Copyright Trolling/SEO Scam, Changing The Photo Credits On Wikimedia Commons

from the shakedown dept

Want to know yet another reason why the CASE Act is so dangerous? It will inspire ever more new attempts at fraud in the copyright trolling space. Giving people the ability to shake down others leads to... lots of attempts to shake down or scam others. The latest scam we've heard of comes to us from photographer Kyle Cassidy, who posted this wonderful photo of NPR host Peter Sagal running to Wikimedia Commons under a CC BY-SA 3.0 (attribution, sharealike) license:

A writer named Eric San Juan used the image, properly attributed on his blog. Last month, Eric received an email from "Aldwin Sturdivant" from a company called "Green Cap Marketing" which claims to be one of the many companies that will scan the web on behalf of photographers and shake down anyone who used those images for money. The site claims "Your Images. Your Revenue." Also, somewhat ironically, it claims: "Nothing is more frustrating than knowing your work is being stolen and used for someone else’s gain." It's ironic, because it appears that it's actually "Green Cap Marketing" that is trying to gain from pretending to hold the copyright on someone else's images. Here's the email that Sturdivant sent to San Juan:

It says:

Hi I hope you are the right person on this.,

I hope you’re doing well.

I am very pleased to see that my creative work in https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Running_Man_Kyle_Cassidy.jpg is being used on this article found on your site: .http://ericsanjuan.com/get-more-exercise-day-to-day-with-these-stunning-hacks/.

It means a lot to me that you selected my work. I prefer that you keep the image on as I can see it provides value to your followers.

Simple image credit to my site is all I ask. It motivates me to continue uploading images that contribute to informative content like yours.

Can you support my humble work? Stay safe. 🙂

Cheers,
Aldwin Sturdivant
Content Editor
Green Cap Marketing

Just looking at this should raise some alarm bells. I mean, photograph's file name actually has the name of the actual photographer, Kyle Cassidy, in the file name. San Juan originally assumed that Sturdivant was sincere, and noticed that the Wikimedia Commons page did say that he was the photographer:

But, if you look in the Wikipedia edit history, you'll see that the "photo taken by" credits have changed over time, with a bunch of name changes in the past few months:

Basically, on August 13th, someone changed the photographer to be "Natasha Spencer" of a sketchy health site I will not name. That was reverted. On August 17th, the same thing happened. It was reverted. On November 23rd, the same day "Sturdivant" emailed San Juan, it was changed again to say the photo was taken by Sturdivant, again in association with the sketchy health site.

Indeed, this appears to not be so much a copyright trolling scam, but a search engine optimization scam. "Sturdivant" and Green Cap Marketing didn't ask San Juan for payment... but to link to an affiliate site. According to San Juan:

In no time, they send a reply with the link info for me, but what he sent back was a website that had nothing to do with him or the photo, and the photo attribution they asked for was for a BUSINESS, not the photographer. It was a link affiliate site, a commercial site that earns money through clicks. What the hell?

San Juan has blacked out the URL, but I'll take a wild guess that it's likely to be the same one that "Sturdivant" and "Spencer" named when they claimed credit for the Wikimedia photos.

So what originally looked like a copyright trolling scam, may be more of an SEO scam. Either way, it's a scam.

Cassidy himself went snooping and found that there were a bunch of other files attributed to A. Sturdivant, but honestly, many of those appear to be legit, as they appear to be old documents that have some connection to an actual "Sturdivant" from very far in the past.

However, others have pointed out that this is a common problem, with people vandalizing photo credits, and that "A. Sturdivant" was a name used for this in the past as well. Some Wikipedia editors have been reporting and banning users for engaging in this kind of scam.

However, what does seem clear is that Green Cap Marketing (since the "Sturdivant" emails came from there) is not just engaged in typical copyright trolling, but has expanded its business into the truly scammy SEO game, by faking credits on photos and then asking sites to link to their affiliate fee links instead of the actual photographer's images and sites.

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Filed Under: aldwin sturdivant, commons, copyright, copyright trolling, creative commons, eric san juan, kyle cassidy, links, natasha spencer, peter sagal, seo, wikimedia commons, wikipedia
Companies: green cap marketing, wikimedia


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  1. icon
    Wyrm (profile), 5 Jan 2021 @ 2:53am

    Re: Re:

    Sorry I'm late replying to this message, but my answer is simple: does everything need a copyright?
    My answer is simply no.
    I don't need a copyright on this comment, even though I actually got one the moment it was published. That's stupid. Same thing when I have a selfie I post for my friends or family to see. I care about privacy to some extend, but I absolutely don't care about copyright. My incentive to take my own picture is to show my entourage that I'm well and happy, not to make them pay for the privilege.

    If you want to monetize your work, you copyright it. Meaning you take an active step to register it for copyright. That's how it was originally, and it makes sense for nearly everything on the internet. The little content that is actually a source of income could be registered in several ways. It can be made as easy or difficult as the lawmakers want to make it, but registering should be necessary in order to trace the ownership of the rights on a work, including date of start, date of end, author, current owner. At a minimum. (Note that I also object to retroactively extending copyright on existing work. That is one of the biggest scams ever. End of rights should be set when they start.)

    It's not like small physical items where - mostly - holding it means you own it. (Not so simple, obviously, but close enough.)
    It's way more akin to land ownership where you need to have official records of the owner because otherwise anyone could come and claim it for himself.
    (But even land can only have one clear owner at most. Copyright is way more complex as "similarity" is sometimes enough to be considered infringing.)

    In the case of copyright, my opinion is to make it clear: if you want to make money out of it, register it. Otherwise, let it be.

    nb: about "how easy or difficult you make it", I can imagine something where you can register online for a whole website content at once. Or on the other end of the scale, making you file a form for every page and content element on it. I don't mind either way because copyright is not part of my life. Or at least, it shouldn't be since I'm not in the business of owning and spreading the works of my imagination. But it happens to be nowadays because anything and everything on the internet is a copy. So everyone on the internet is involved with this crazy minefield of laws and regulations. You can only hope the sights of some right holder will not fall on you for some reason.
    This, despite not "illegally" downloading movies, songs or whatever else. I'm subscribed to a few services, and if I don't get what I want there, I'm of the idea that, if they don't want my money, I don't want their works either. They lose more than I do.


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