Owners Of Old, Abandoned Hotel Threaten Guy Who Photographed It With Copyright Infringement
from the new-funding-strategy? dept
Alex alerts us to yet another case of someone abusing copyright law to threaten someone. The story begins with Sherman Cahal, who runs the awesome site AbandonedOnline.net, on which he posts photographs from abandoned buildings. He recently posted photographs of the Waldo Hotel in Clarksburg, West Virginia. As you can see at the link, he doesn’t just put up photos, but a rather detailed history of the building itself. Then there are a bunch of exterior photos, interior photos and even some historic photos of the building. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for this kind of photography. Check out just this one shot of the lobby, and then click on the links above to see the rest:
No individual with the Vandalia Heritage Foundation has authorized the creation, publication or copyrights of these photos. If you believe this is in error, please forward the contractual agreement stating permission to create, publish and copyright photos of the Waldo Hotel interior and roof to the following mailing address:
ATTENTION LEGAL DEPARTMENT
In addition, you can forward the contractual agreement stating permission to create, publish and copyright photos of the Waldo Hotel interior and roof to the following email address:
We formally request that all unauthorized Waldo Hotel interior and roof photos be removed from the following websites unless evidence of previous permission to do such can be provided
Later in the letter, they try to make things more “informal,” but still remain pretty threatening:
Although still official, we would like to also address you in an informal tone. We understand that the articles associated with the Waldo Hotel on abandonedonline.net is in favor of preservation and revitalization of the property. And preservation and revitalization is what we do. However, there are multiple problems with the approach you decided to take. One, breaking and entering and/or trespassing was the only method by which these photos could have been taken. This costs us time, money, liability and security issues. Two, these photos are unauthorized and may contain content that damages efforts to save the hotel. Three, these photos are wrongly copyrighted by Sherman Cahal and it deprives us of our rights to profits or benefits. And similarly, four, these photos are being sold for personal gain on shermancahal.com which, again, deprives us of our rights to profits or benefits.
Now obviously this is not a cease and desist letter from an attorney. And that?s not the route we want to take. Paying an attorney to handle this would cost us time and money that would be better focused on restoring the Waldo Hotel. But consider this a warning shot and we will pursue further action if these requests are ignored.
If you are willing to donate photos – that we officially sign off on – to the Waldo Hotel Preservation Society for fundraising and informational purposes, we support that.
The problem with all of this is that the claims on copyright are almost certainly complete bunk. The group seems to assume that because they own the building, they automatically hold the copyright on any photographs of the building. This is a common misconception. While you can copyright architecture, that copyright does not prevent photographs. Basically, the copyright claim is ridiculous.
Cahal seems to understand this, and gave the Vandalia Heritage Foundation a quick lesson in copyright law. He also notes that even the trespassing claim they have is pretty weak. Either way, after educating the Foundation on copyright law, the Foundation realized that perhaps it was making a mistake. What’s amazing is that they thought this was an appropriate tactic in the first place. Threatening Cahal for publicizing the building they’ve been trying for years to raise money to renovate seems counterproductive. These kinds of photos provide more publicity and perhaps more interest in the possibility of restoring the building.
It’s pretty frustrating when you hear these kinds of stories. Even though it turned out okay in the end, this is yet another symptom of “ownership society,” where people misunderstand and abuse copyright law to threaten people who are expressing themselves.