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.

Filed Under: copyright trolls, photos
Companies: copyright enforcement group

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 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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