Copyright Trolls Now Going After Random Bloggers Who Reposted Photos

from the this-won't-end-well dept

Apparently, the Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG), one of the earliest copyright trolling operations in the US, is really building up its copyright trolling photo business. Last year, we wrote about how CEG had gone after a Lindsay Lohan fan site because the young fan had posted some (you guessed it) photos of Lohan. And now it appears that it's ramping up the practice, as a number of sites have apparently received demands from CEG for $500 because they posted a random photo which they likely found via Google's image search. Yes, reposting photos in such a manner can be copyright infringement (though, quite frequently, there may be a very strong fair use defense -- but that's very context specific), but it really does seem quite scammy to go after clearly naive internet users, who are just trying to post a photo of a red pepper to go with a blog post about vegetables.

As noted by the Cashman Law Firm, this whole practice seems really icky. Yes, technically, the law may have been broken, but does anyone actually think that these users would have otherwise purchased the image? And is hitting the ordinary internet user who just wants to illustrate their blog post about red peppers with a federal lawsuit threat really seem proportionate?
On a personal note, hitting website users with a threat of a lawsuit over an image pulled from a Google image search is simply obscene. I would certainly understand such a letter if the image had a watermark pointing the user to a website where they can purchase rights to the photo without the watermark, or if there was a copyright mark on the image. Yet these photos have none of these, and they are literally trolling old websites and blogs looking for photos which were copied from other websites.

What makes this so obscene is that the photo copyright owners are asserting the same copyright infringement claims as do the copyright holders for the bittorrent cases we deal with daily. Along with the same copyright claims come the same shock of having the law provide statutory damages of $150,000 to the copyright holder who can prove the infringement. $150,000 for a movie download in my mind is an obscene and disproportionate punishment for the “crime” of downloading a copyrighted title. Even moreso for a photo. AND, even moreso for an unmarked and unwatermarked photo freely available on a Google image search.
And, in fact, it appears to be even worse, since that same blog post later indicates that at least some of the people being threatened had the images show up via third party RSS aggregators -- meaning they didn't post or host the image themselves. But, that's the kind of situation you get when copyright laws are completely screwy.


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    out_of_the_blue, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 9:48am

    Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

    "Yes, technically, the law may have been broken, but does anyone actually think that these users would have otherwise purchased the image?" -- That's a feeble way to elide the good purpose of teaching not to just swipe whatever you want off the net, 'cause ya can and think it's free.

    Copyright is the societal deal, and not arcane in its basic principle: if it's not yours (or clearly stated to be public domain), then leave it alone.

    "copyright laws are completely screwy." -- No, it's LAWYERS again. (By the way, I leave off the many pejoratives because everyone should by now know the nature of lawyers.)

    BUT a federal case? Hmm. Well, you'd object to mere fines too, so a wash there. -- So how about you get one of your lawyer pals to compile and sell low-cost self-defense kits for jury trial? -- OH, right. Affordable legal help is basically frowned on by the medieval guild "bar" association, and suppressed. -- Which brings me right back to blaming LAWYERS, not copyright.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 9:56am

      Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

      The problem is lawyers will always be dicks. The only way you can control how they're dicks is by having laws that are fit for purpose.

      Now that you've caught up with rest of the class would you care to explain how you think copyright law is being shown to be fit for purpose in this example?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 9:57am

      Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

      So do you have permission to use "out of the blue" given it's a copyrighted movie title?

      Just checking, you know, since you stress strict compliance with copyright law and all.

      www.imdb.com/title/tt0839938/

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 9:59am

      Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

      If an image doesn't have a copyright symbol on it, or other explicit indication that it cannot be used without permission, how do you know?

      Enlighten us please, with more of your copyright wisdom (sarcasm clearly intended).

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 10:10am

        Re: Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

        "If an image doesn't have a copyright symbol on it, or other explicit indication that it cannot be used without permission, how do you know?"

        I think it's reasonable to assume it's copyrighted if you don't know. Under current law everything is copyrighted, the picture is obviously not 95 years old and thus expired, and nobody gave you permission.

        Of course, that doesn't take fair use into account. The use may well be legal. I'm just saying, assuming it's copyrighted is reasonable, and it's not reasonable to assume that anyone who puts any picture on the Internet is giving permission for that image to be copied to another website.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 11:14am

          Re: Re: Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

          But that's how the internet works. My computer necessarily *has* to make a copy of that image (multiple copies, in some cases) to display the image on my screen. By posting on the internet, it's *required* for every viewer to make one or more copies of the image. I can't fathom a thought process that concludes that putting an image in a place where it will be copied on viewing (the internet) doesn't give implicit permission to copy it without prior agreement.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 11:46am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

            I agree that putting something on the Internet does imply a limited right to copy it for purposes of viewing that website, but that's about as far is it goes.

            If I have an antenna, I can copy TV shows I pick up out of the air to my VCR or other recording device for later viewing. I CANNOT, however, legally take that copy and put it on the Internet, or rebroadcast it on my own TV station. Similarly, just because an image is on a website and you can copy that image, that does not mean you can republish that image.

             

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              jupiterkansas (profile), Jul 11th, 2013 @ 12:16pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

              So what happens if you hot link the image so you're not actually copying it, just displaying it on your website from its original source? Most blogs will do that.

               

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              Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 1:15pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

              Agreed, there's no explicit permission given to "re-broadcast" the image, but I think we're getting to the main point(s) of discussion: the current copyright laws are incompatible with the intent and socially-accepted use of the internet.

              In your argument, which we'll assume is legally correct for argumentative purposes, we would require each user of the internet to know a substantial portion of the copyright laws before posting content of any kind. A dismissive response would be to claim that no user should post anything unless they are 100% sure that posting does not violate any copyright laws, but that breaks the intent and usefulness of the internet by injecting a legal minefield in such a way that only those with the training, or capital to hire those with the training, can post content. Indeed, as we've seen here, those laws can be confusing and unclear even to parties with the means and the will to fight.

              What's more, the penalties for violating the sometimes-confusing laws are greatly disproportionate to any apparent harm. Yes, let's agree that professional "bootleg" operations can cause financial harm to a business by undercutting the legal copyright holders, but that damage can be (arguably) quantitatively given an upper limit by examining the number of bootleg copies sold compared to the retail price of a legal copy. In the case of re-posting a publicly accessible image, any damage becomes nearly impossible to calculate. In the current structure of the law, statutory damages require no harm of any kind to penalize an unknowing user with life-altering fines. Just the threat of such a large penalty lends great weight to even a bogus legal threat.

              In summation: While I think we agree on the technicalities of whether re-posting an image is currently illegal, I think the current copyright laws are incompatible with the internet, and how most people use the internet. If the laws were simplified, and penalties reduced to be in-line with actual damages, copyright may be more accepted and useful as part of the global communications medium that is the internet.

               

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              PaulT (profile), Jul 12th, 2013 @ 12:49am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

              But, you can embed the YouTube video on your website, which is the rough equivalent of what's really happened here.

               

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 10:21am

      Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

      '"copyright laws are completely screwy." -- No, it's LAWYERS again.'

      Sometimes it's hard to tell. Obviously, $150,000 is excessive for someone who copied a photo they found online to a fan website. The law allows this excessive award - but, the law does not REQUIRE such an award. So where does the blame lie: with the law that allows this, or with the people who actually seek or award such amounts?

      I think some of each. There should be better guidelines in the law instead of "pick a number between $750 and $150,000", and those who apply the law should do a better job of not awarding ridiculous amounts in minor cases.

       

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        PaulT (profile), Jul 12th, 2013 @ 1:13am

        Re: Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

        "The law allows this excessive award"

        The law needs to be scrapped and rewritten. Most copyright law was based on the idea that infringers were doing so in order to profit - a reasonable assumption at the time given the effort and expense involved in mass infringement. Now, people can infringe with zero effort, no cost, no intention of profit and likely zero realisation that they're even doing so in the first place. The law is based on a reality that no longer exists, and needs to be fixed.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 10:28am

      Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

      There's a little something called owner responsibility. Look it up. The end user only needs to make a minimal effort to look up the copyright on said image. If the owner does not show copyright, then the user does have a fair use defense provided he can show he tried to find the owner but couldn't; at least in Canada. Been there, done that... with the almighty ebay too. Their loss was hilarious, but that's another story for another day (yes, ebay are also extremely bad trolls that do everything in their power to stifle innovation and free speech).

       

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        PRMan, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 11:30am

        Re: Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

        I agree. Just because it got picked up by a search engine in no way confers the right to make copies for use on other websites to everyone on earth.

        I've always been careful to use free images in everything I do for this reason. It takes a minute longer, but you can be certain that it's not a copyright violation.

         

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      Reality Check, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 8:59pm

      Re: Yeah, it's risky to use other people's property.

      Copyright is just rich people making laws to make other rich people even richer. You didn't fall for that line about helping the artist did you?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 10:19am

    and who is to blame for the copyright laws being screwed up like this? the ones who dont care as long as they get their bit from the copyright holders for making laws that are so loose it's unbelievable! then who do you blame for dishing out these ridiculous charges? the courts, who are probably in the same fold as the ones above. the higher the fine, the bigger the kickback! unless there is a two pronged attack on the stupidity of these and similar, ill conceived and ill thought out laws, things wont change.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 10:22am

    I am going to lay a piece of paper on the ground.

    When out_of_the_blue picks up the piece of paper and walks off with it, I am going to scream "you're using my copyrighted property!!" and sue him for $150,000 for copyright infringement.

    When he complains that the piece of paper had no markings on it of any kind that would identify it was copyrighted, I am going to scream and throw tantrums and say "Oh well, there's no need for copyrighted images to show they are copyrighted. They can simply remain silent. And any taking of them invokes the $150,000 statutory penalty, so pay up immediately."

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 10:33am

      Re:

      Except he would not be violating copyright, because picking up paper is not copying. And if you are purposely dropping random paper on the ground, it is more likely that you would be arrested for littering than him for theft.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 10:23am

    I have access to dozens of domain names with either private reg or wrong/bad information, which incidentally serve no content right now.

    Who wants to troll the trolls?

     

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    Chris ODonnell (profile), Jul 11th, 2013 @ 10:31am

    It's not clear from the source blog post, does CEG even hold the copyright on these photos they are threatening legal action over?

     

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    Ninja (profile), Jul 11th, 2013 @ 10:31am

    The worst part is that it's a damned PUBLIC photo. If it's listed on any search engine it's goddamn public by default. If these people (the bloggers) had made it look like THEY took the damn photos then they could have a case.

    That's organized crime. Made legal by bad laws.

     

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    JustMe (profile), Jul 11th, 2013 @ 11:39am

    I believe there is a statute

    That lets you collect monies on behalf of the copyright owner when infringing content is discovered, even if you have had no prior contact with the owner. Of course, it might be spectacularly amusing for someone to identify the original owners of these random images (or first identifiable posting) and let them know about of this free money just waiting for them. Because you know, I'm absolutely certain the trolls are giving all of the money they collect to the owners. Hmm, might even be a lawsuit there somewhere against CEG.

     

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    Robyn B (profile), Jul 11th, 2013 @ 2:21pm

    CEG

    Ah, I wonder, at which un-official hobb-knobber, was the BRILLIANT idea for circumventing straightforward and transparent taking of "WE THE PEOPLE'S" currency first uttered. I don't have a clue, but it has spread exponentially through the communication pipeline of our beloved and oh so trusted public servants, hasn't it? ** "Well, we don't have to tax them directly (sly half grin and eye twinkle characteristic of pride in own genius). Our predecessors have done a tremendous job of canonizing 50 titles of a thing called code of federal regulations (harr harr-more chest pounding). And there is no way any society could possibly know the intricacies of the plethora of these rules subject to FINES. And at 500 dollars a pop (cigar to chubby red lips-puff puff), we have ourselves one heck of a bulging purse".

    There has been a good deal of talk recently about the over arching "presence" of the various agencies. And it often comes from an unsuspecting poor chap who finds himself at the bad end of the blade of one of these regulatory agencies. Too late to save himself from ruin, he has no choice but to PAY. My heart is breaking-

    Truth is, those elected few who are chosen by the many are too entrenched into their own aggrandizement to have bothered taking an honest look at the wording of federal regulation. That's the only reason I can come up with for the fact that this constitutional loophole has been left loose for so long. The redundant, often contradictory, vaguely written codes have trickled through, under our radar over the years. There will soon be no use for lawyers, or senators, or representatives or presidents because they have all been passing the buck of their own responsibilities through the establishment of some agency to do the job for them. The only justification for their positions now is....you guessed it: create agencies to regulate the agencies who regulate the tribunals who regulate the boards who regulate the people so that all the people will be safe and live happily ever after. Right?

     

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