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 is being used on this article found on your site: .

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. 🙂

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

Reader Comments

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  1. icon
    GHB (profile), 16 Dec 2020 @ 1:51pm

    Similar to what happened to youtube

    This: at 17:04 to 17:41

    However, instead of a demand letter, it is a standard DMCA takedown notice. So even if you follow all laws and the terms of the license, you are STILL vulnerable to takedown notices.

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

  2. icon
    GHB (profile), 16 Dec 2020 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Similar to what happened to youtube

    ...and other threats

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

  3. icon
    Trails (profile), 16 Dec 2020 @ 2:56pm


    Green crap marketing's stie has the following phone number: Phone: 800-136-446

    This is not, to my knowledge, a valid phone number.

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

  4. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 16 Dec 2020 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Similar to what happened to youtube

    That's an instance of copyfraud, though, because Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable and the licensor didn't hold up their end of the license agreement. If the person being dinged by a takedown had legal representation, they should definitely use it.

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

  5. icon
    Wyrm (profile), 16 Dec 2020 @ 3:29pm

    And that's why you need an actual copyright registry.
    I understand that was the case before, and the law was changed to make it easier for "creators" to claim copyright on their works.

    But, as it should have been predicted, it became a mess where copyright can be claimed fraudulently. Even when bad faith is not factored in, it sometimes become difficult to impossible to trace who is the current holder of a particular copyrighted work. Orphaned works are a huge problem. And people who want to use a copyrighted work sometimes don't know who to contact. (See recently, the news about the game studio who wants to remake a game, but doesn't know which of three studios owns the rights... and neither of them will be bothered to check until they have an opportunity to sue.)

    The law is broken and needs to be fixed in all sorts of ways: registration, scope and duration. But the copyright lobby is huge, and very generous... towards politicians.

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

  6. icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 16 Dec 2020 @ 3:35pm

    Re: Similar to what happened to youtube

    I've had some things similar happen to me, using CC music, and suddenly getting claims.

    I got it cleared up, eventually, but yeah, I need to finish up that investigation, and write it up.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Dec 2020 @ 3:48pm

    Re: Re: Similar to what happened to youtube

    and the licensor didn't hold up their end of the license agreement.

    Try reading and understanding what the article said, the claim was fraudulent because it was not the actual licensor making the claim, but some scammer who edited the Wikipedia records. This is a case of plagiarism for fraudulent purposes.

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

  8. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 16 Dec 2020 @ 5:59pm

    If the scheme works for Getty...

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Dec 2020 @ 6:56pm

    Re: Re: Similar to what happened to youtube

    I'd be very interested to read that, and i am sure many would also be interested.

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

  10. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Dec 2020 @ 8:16pm

    Litmus Test: When the law is so messed up scammers are using it because the mere mention of it terrifies people perhaps its time for reform.
    I mean I'm still getting multiple calls telling me crime has been done on my SS number & I should call them to sort it out before they send the police to get me.

    Copyright is so lopsided, the punishments so out of line, & even on a good day you might manage to not lose your entire online presence after fighting for months b/c someone claimed ownership that was never theirs will never face any punishment.

    Why wouldn't scammers use the implied threat of wiping you from the internet to make a few click bucks?

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

  11. icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 16 Dec 2020 @ 10:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Similar to what happened to youtube

    Alas, I'm well known for both my procrastination, my self-critisism, and my love of unattainable perfection.
    9 years ago, Mike interviewed me about my first book, No Safe Harbor. Book 2 was to be out by the end of 2012 at the latest. I'm barely a quarter done. Same with the Pratchett based book I've been teasing Leigh with for 3 years...

    Productivity-wise, I make George RR Martin look like Stephen King.

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

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2020 @ 1:42am


    And that's why you need an actual copyright registry.

    And just how is that meant to work considering the number of articles, photos and videos published online every minute?

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

  13. icon
    catsmoke (profile), 17 Dec 2020 @ 2:46am

    to fix it

    A great deal of the world wide web’s problems are due to money being exchanged for the direction of visitors to websites.

    The practice must be banned. Link aggregation sites are a pox on the internet. Websites should rely on their own merits to draw whatever organic traffic they are worthy to attract. It would clean up massive portions of the web, to make mandatory the cessation of paying third parties for the sake of directing visitors to certain websites. It would also ease a transition to much greater transparency.

    Aggregator sites, of all types, are unnecessary duplication, and their proliferation does not serve the common interest. Duplication is always wasteful. Ideally, a central authority would regulate all markets, and eliminate the production inferior goods, both physical and virtual. “Economic competition” and the “right of a person to make a bad decision” be damned.

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2020 @ 3:50am

    There needs to be a copyright register for every book film and TV show and song, in an age where there's constant dmca claims on audio and video content.
    Random company's are claiming content and getting ad revenue on content they do not own
    This will get worse in 10 years ,
    Musicians are making content on sound cloud
    and other services without going near a record
    Even people who license content from musicians
    are getting dmca claims on their videos
    from TV company's who may use the music in
    Other TV shows or ads

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

  15. icon
    Jeroen Hellingman (profile), 17 Dec 2020 @ 4:52am

    Re: Re:

    Well, unlike in the 18-somethings, we now have massive networks, digital storage facilities, and can create wonderful API's, so many of those 20th century objects can be resolved with a little bit of tech. Just a accessible registry for everyone -- maybe even finally even a sensible way of using block-chain if you want to decentralize it -- where people can register their works and related transactions.

    Submit a proof of your work with an officially notarized stamp on it (of course digitally done), and all following related transactions, and you have the equivalent of a title-deed to a piece of copyrighted stuff. Of course people can steal work, and submit it as their own, but that should come out easily when things go to court and carry heavy repercussions.

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

  16. icon
    Jeroen Hellingman (profile), 17 Dec 2020 @ 4:58am


    Musicians should try to get clauses in their contracts that forbid interfering with other licensee's works, including a stiff penalty, and an explicit note that sending a DMCA claim is understood to be such interfering.

    People who license stuff from musicians should get a clause in their contract that indemnifies them from such DMCA claims related to their work, and makes them responsible for all related damages.

    Both clauses together should protect both the musician and their customer against this type of fraud.

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2020 @ 5:25am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Submit a proof of your work with an officially notarized stamp on it (of course digitally done),

    Is that before or after you submit 20 photos to your website today, having posted at least 10 a day for the past few years? A copyright registry worked when the number of works published was limited, like it was when physical media was needed for publication, and it recorded works that had been published. Beside which who would pay the required fees for every photo they have take, or keep accurate records so that they can check for registration before publishing a photo on a web site.

    Now that everybody can self publish large volumes of photographs etc. registration would have to be largely automated, like contentid, and we all know how accurate and reliable that database is.

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

  18. identicon
    Rocky, 17 Dec 2020 @ 8:03am

    Re: to fix it

    History tells us that what you propose never ends well. It sounds good but in practice is soon falls apart with a lot of collateral damage for the simple reason that complex problems doesn't have simple solutions.

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

  19. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Dec 2020 @ 1:08pm

    'We've alread got the offical news, why allow alternatives?'

    Dictators around the world would likely agree, if it's not serving the common interest(as defined by them of course) then it has no business existing, what could possibly go wrong?

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

  20. 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.

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

  21. icon
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