There are many companies out there that offer stock photographs and other images available for download. Some of those are available for download for free, others are rights managed, while others require royalty-free, but one-time payment. One of those companies is known as Corbis. Another one is known as Getty Images. Regardless of the company, there are many types of these companies that simply acquire rights of ownership to the particular images from the author of those images, monitor how those images are being downloaded and used and then send letters of copyright infringement to the people that downloaded and used them.
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This is copyright attorney Brian Hall with Traverse Legal PLC, a law firm that represents those receiving copyright infringement letters as it pertains to their use of online images. Today I want to talk about the liability that one may face by using images that they find online for their own personal use and benefit.
When they do so, they usually include an offer of settlement. They threaten litigation, they threaten hefty statutory damages under copyright law, and they offer a number to resolve the matter. Most people who receive these letters become scared and do not necessarily know how to react. In some instances, I’m sure that some people actually pay the number that’s originally offered as a settlement. However, if you were to receive one of these letters, I would definitely recommend that you speak to a copyright attorney.
A copyright attorney will be able to review the claim. And while copyright infringement is indeed an offense that has strict liability, there are factors that can be reviewed by the copyright attorney to determine what defenses you may have available and how you may be able to reduce the amount they are willing to settle for.
For example, there have been decisions regarding these mass copyright registrations with the U.S. Copyright Office and how they may not be valid as it pertains to each individual image because there wasn’t listing of the author for that particular registration. While the copyright claimant may still be able to say that they own a compilation in the copyright. Meaning they have rights to all the images together, this may only qualify for de minimas copyright infringement.
As a result, the amount of money that they would be able to recover, if they took it all the way to and through litigation, may be very small. In such instances, it behooves the recipient of the letter to understand those types of issues and how they can use them to their best advantage to try to either negotiate a lower amount to resolve the matter. Or if there are other leverage items and actual defenses, they may choose to defend the matter. Regardless, it is beyond dispute that Corbis Images, and others like it, are indeed making a business model out of copyright infringement.
More often then not, it is innocent infringers who are downloading images that they thought they had rights to. But again, as I said before, there is no innocent infringement per say, since copyright infringement is a strict liability offense. That being said, there are issues, there are defenses, and there are options available to you if you have received a cease and desist letter notifying you of your use, and unlawful use, of those images and offering to settle for an amount that you believe is far greater then what you would have had to pay for those images in the first place, or in light of the defenses you may have available.
So once again to summarize, if you do receive a letter from Corbis or if you do receive a letter from Getty images or you do receive a letter from some of the other ones that are out there, it is very important to speak to a copyright attorney who can advise you of the scope of your liability and the extent of the monetary damages that you may be responsible for.
So, once again, this has been attorney Brian Hall talking about the unlawful use of images being downloaded online and the copyright infringement that may go along therewith.
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