Stupid Law Firm Decides To Threaten Something Awful Over Hot-Linked Hitler Picture

from the fools-for-attorneys:-non-pro-se-edition dept

A stupid law firm supposedly specializing in IP rights enforcement has decided (again!) to jam its dangling appendages into one of the internet's more ferocious hornets' nests. When you're in the business of threatening litigation over hot-linked images (yep), you probably don't pay much attention to the URLs you target.

The law firm of Higbee & Associates should know better than to go to this well twice. But it doesn't. Due diligence doesn't seem to be a priority. If it was, some of its "pre-litigation" specialists might have noticed the firm went after Something Awful in 2015 for using an image from Under the Skin in its review of the movie. Obviously, this was fair use and a little bit of web searching turns up multiple uses of the same image, suggesting it had been made available by the studio for promotional purposes.

You'd think one failure to turn Something Awful (SA) into an ATM would have been enough for Higbee & Associates. Apparently not. Richard "Lowtax" Kyanka -- having taken over SA's legal department after the departure of Leonard "J" Crabs -- received a demand letter from the law firm over the supposedly unauthorized use of a picture of (go figure) Hitler.

The law firm apparently thought the threat letter would result in Kyanka cutting a check to prevent being sued for up to and including $150,000. But the firm's stupidity goes further than simply trying to threaten a site it had failed to threaten successfully in the past. The demand letter references an image not hosted by Something Awful but one posted to a forum thread by an SA member.

Here's Kyanka's take on the legal conundrum posed by Higbee's ridiculous letter.

As you can clearly see, I had been given a bill for nearly $7,000 because somebody on the Something Awful forums linked to an image of Hitler, a file being hosted on the third-party site Imgur. "Now wait a minute Rich 'Lowtax' Kyanka," you may be saying to nobody in particular. "How can you possibly get sued for somebody linking to an image hosted on a third party site?" The answer is simple: because Higbee and Associates exist.

This garbage dicked law firm generates nearly $5 million a year by encouraging photographers to sign up with their company, then performing a reverse image search for anything matching their client's submitted photos. An automated system then flags the suspected offending site, spits out a super scary legal threat based off a template, and delivers it to the site owner. Upon receiving the notice of possible legal action, many victims freak out and pay these idiots the stated arbitrary amount of cash, under the looming threat of being taken to court for $150,000. Higbee and Associates operate one of the biggest dirtbag law firms to ever pollute the internet, preying on fear and dealing in bulk.

Unfortunately, in my 20 years of running this site, I've been forced to brush up on general copyright law, and I damn well know that linking to an image hosted on a third party image site breaks absolutely no law, even if it is digital, lossy compressed Hitler.

Kyanka's immediate response to Higbee's threat letter is both hilarious and profane, mostly simultaneously.

I have an even better idea: I'm not going to pay you a fucking dime and you can go fuck off to hell for eternity because I am absolutely in no way responsible for images hosted by a third party service, in this case Imgur. Go fuck yourselves and prey on some other website that hasn't been around for two decades and knows damn well what their legal responsibilities entail, and what they're responsible for. Your entire law firm is a straight up piece of flaming shit that tries to intimidate folks with EXPENSIVE LEGAL THREATS in the hope that your extortion scheme will work on some of them. I am not one of those people. So I cordially invite you to take your pdf, print it out, and ride it like a sybian until the cows come home. Then I invite you to fuck the cows as well.

The staff at Higbee's was presumably not amused, nor willing to ride threat letter PDFs like marital aids for the rest of eternity. It handed over Kyanka and his angry communications to one of its "pre-litigation" people so they, too, could harvest the vitriol from the seeds the firm had planted. A few more rounds of law firm employees hoping to sound serious and threatening being greeted with disdain, mockery, and creative insults followed.

Finally, Kyanka decided to do the firm's due diligence for it.

Oh, and since I'm such a swell guy, I'll send you a little graphic explaining Imgur's copyright and linking policies, which clearly dictates the copyright responsibility for each and every image is the sole responsibility of the individual who uploaded it. I'm sure it was just a freak accident that you guys somehow missed the literal first search result for "copyright law and internet image links Imgur," but it's not like you guys are lawyers whose sole job is to do such things as required by the law. Here's the link as well; let me know if you require explicit, step by step instructions detailing how to click internet links.

https://help.imgur.com/hc/en-us/art...ws-article-etc-

Maybe this finally got through to the Higbee & Associates. There have been no further legal threats issued since this last salvo by Kyanka. This is the way it should be, minus all the unpleasant interactions preceding this. A hotlinked image isn't a violation of anyone's copyright. The violation, if any, was committed by the person who uploaded the image to Imgur, not the forum poster who linked to it. A DMCA notice sent to Imgur should have been the full extent of Higbee's actions, but instead it decided to subject itself to public mockery by handling this like an overeager hobbyist, rather than the capable law firm it imagines itself to be.


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:52am

    When wankers wank, they wank to the utmost, expect more wanking

    Maybe this finally got through to the Higbee & Associates. There have been no further legal threats issued since this last salvo by Kyanka.

    A likely theory for their lack of follow through on this claim is that they are busy trying to figure out if they can make a defamation claim over the response. A response which is purely opinion and none defamatory facts. Which does not mean they won't try.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul Brinker, 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:56am

    Knowing Somethingawful...

    I am shocked they have spawned hundreds of small claim suits for the pain and suffering Higbee & Associates has inflicted on SomethingAwful and its members.

    Though I think it would be more entertaining to get this whole thing on Last Week Tonight so the world can know this law firm exists and is generally toothless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christenson, 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:05am

    "Officer of the court????"

    Yup, that's part of an admitted member of the bar's responsibility.

    Too bad the bar won't respond with sanctions for such frauds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:06am

    Unfortunately … I've been forced to brush up on general copyright law

    Said every lawyer forced to defend against copyright claims both frivolous and legitimate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:06am

    I do not know and I am not a lawyer or even vaguely knowledgeable in law but the excerpt you posted sure sounded like slander to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:08am

      What parts of the Techdirt article or Lowtax’s missives constitute defamation?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:09am

      Re:

      Opinion is not slander.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Christenson, 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:51am

        Re: Re:

        Opinion is not slander, *especially* if the factual basis is disclosed and not implied, as here.

        "on the basis of the demand letter, your law firm is the scum of the earth and you deserve to be disbarred" cannot be slander. You can disagree...think the law firm is an angel on account of the letter...but it's not slander.

        "*Somehow* Mr Kavanaugh got confirmed, and you, scumbag, were behind it" might be slander, since it assumes facts not in evidence.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 7:24pm

        Re: Re:

        some people seem to think foul language aimed in one's general direction constitutes slander or libel. that could be it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ryuugami, 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:54am

      Re:

      You are mistaken, Techdirt didn't post any excerpts from the extortion letter sent by the Dumbass & Associates.

      (I assume that's what you meant, since Dumbass & Associates accusing random unrelated people of copyright infringement is the most slanderous thing in this story.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 1:12pm

      Re:

      "I do not know and I am not a lawyer or even vaguely knowledgeable in law but the excerpt you posted sure sounded like slander to me."



      "I do not know" ... this is apparent and is not a problem assuming one has an open mind.

      "I am not a lawyer" ... neither are a lot of others but that should not stop one from thinking.


      "sounded like slander to me."

      What do you think slander sounds like? How does one determine the difference between opinion and slander?
      Inquiring minds what to know.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Paul Brinker, 10 Oct 2018 @ 10:12am

        Re: Re:

        Opinion: I think you smell like a fish
        Slander: You are a fish

        It comes down to if you are stating something (I think, I am told etc.) vs saying something as a fact.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          David, 10 Oct 2018 @ 6:05pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "You are a fish" would not be slander. Saying you didn't mean it literally may not protect you always from a slander charge, but if it's a claim that no one could take literally, no court will call it slander.

          Also, throwing invective around can help. Underwood Dudley wrote books about mathematical cranks, and when one of them sued them, the court said that "crank" is dismissive of an idea and the person who holds it, so it's opinion, not slander. For a similar reason, Penn & Teller called their show "Bullshit", because it may be slander to call something fraudulent, it can't be to call it bullshit. Saying "you're a goddamn Nazi scumsucker" is more likely to pass a court than "you're a member of the American Nazi Party", which is likely to be taken as a literal claim of fact.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John85851 (profile), 11 Oct 2018 @ 11:30am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I don't know and I'm not a lawyer, but isn't slander verbally saying something that isn't true and libel is saying it in writing? So technically, all of the comments should be considered libelous... assuming they weren't opinion and protected speech.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 3:58pm

      “I “I do not know and I am not a lawyer or even vaguely knowledgeable in law”

      Obviously

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JasonC (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:10am

    It made me smile that someone finally responded to shit like this in a manner consistent with what I've desired for years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JustMe (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:31am

    Also... Hitler

    Who is claiming to own the copyright on an image taken before April 30, 1945? While that is only 73 years ago I do not believe that German copyright law (at the time) provided for such lengthy terms. Also, I seriously doubt that any photographer from that period would have signed up with this firm for protection (even setting aside the subject of the photograph). Therefore, how is this not outright fraud - either on the part of the person who registered the image or the "law firm"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ShadowNinja (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:41am

      Re: Also... Hitler

      ... wouldn't the copyright have expired anyway?

      I recall reading a few years ago about how the German copyright on Hitler's book expired which allowed people to publish it again (something the German government or someone else had previously prevented by buying up the copyright and refusing to print more books of it).

      The book was published before Hitler died yes, but any pictures of Hitler in question can't be much newer then it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:52am

        Re: Re: Also... Hitler

        prevented by buying up the copyright and refusing to print more books of it

        A good example of how an author's own copyright can be weaponized against them. (Well, maybe not a good example when the author is Hitler.) He should've put it in the public domain.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2018 @ 9:53am

          Re: Re: Re: Also... Hitler

          "He should've put it in the public domain."

          If memory serves (from some documentary or other), Mein Kampf became practically required to buy by all German families, thus giving Hitler and his cronies the money from every copy sold. Made him quite a little bundle there.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:55am

        Re: Re: Also... Hitler

        You'd be surprised. Mein Kampf was published in 1925, 20 years before Hitler's death.

        And, of course, the copyright on the photo likely belonged to the photographer. So (assuming that the photographer survived WWII), there is likely to be several decades between the death of Hitler and the death of the photographer, and therefore several decades between the relevant copyright expiration dates.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 10 Oct 2018 @ 1:06am

        Re: Re: Also... Hitler

        "... wouldn't the copyright have expired anyway?"

        Not if the major corporations get their way. They've already robbed literature, music and movies from the public domain, why not photographic record of historical figures?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:43am

      Re: Also... Hitler

      A true photograph of Hitler is beyond copyright...but I thought that particular copy was creatively photo-shopped, likely colorized, and possibly a setup using an actor, so there's a protectable element of originality there.

      But...this still smells of extortion, courts please take notice!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 12:19pm

    Any gentleman with sufficiently discerning tastes to know what a Sybian is definitely commands my respect...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 1:17pm

    Will I be subjected to copyright claims if I publish pictures of present GOP members with Hitler mustaches drawn upon mug shots of GOP members?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Trails (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 2:11pm

    How not to troll SA

    The copyright login page appears to have sql injection vulnerabilities. This'll go well...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    norahc (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 2:17pm

    My popcorn futures were wondering where their next increase would come from. Thanks!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Nobody, 9 Oct 2018 @ 2:58pm

    Remember kids

    There isn't a credible lawyer in the world who will send you threat letters by email the way Higbee does. If ever you hear from these asshats, insist on being contacted in written form. They won't do it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 3:07pm

    Isnt there a way??

    To get folks like this into a jail??
    And I would love to see their ownership of the original picture..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NewSimian (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 6:11pm

    Forget copyright, the offense here is barratry

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barratry_(common_law)

    It used to be grounds for disbarment.

    Maybe it isn't any longer a crime, and if so -- too bad

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 6:27pm

      Re: Forget copyright, the offense here is barratry

      Regarding disbarment, you can show how much of a joke that is, and why lawyers like this are likely not worried about it in the least with one word:

      Prenda.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:03pm

    I didn't know blue worked at Higbee!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Oct 2018 @ 10:12am

    People keep floating the idea of a 'Copyright Small Claims' Court....
    I think we shoudl have one... but for people targeted with the stupidest threats like this.
    If they had to pay for their baseless threats, perhaps that might motivate them to change how they operate since it seems the bar, courts, legal scholars won't apply pressure to them to stop being stupid.

    Hell imagine what would happen to every firm using Guardaley, who don't have the evidence they claim & are allowed to run away time & time again after costing victims cash. If they had to pay for meritless claims the model would end and bad lawyers could go back to boiler room operations trying to shake down people over bad written off debt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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