please follow the remittance information included on the attached demand.

Within 14 days of the date of this letter please take the following action:

If a valid license was purchased prior to the use of the image(s), please provide us the Getty Images’ sales order, invoice number or other license information. If the image was licensed under an alternate company name (dba) or in the name of a third party, such as an advertising agency, please provide that company name and phone number.

If a valid license does not exist for the identified usage and you do not plan to use the image(s) moving forward , you must immediately cease and desist use of the image(s), and remove them from your website. In addition, attached is a demand representing the monetary settlement for the use of the image(s) in question. Payment of the attached demand will settle your company’s unlicensed use of the referenced image(s). Please follow the remittance information on the attached demand. Payment must be received within 14 days of the date of this letter.

Please note that ceasing use of the image(s) does not absolve your company of its responsibility 10 pay for the image(s) already used without a license. Getty Images’ Copyright Compliance Team is willing to discuss the circumstances surrounding this matter: however, absent appropriate licenses, Getty Images and its artists expect to be fairly compensated for the use of the image(s) in question.

If after settlement you would like to continue using the image(s), our Copyright Compliance Team can assist you with licensing the image(s) for future use.

If you have questions after reading this letter and the attached Frequently Asked Questions, please contact our Copyright Compliance Team. Please be sure to include your company name and reference number as they appear on the attached settlement demand in any correspondence. This information will help us to expedite our research.

This letter is without prejudice to Getty Images’ rights and remedies, all of which are expressly reserved.

The client assumed the image was okay to use, it was a very small image and used for a gardening website; upon receiving the letter, the image was immediately removed from the site and it was assumed that it would all go away – it didn’t! They received this follow-up letter:

Follow-up Cease and Desist Letter

Getty Images
601 North 34th Street, Seattle, WA 98103 USA

March 13, 2011

Re: Unauthorized Use of Getty Images’ Photograph

You were previously notified of your unauthorized use of imagery represented exclusively by Getty Images. Copies of of previous letters are attached for your reference. To date, the case has not been resolved and we have not received payment or any proof of a valid license.

As already notified, unauthorized use of our images constitutes copyright infringement under Title 17 U.S.C.S., the Copyright Act of 1976. Please be aware that copyright legislation provides for strict liability, meaning that you can be found liable for infringement regardless of your level of knowledge of the infringement or your intent.

Getty Images is willing to offer you one last chance to resolve this claim through payment of the attached settlement demand. Ceasing use of the image does not eliminate liability for payment. Payment details are included on the demand and in the previous letters attached.

Your failure to make payment immediately will result in escalation to our Legal department and the possibility of legal action being commenced for damages exceeding the amount presently being offered by way of settlement.

For questions, or to settle this matter, please contact [email protected] call 1-800-972-4170. Please also contact us immediately if you believe you have received this letter in error.

Sincerely,
License Compliance Team
Getty Images

The image was of a bowl of fruit and the settlement demand was for $965.00 and stated:

This settlement demand does not represent an approval on the part of Getty Images for the unauthorized use of uses of this image identified to date and referenced herein. The payment of this settlement demand together with your immediate cessation of use of the image (unless you have separately licensed this image for future use), including used by your owners, directors, employees, agents, clients and/or licensees, in any and all media, will release you from any legal claims by Getty Images relating solely to this identified past infringement.

In the case of Getty Images, they hire a company to handle settlement agreements full time and although they fully intend on taking you to court, there are some remedies they don’t mention… It’s a settlement letter and the price IS negotiable. In the end, Getty settled for a $700.

Copyright Troll Riches!
Seems wrong? It’s not – it’s a VERY successful business model and many stock image companies make more money from copyright infringement than they do licensing images! Those caught and issued notices like this claim it’s not fair and the price is just too high – but I ask you this – should the thief be the one to set the price of the item stolen? It was taken without permission, what did they think was going to happen?

You don’t have to be a copyright troll to have your content stolen! Lately I’ve been finding my programming code, content and images stolen and placed on other websites. The first one I came by purely by accident after revamping a website. I found an exact copy of my popup test and wording hosted on large corporate website – and – if that’s not bad enough, they outranked me for my own search terms! Talk about high blood pressure!

The company infringing upon my copyrighted work was Serebra Learning Corporation and here is the letter I sent them:

Cease and Desist DMCA Letter

I sent this to Brian Taylor who showed up in the registrant information of website and cc’d Taleeb Noormohamed, Aziz Pirani, Victor Jones, Albert Sicignano and Abdul Mohamed, all managing / directing the company.

To the owners/operators of easylearning,org (Serebra Learning Corporation):

Please be advised that you have illegally duplicated the content of my website, PopupCheck.com. I offer a test for internet visitors that allow them to check their popup blocker’s ability to stop pop-ups. My test is here:
popupcheck.com
Content you copied and placed on your site is found here:
easylearning,org/support/popups/

My site has been around since January of 2004, featured in PC Magazine (ISBN 0-7645-7769-7) and a number of other publications. Not only has the wording been copied from my website, but the programming language (javascript and html code) was exactly duplicated as well! At no time was permission granted to you or your company to use my copyrighted work.

Copyright Infringement by Serebra Learning CorporationBecause of this, my site has suffered a terrible loss of internet traffic and revenue. Potential customers looking to test their browsers tend to click on the top result, which is your site with my content and code. An example accompanies to this notice.

You are illegally hosting copyrighted works. The text and programming code used on your website is protected by copyright, a notice of which is listed on the bottom of each page of PopupCheck.com. This hosting is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (“DMCA”) as well as other Federal Copyright Law. Please remove the work immediately. Please note that violation of the DMCA and Copyright Law can subject violators to equitable and monetary damages, attorney’s fees, and a court could award up to triple damages for repeated violations. For willful infringement, a court could award up to $150,000 per violation. In addition, a violator may be subject to criminal penalties for willful violations and for commercial advantage or private financial gain ranging from $500,000 fine or up to five years’ imprisonment for a first offense to a $1,000,000 fine or up to 10 years’ imprisonment for subsequent offenses.

Please cease and desist the infringing activity within the next 48 hours.

Thank you.

James Maurer

Shortly after, I received this response:

James,

Please be advised that the links and the code have been removed. It was never our intent to knowingly infringe on anyone’s property. My best guess is that the code was found on the web on a different site that was not referencing you or your copyrights.

The Easylearning site was set up as a program to help provide education to learners in developing nations. It was set-up as a Corporate Social Responsibility program. Unfortunately, traffic to that site has been very light.

That said, your pop-up test is a useful tool. In terms of permissions, would you be amiable to a link back? Meaning, could we place a direct link back to popupcheck.com?

Regards,

Brian

and my response:

Brian,

Thank you for your fast response.

All of us make sacrifices in life to move ahead, countless hours working on products, services and growing our brand expecting to benefit from it down the road. You can imagine how disappointing it is to find it illegally taken and then, to make matters worse, used against you.

Taking it from a site that took it from me doesn’t make it any better.

If you would like to refer visitors to PopupCheck.com, feel free to do so.

Regards,

Jim Maurer

I’m pursuing this matter and will update this page whenever possible.

Johnson pest control infringementTo make matters worse, the following day, I find one of my images ripped from a site I manage on Bed Bugs – if you don’t know about these, and you travel, you should visit BadBedBugs.com! Bedbugs don’t care about class and most people get them from staying in a infested hotel room, Four Star Hotels are no exception!

The company is Johnson Pest Control, Inc and they used my image as the main photo for their page on bed bugs. Here is an image of the infringing website, simply click on it to see an enlarged version.

What really did it for me, was that johnsonpestcontrol,com actually took the image, removed the text and credit, inserted their own text and then used it for their business as shown below.
johnson pest control inc infringement

Their about page states that “Johnson Pest Control, Inc. is family owned & operated by Ray & Tammy Johnson”. They go on to say “The Johnson’s are Christian business owners & it is their belief that God has his hands on Johnson Pest Control & it’s employees. The Johnson’s have high expectations that each employee exhibit high moral & ethical conduct”. – Lead by example, right?

Here is the letter I issued to Ray Johnson of Johnson Pest Control Inc. in Sevierville, Tennessee.

Cease and Desist – johnsonpestcontrol.com
To: ray at johnsonpestcontrol.com, [email protected]
Cc: rayblg at mac.com

Johnson Pest Control, Inc. – Corpoartion ID: 000164422
(Johnson, Ray A)
218 Bruce Street
Sevierville, Tennessee 37862

To the owners/operators of JohnsonPestControl.com:

Please be advised that you have illegally duplicated the content of of the website BadBedBugs.com. The image in question is of an arm dotted with red bed bug bites.

The infringing webpage is located at:
johnsonpestcontrol,com/bed-bug-services/

Our image is located here:
badbedbugs.com/what-do-bed-bug-bites-look-like/

A copy of the infringing webpage showing the image has also been attached to this document.

Please remove the work immediately. Please note that violation of the DMCA and Copyright Law can subject violators to equitable and monetary damages, attorney’s fees, and a court could award up to triple damages for repeated violations. For willful infringement, a court could award up to $150,000 per violation. In addition, a violator may be subject to criminal penalties for willful violations and for commercial advantage or private financial gain ranging from $500,000 fine or up to five years’ imprisonment for a first offense to a $1,000,000 fine or up to 10 years’ imprisonment for subsequent offenses.

Please cease and desist the infringing activity within the next 48 hours.

Thank you.

James Maurer

When sending out these notices, you want to also send them to the web host. In the case of Ray A Johnson, that is GoDaddy and here is the response I received from GoDaddy.

Discussion Notes
Support Staff Response
Dear James Maurer,

Your copyright complaint has been forwarded to Go Daddy’s Copyright Claims Department. PLEASE NOTE: All future communication regarding this complaint, or any future complaints, must be directed to [email protected]

Your submitted copyright complaint is incomplete, as it does not contain all of the elements required by our Copyright and Trademark Infringement Policy, which can be found here:

godaddy,com/gdshop/legal_agreements/show_doc.asp?se=%2B&pageid=TRADMARK%5FCOPY

Please review this policy and provide us with all six required items listed in Section B.1.i-vi therein, contained in a single email. (Unfortunately, we cannot compile a complete notification through a series of emails.) Once you submit a complete claim, we will take the necessary action as outlined in both our stated policy and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

If you have any further questions, please contact us at this email address. We look forward to receiving your completed claim.

Thank you,

Molly
Copyright Department
GoDaddy
[email protected]

Johnson Pest Control, Inc has taken down the image as demanded. No word from Ray Johnson and probably believes we’ll just move on. In situations like this, you must take legal action; clearly a case of willful infringement! Edmund Burke said it best – “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Another immoral example is that of a fallen soldier killed in Iraqi 4 years ago whose parents found their son’s picture used to promote two dating sites. Text was also changed and read “Military Man Searching for Love.” see video.msnbc.msn.com/nbc-news/46556521

Tip: Make sure, as I did in these cases, to get documentation BEFORE you contact the party infringing on your work. If you can’t do that yourself, there are a number of documenting services out there that will document the offending site so that you can further prove your case in court.

There are always immoral people out there ready to take advantage of your hard work, letting them get away with it does nothing and only reenforces their bad behavior. If you need an attorney that specializes in dealing with people like this, let me know and I’ll be happy to forward you my attorneys contact information.

4 replies
  1. Tora Bora says:

    There are a few mixed messages here. People who accidentally use images are not “thieves”. They may be wrong, and ought to be asked to take them down and comply. However the real “thieves” in this case are the lawyers mugging people for these accidental infringements. That said, by all means, do protect your work and go after people who are using it. However there’s no need to be so threatening, a polite email is enough 99% of the time.

  2. AB says:

    What happened – did you sue?

    It costs about $20k (or more) just to have an attorney draw up the complaint (for something this simple) and file it in Federal Court. If they “cease and desist” there won’t be any damages unless you can prove that image led to a specific amount of sales.

    You still have to protect your copyright (and should always), but most of the time violations don’t lead to windfalls.

  3. Dr. James Chappell says:

    What court do you sue someone that has stolen your image or copyrighted material if that person is operating in another state?

  4. Bluehost says:

    If you find a person with your information posted on a server at Bluehost, it is REAL EASY to get their site / content removed! All that is necessary is for you to craft a simple message such as this:

    I’m complaining about website xyz which shows my picture and mentions my name. That information can be found here…

    Bluehost will immediately have the content removed. This is bad if you’re blogging about celebrities but great for those of us that need to get the infringing material removed.

    bluehost,com/terms_of_service.html under PROHIBITED USES:
    5.Private Information and Images. Subscribers may not post or disclose any personal or private information about or images of children or any third party without the consent of said party (or a parent’s consent in the case of a minor).

    Simply send an email to the legal department at [email protected]

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