Meet the Lawyers that Profit from Protecting Photographer’s Copyrights
By Malia K.
Digital Marketing Guide
In the last 5 years lawsuits on behalf of photographers protecting their copyright images have exploded. It’s no wonder considering the sheer amount of money that businesses are shelling out for intentionally or even unintentionally using photos from the internet; anywhere from $750 to millions of dollars - for one photo! Is it really worth it to take the risk of using that easily grab-able image on Google?
Who Are These Lawyers?
As you probably know, a copyright lawyer specializes in copyright law to protect a client’s original work from unapproved usage or infringement. In today’s economy, much of a company’s worth comes from ownership of property which includes property that has commercial value, including literary work, patents, videos, and photographs. Designers, writers, developers, marketers, business owners, and even photographers use photos from the Web without permission. People who believe their work is infringed on regularly enlist a lawyer to litigate their suit and prevail in court to protect their client’s copyrights. Copyright lawyers around the country are profiting by bringing numerous claims for copyright infringement damages.
There is a copyright lawyer, or “serial litigant,” by the name of Richard Liebowitz who uses aggressive litigation to sue larger corporations, thereby racking up more money and helping photographers whose work was stolen. In one example, Liebowitz filed suit on behalf of a photographer whose photograph of a leaf on water had been used without permission on a small New York cleaning company’s website. He asked for statutory damages of $150,000 per work infringed when the work was licensed for $12 apiece on a stock photography website. The settlement amount was never disclosed, but the cleaning company did lose the case for infringement.
“Liebowitz filed suit on behalf of a photographer whose photograph of a leaf on water had been used without permission on a small New York cleaning company’s website. He asked for statutory damages of $150,000.”
Another example is the time when web content writers at Webcopyplus paid $4,000 for a digital photo that retailed at $10. Images on the Web without any copyright notices are not “public domain” for free use. While the site maintained an active stock photo account for a blog, one of the copywriters grabbed a photo from the Web and attaching it to a promotional article for a client. A few months later, the client received a “Cease and Desist” letter from a lawyer talking about offering a settlement for an infringement claim. Although the photo was removed, the next letter stated the attorneys’ fees and costs incurred to resolve the matter that would be added to the settlement demand.
“Images on the Web without any copyright notices are not “public domain” for free use.”
Most small businesses don’t have the funds to have a lawyer on retainer so must pay to take their case on contingency - meaning they split the proceeds 50/50 upon winning. The lawyers who work for individuals or corporations find violators of the copyright laws. Statutory damages on non-willful infringement go from $750 to $30,000 per instance. Willful infringement can go up to $150,000. The amount will depend on the seriousness of the act and the financial worth of the infringer. Not all lawyers use the same method of billing; some charge an hourly rate and again others may take you on a contingency basis. Imagine a lawyer who gets a cut of 50% of the check - WOW! Between sending a demand letter and handling negotiations, there is a big opportunity for profiting when taking on copyright infringement cases.
"Between sending a demand letter and handling negotiations, there is a big opportunity for profiting when taking on copyright infringement cases."
From just typing in anything into the Google images search, unsuspecting people can find an endless photo library ripe for picking to reuse for content. This is a high-risk and low-reward situation for anyone to accidentally, or willfully, infringe on someone’s work. The moral of the story: if it’s on the internet and others wrote or created it, do not use it for your business without their written permission.
Need an Agency You Can Trust?
Magnified Media specializes in online marketing for businesses and small companies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. We are their trusted outsourced marketing solution, focused on doing three things: getting them more online reviews, clarifying their marketing message and creating content for their social media platforms. Focusing on these key areas for our clients means they can run their business without worrying about when or where the next customer is coming. We help build their business through reputation. Interested in seeing what we can do? Schedule your Online Presence Audit now and we will also include a report on whether any images on your current site have been stolen! (Here is a map to our location.)