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Letters to my copyright infringers

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Because you asked, these are real letters I have sent to people found using my photographs inappropriately.

1. The standard DMCA takedown

I send about a dozen of these per week, usually to the web hosts of small pest control companies. Legally, these are supposed to be directed at the company running the web server, but I try to cc the site owner if I can find their email address.

*****

This letter is a Notice of Infringement as authorized in § 512(c) of the U.S. Copyright Law under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The infringing material appears on the Service for which you are the designated agent.

The disputed content is a photograph of a bullet ant:
[link to infringing URL]

My original, copyright-protected work is here:
http://www.alexanderwild.com/Ants/Taxonomic-List-of-Ant-Genera/Paraponera/i-bLMBrgD

Please remove these files from your servers at your earliest convenience. Alternately, that image may be licensed for continued commercial use for US $95.

I have a good faith belief that the disputed use is not authorized by myself, the copyright owner. I hereby state, under penalty of perjury, that the above information in this email is accurate and that I am the copyright owner.

Thanks for your time,

/s/
Alexander Wild
www.alexanderwild.com
[address, email, & phone contact]


2. The credit-me-please letter

I sometimes send a gentler notice to people running personal blogs and webpages asking for credit, rather than removal.

*****

Hello. I am the photographer who took a number of the photographs you are using on your beekeeping blog, [blog title]. Although I appreciate that you like my photographs enough to share them, I require that non-commercial uses of my images be accompanied by an appropriate photo credit and a link back to the source image on my website. While I’m not generally concerned by non-commercial use of my work, uncredited uses like those on your blog are a source of downstream commercial infringements that can become a problem, and adding a simple credit helps prevent these.

The images in question are these:
[URL 1, URL 2, etc.]

My original work is here:
http://www.alexanderwild.com/Insects/Stories/Honey-Bees/i-wJq9Jgn/A
http://www.alexanderwild.com/Insects/Stories/Honey-Bees/i-pFBwTK4/A

I would appreciate it if you could add a credit (“Image © Alex Wild”, or similar) to the photo caption, as well as a link back to my source image. If the images are not appropriately credited, I may send a takedown notice to your web host and the images will be removed automatically.

Thanks,

Alex Wild
www.alexanderwild.com


3. The let’s-work-something-out letter

A letter I sent just this morning.

*****
Hello. I am the professional photographer who took the scorpion photograph that [company name] pest control is currently using in several places online:
[URL]

The image also appears in the scrolling banner on the site’s homepage:
[URL]
and as the header to the company facebook page, here:
[facebook URL]

My original photograph is here:
http://www.alexanderwild.com/Insects/Insect-Orders/Amazing-Arachnids/i-RC3MBgt/A

I don’t have a record of licensing this image to [company name] for commercial use. My regular fee that covers this sort of online marketing is $95. I request that you either remove the image from your various sites, or pay the license fee to continue using the image, or forward me any relevant paperwork showing that your company has legitimately licensed that image and I’m mistaken about this. If I don’t hear back from you within a week, I will issue takedown notices to your web hosts, and the images will be removed automatically.

I don’t mean to be harsh, but photography is how I make my living.

Thanks for your time,

Alex Wild
www.alexanderwild.com


4. The inexcusable commercial product infringement payment demand letter

Yes, this was an actual letter.

*****
Hello. I am a professional insect photographer, and recently I was surprised and angered to discover that two of my copyright-protected images are being used to market [company name] products. This use is, to the best of my knowledge, without my permission and without payment of the requisite license fees for commercial use.

In particular, you have used my photograph of a rare, IUCN redlist-protected ant, Nothomyrmecia macrops, on the label of a pesticide product. On top of being a copyright violation, the use of a potentially endangered insect to sell an insect-killing product is both inappropriate and offensive.

The product in question is the [redacted]:
[URL]

My copyright-protected image is the large yellow ant on the label. My original is here:
http://www.alexanderwild.com/Ants/Taxonomic-List-of-Ant-Genera/Nothomyrmecia/i-N9p6C4z

This image also appears in thumbnail size in the rotating banner on the [company name] website:
[URL]

A second infringement appears in [company name] catalog, on page 40.
[URL]

The image is a leafcutter ant carrying a leaf; my original file is
here: http://www.alexanderwild.com/Ants/Taxonomic-List-of-Ant-Genera/Atta/i-xfM6LH4

I have contacted an Intellectual Property attorney about representing me in this matter, but I have not yet signed a contract. Working through the legal system will make this whole issue much more expensive, and time-consuming, for both me and for [company name]. If possible I’d like to resolve this matter directly.

I propose the following options.

Option 1. [company name] removes the image from the label of the [product], and from associated catalog and web use, and pays a rate of 3x my usual commercial-use license fees. A product label is $[amount], so 3x = $[amount]. The small leafcutter ant can stay in the product catalog if the fee is paid. My usual small-size rate, interior print, is $[amount]. So, 3x = $[amount]. Thus, if you remove the ant from the label, and pay a total license fee of $[amount], I will consider the matter resolved.

Option 2. While I really, really do not wish to have my rare ant image used on a pesticide label, I recognize that removing the product from sale to rework the label might represent a significant cost for [company name]. Thus, I’d be ok with having it remain for an additional cost of US $[somewhat bigger amount].

Option 3 is that [company name] does nothing, and I contract an intellectual property attorney to retrieve my fees, plus damages and attorney fees, through the legal system.

As I make my living through photography, I take my copyright seriously. Thanks for your time,

Alex Wild
www.alexanderwild.com


5. The repeat commercial offender payment demand letter

In case they didn’t learn the first time. Distressingly, I have to send about 3 or 4 of these every year.

*****
Hello. One year ago I found four of my images being used on your company website [URL] without my permission, without attribution, and without the requisite payment of my license fees for commercial use. The images were removed on my request, which I appreciate.

I was very surprised, then, to find three new images of mine on your website. Again, the images appear in a commercial context and without my permission, as though you hadn’t learned anything from last year’s exchange.

The images are these (see also attached screen capture):
[URL1,2,3]

My original, copyright-protected images are here:
http://www.alexanderwild.com/Ants/Natural-History/Queen-Ants/i-5HKMCm6/A
http://www.alexanderwild.com/Ants/Natural-History/Queen-Ants/i-vcfhbb7/A
http://www.alexanderwild.com/Ants/Natural-History/Queen-Ants/i-WZkKVbC/A

As I make my living from photography, I cannot afford to be lenient with repeat infringements on the part of for-profit companies. Such infringements are illegal, they waste my time, and they devalue my work. Per the copyright infringement policy stated publicly on my website ( http://www.alexanderwild.com/Image-Use ), I have attached an invoice reflecting my commercial-use license fee of $95/image, plus a $50/image infringement fee, for a total of $285. You will pay this invoice in full within 14 days, and you will remove the images immediately from your website.

If you fail to respond to this letter, I will contact your web host with a formal takedown notice, and I may begin the process of recovering my fees, plus associated damages and legal costs, through the courts. I recommend you forward this notice to your attorney, who can advise you as to your legal situation, and to your web designer, who should be made aware of the problem.

Alex Wild
www.alexanderwild.com


As strict as I am about my photo copyrights, I don’t feel particular ownership over these letters. If you have encountered your own infringers, feel free to use these as templates. Consider them open source.

**update 12/13/2013: Several people have pointed out a lack of clarity over the licensing terms of these letters, as “open source” isn’t a legal term. To be clear, I am waiving my copyright to these letters and placing them in the public domain.

Alex Wild About the Author: Alex Wild is an Illinois-based entomologist who studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books, and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Sean McCann 8:13 pm 12/3/2013

    Thanks for this Alex! It is really helpful to have a template to work with when dealing with the rage-inducing commercial violators.

    Link to this
  2. 2. k0ldsh4d0wz 1:25 am 12/5/2013

    how do you find out if someone is infringing? Google image search?

    Link to this
  3. 3. chcmh 9:24 am 12/5/2013

    I also make a living from copyright and in my eyes you’re a hero. It’s up to all content creators to take an active hand in protecting their work. Thanks.

    Chris McHale
    http://www.waronip.com

    Link to this
  4. 4. mrdiran 9:48 am 12/5/2013

    Disclaimer: Shameless Plug.

    I’m working on a tool to help people out with this problem. My tool will monitor the internet and email you when your images are used on other sites. For a current solution, you’ll need to do a google reverse image search, one by one for each image, periodically. This is tedious work nobody really wants to do. My tool will be making this process a whole lot easier. All you have to do is type in your site address, the tool will scan your site for all images and will email you a report every week on where your images are being used.

    To join as a beta tester or early adopter, please submit your email on my landing page http://www.checkmypics.com .

    I’m also looking for other techies to help out with development. Experience with scraping is a plus!

    Link to this
  5. 5. jriola 11:43 am 12/5/2013

    I am an intellectual property attorney. Bravo on recognizing the importance of protecting, registering, and enforcing your copyrights. But may I ask why you are asking such little compensation from commercial infringers, especially the repeat ones? Why not give them a real incentive not to do it again?

    Link to this
  6. 6. Alex Wild in reply to Alex Wild 1:02 pm 12/5/2013

    Thanks for your comments.

    How did these cases resolve?

    1. I am pleased to report that the scorpion infringement from earlier in the week (the “lets-work-something-out” letter) has resolved in the best possible manner. The site owner was professional and courteous, he has paid for the image and is looking at licensing additional photos for an upcoming site rebuild. If handled correctly, infringements are a fantastic marketing tool for contacting new clients. Many infringers simply don’t know better, and punishing them unduly can mean losing a future client. most have never heard of me, but once we’re done they know I’m a source of images for their business. This is why I don’t go nuclear on every case.

    2. The bizarre case of the endangered ant on the pesticide spray can label also resolved well. The company was genuinely mortified but not surprised. When I contacted them, they had already fired the design firm behind the problem, for reasons of professional lapses I probably shouldn’t need to explain. The company took option 1, paid the 3x rate and discontinued the label. They then purchased an additional image for use in a new label, at my regular rates. Again, I could have been more punitive than I was, but since my commercial infringers are often in a market I sell into, I don’t see the point in burning bridges.

    3. The repeat infringer was an odd case. “jriola” asks why I ask such little compensation. It’s a case-by-case determination. I did background research on this particular case when the guy behind the repeat infringements claimed poverty. Given his location and business, that seemed to be the case. He paid the invoice, but apparently isn’t too bright. I recently found him using a couple more of mine. I’m still pondering what to do.

    I have one pending case against a large multi-national corporation, a repeat infringer and involves multiple images. I have contracted an attorney and intend to be properly punitive.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Beggerss 2:23 pm 12/6/2013

    mrdiran: I’m a CS student with experience in web scraping, I’d love to work on that with you. I can’t find any way to contact you through this site or checkmypics, though, so shoot me an email at ben.eggers36@gmail.com.

    Link to this

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