I try my hardest to separate out the “photo” copyright trolls from the “bittorrent” copyright trolls when writing articles on this blog, as they are a separate category of trolls with their own rules.
In sum, “photo” copyright trolls search the web for images that are used on websites, often by bloggers, without permission or license from the owner of that photograph. Essentially, a blogger writes (for example) about the topic of “red pepper” vegetables. To make their blog entry more visually appealing, they search Google Images for “red pepper,” copy the first image they see, and they paste it on the top of their blog.
Most bloggers stay away from pictures that have a watermark on it, or from images which have a copyright logo marked on it. The problem is that 99% of the pictures out there have no copyright marking, and are not sold anywhere. Unsuspecting bloggers use these photos or random pictures on their blogs, and unbenownst to them, the owner (or a third party who purchases the rights to the photo with the intention of suing bloggers) begins asserting their copyright interests in the photo. Many accused bloggers who I have spoken to have expressed that they didn’t think they needed a license for a photo for non-commercial activities, and now they are facing threats of a lawsuit for using an image on their website.
Where the waters get muddied is that now Copyright Enforcement Group (a.k.a., “CEG-TEK”, “CEG TEK”, and more recently, “CEG”) is sending out the same DMCA letters that they ordinarily send to my bittorrent clients, but now they are in the “photo trolling” business. Their letters assert that a particular website used a copyrighted photo without a license, and the copyright holder is now asserting his rights for the “theft” that happened to his intellectual property rights. Thus, they are asking for $500 per photo, which in my opinion is obscene considering all their other letters ask for $200 per video shared via bittorrent.
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.
Now here are the details as they are unfolding. So far, it appears as if the “photo” copyright troll entity asserting the copyrights is a company called “AKM Images / GSI Media.” The letter CEG-TEK is sending out provides a screenshot image of the blog containing the photo (and in a number of cases, the blog is no longer in existence and is only shown in the internet archives on the “Way Back Machine” on http://archive.org). It appears as if even CEG-TEK was unsure if they wanted to go into this area, because many of the screenshots are said to be from last year (2012). And, the so-called DMCA letters are not sent by ISPs, but appear to be forwarded by the website admins who host the various blogs.
6/13 UPDATE: There is some talk about the copyrighted images being posted on the website owner’s website or blog by a third party RSS aggregator. In sum, the accused blogger or website owner in many cases didn’t even post the images themselves, yet they are still asked by CEG to pay $500 to avoid a lawsuit.