As an artist and photographer I like to display my work and have it be seen by people all over the world. One of the mediums in which I display my art is the internet. I upload hundreds of photos each year to photo sharing sites such as Flickr. Being that the internet is such a diverse and “free” medium it is important to protect the images I upload, which is why I register all of my photographs with the US Copyright Office. I also routinely search the internet for my photos to ensure they are not being misused. By misuse, I mean used by a corporate or commercial entity. If you are an individual and wish to use my photographs for your personal use, please go right ahead, I have absolutely no problems with that. In fact, I license all my photographs with a Creative Commons NonCommercial License, which states to use my photographs for personal use all you have to do is attribute that photo to me, and provide a link back to either chrismartino.com or my flickr page.
On June 21, 2011 while doing one of my routine searches for my photographs online I came across the blog of a Texas based business. In the blog the company used two photographs I took while vacationing in Charleston, SC. The blog post clearly stated my photographs inspired two of the company’s products. Under each of my photographs is a product with a similar color palate which the company intended to sell elsewhere on its website. The company did not get prior permission to use these photographs on its company’s website or blog.
Shortly after noticing the infringement I sent the company’s owner an email containing what I call a “notice of copyright infringement.” Other photographers or copyright attorneys may call it a “demand letter”, but it’s simply a letter stating: their use of the image(s) is considered copyright infringement, they must discontinue using the image(s), a bit of info about copyright infringement and the penalties for committing such a crime, and an offer to settle this matter out of court. In this letter I offered to settle with the company for $500 or $250 for each image the company had used unlawfully.
The next day the company owner responded stating that the company didn’t intend for the images to be viewed as its images, and that it obtained them from other blogs. The company owner then offered to either remove the images, or to offer credit. Nowhere in the response did the company owner offer to settle the disagreement monetarily. Soon after the first email, the company owner sent another saying that the company had taken the images down. I responded with a request for an address so I could send an invoice, the company responded stating that they felt $250 wasn’t reasonable to them. In cases like this, my next step is to typically offer to settle for a much reduced amount if they are willing to write a blog post about copyright infringement. In this case, I was willing to settle for $250 for the use of both photographs if the company would write such a post. The company declined, and informed me that they would consult an attorney. I responded saying that it was a wise move and I’d be more than happy to speak with their attorney.
A few weeks later I reached out to see if the company’s attorney had provided any advice. In response, the company owner said that their attorney would be in touch with me shortly. At that time I had gone out of town for a few days to visit family, and upon my return home I had a (not so) nice letter from the attorney accusing me of extortion (among other things), and stating that he advised his client not to settle with me.
At this point I knew I would have to obtain an attorney of my own.
This entry describes the beginning of a copyright dispute I had with a Texas business. The matter has been resolved pursuant to a Confidential Settlement Agreement.