Copyright Infringement Lesson Learned

John Turner founder of SeedProd Posted by John Turner on December 5, 2014

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About 5 years ago my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer. Obviously this was devastating news to her and the family. With such a grim outlook she asked me to help her start a blog to document her journey and to have something to leave behind for her kids. I ended up setting up a blog on WordPress.com, gave her the login and let her go at it. Over 1500 posts and 14,000 images later she had amassed quite collection of stories from her life’s journey. She was always posting anecdotes with pictures she had taken and images she found on the internet to help with the story. Unfortunately, she had no clue she was breaking the law.

Copyright Troll Cometh

About 2 weeks ago I received a rather nasty email from a travel company that I had infringed upon their copyright images registered with the US Copyright Office and that I needed to pay a settlement fee for usage or they would sue.  At first I was confused as to why I received the email about my mother-in-laws blog. As it turns out I was technically the owner of the blog. I registered the domain and was paying the bills for it. I immediately contacted my brother-in-law, who is a lawyer, for advice. After doing some research it was the determined that this was a valid company and the claim was valid. I was advised to settle instead of taking my chances with a potential law suit.  So that’s what I did, I paid the fee to the troll and moved on. I could have taken my chances and called their bluff but I was not ready to deal with the worst case scenario. The law provides a range from $200 to $150,000 for each work infringed. Could fair use have been argued? Maybe, but again I just wanted it to go away which I’m sure they bank on as it appeared they had a dedicated person who dealt with this within their organization.

The Fallout

Knowing my mother in law had used many images she had found on the internet, we determined the only course of action was to completely remove the current blog and start fresh. Yes this sucked. All that work she had put into the blog , stories and connections she had made gone. At least from the public.  Leaving the site up ‘as is’ was a huge liability. We explained what had happened and she was devastated. But she has started fresh and is as positive as ever. You can find her blog at http://chapelofhopestories.com

Lesson Learned

Ultimately I should have explained to her before she ever got started that she should only post images that she owned or that has a license that allows you to post. Don’t let this happen to you. Below is a list of sites that have creative commons or other licenses that allow you to post  images on your site. Some required attribution and/or have commercial limits. Just be sure to read  and understand the license associated with the image. Above all never just grab images you randomly find from the internet.

Image Resources

Here are a few image resources. Again make sure you understand the license before you use any image.

John Turner founder of SeedProd

By John Turner

John is the founder of SeedProd.com and a WordPress Developer with over 15 years of development experience.

7 thoughts on "Copyright Infringement Lesson Learned"

  1. Steven Gliebe says:

    This is such a necessary warning. I’ve seen this happen and I’ve seen people running risks they probably have no idea about.nnnI’m sure many companies truly are interested in protecting their intellectual property rights but it would not be surprising that for others collecting settlements is a handsome side-businesses. There is a difference between “please stop, or else” and “pay up, or else [insert six digits]”. You really don’t have a choice but to pay the settlement unless you have and are willing to risk a small fortune.nnThe Internet is a wild place so never, ever touch other peoples’ stuff without a license (that you understand).

    1. John Turner says:

      Yep, it’s definitely something I wish I had read before hand.

  2. metai says:

    Of course, sifting through tens of thousands of images to weed out those who may be infringing on copyright is not a viable option. But why then not just delete the images from the blog (and the file system!)? Maybe even insert placeholders with a notice explaining the reason? Speaking as a programmer with a bit of knowledge about WordPress, It’d an easy task. You kinda threw out the baby with the bath water.

    1. John Turner says:

      Yep, this would be easy if she was self hosted but she is using WordPress.com , not so easy. Plus she had copy and pasted articles and comment on them :(

      1. metai says:

        Export from wordpress.com, import into local dev installation, perform magic, reimport into wordpress.com. Viola/wuala/(your favorite misspelling of “voilu00e0” here)!nnAs for the copypasta, was it at least encapsulated in blockquotes and/or attributed?nn(If you decided the 1500 blog posts aren’t worth salvaging with a little programming effort, fair enough. It’s just that I’ve been scraping web pages for clients for years now, mostly salvaging old non-CMS content, and developed some sort of knack for it.)

        1. John Turner says:

          We download it and archive it for family use. Just not for the public any more.

  3. CSC says:

    Creative Commons images are only reliable IF the person who put them there actually owned the rights to them. Very few sites or so called licensing orgs vet images or members, unfortunately! It’s always safest to find the real owner, and get permission. I would also recommend using a search engine to look up copyright myths. The term brings up many informative articles that can keep this from happening again. https://www.seedprod.com/wordpress-copyright-infringement/

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