Don’t You Dare Try to Extort Me: An Open Letter
I am furious because I wasted my time working through the night in response to a demand letter you sent to me in an attempt to extort me out of thousands of dollars for an image used in an article at The Gate almost six years ago.
Attached to that demand letter which you sent is a screen shot of the article in question — and along with the article was an image which I did not recognize. Although I immediately removed the image from the article in question, I personally did not include the image with that article; and I am absolutely certain of that fact — so I conducted my own investigation pertaining to this issue to find out what happened…
What Led Up to This Issue?!?
…but first, I need to engage in a little history in order for you to understand what actually happened.
On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, The Gate moved from BoardingArea to FlyerTalk, which is owned by Internet Brands; and the template of The Gate — which was chosen by management at Internet Brands — incorporated a design which was intensive on including photographs. At that time, I was not the sole writer for The Gate; and a notice was sent by an employee of Internet Brands encouraging writers of The Gate to add photographs to every article which was written. I am in possession of the complete e-mail message exchange.
In order to get The Gate off to a successful launch on FlyerTalk, that employee of Internet Brands in 2011 — who is no longer employed there — added images to articles written during the prior few months of the move of The Gate from BoardingArea to FlyerTalk. This was to “seed” the articles already written so that when The Gate debuted for the second time on FlyerTalk with its new template, the design would be rich with images for any reader to instantly see.
One article was amongst the ones which had an image added to it later; and the image — for which I received the demand letter — was the one in question. It was at best a mediocre image that not only would I have not personally chosen; but I already had my own library of photographs which I have personally taken with my camera of similar images. I certainly did not need one from you or your company to enhance the article — a purpose which your image absolutely did not serve.
I initially felt as though I had been betrayed by Internet Brands — or perhaps the former employee in question may have unknowingly engaged in an activity which can be considered questionable — until I quickly reminded myself that Internet Brands has its own legal team; and while the company is not perfect, it would never undertake a practice of purposefully engaging in willful copyright violation infringements. My years of experience of dealing with Internet Brands on a professional business level is all the proof I need to be confident of that fact — and I am absolutely certain that no one at Internet Brands would do anything to intentionally hurt me in any way.
The problem when The Gate was at FlyerTalk for the second time was that I did not always have a photograph or an image which best suited an article which I had written. When the former employee in question was aware of my concern, I was given the access code to a company which supplies stock photographs; and Internet Brands had been a customer of that company for years. Internet Brands gave me free rein to choose whatever stock photographs I wanted to use for articles for The Gate; and they paid for them on a subscription basis.
The photographs used to initially “seed” The Gate — including the one in question — were clearly stock photographs.
Once all of the hundreds of articles posted at The Gate between August 18, 2006 and May 3, 2011 were transferred back to BoardingArea on Friday, August 1, 2014, the “seeded” images were included with them — and you somehow found it almost six years after it was purchased and used.
Returning to the Present
Fast forward to 2016, where you suddenly decided to “conduct a routine audit” of your licensed images and found the image almost six years after it was purchased and used in a proper manner; and as judge, jury and executioner, you put me on notice of your intent to pursue legal action if a monetary settlement is not reached because you unilaterally concluded that — as clearly stated on the “invoice” which was attached to your demand letter — I engaged in “willful photography copyright infringement” and that I should pay thousands of dollars to you due upon receipt.
How dare you blatantly accuse me of such activity, you low-life piece of garbage who has to significantly raise yourself just to be able to see the underside of a buried coffin? I do not owe you thousands of dollars — in fact, you will not see a single penny from me — but rather, you owe me an apology at the very least. You also owe me for the money I lost as a result of all of the time and effort I needlessly spent on this matter — not to mention the time that the staff behind the operations at BoardingArea has wasted because of your baseless accusation. I should send you an invoice for thousands of dollars.
Further into my investigation, it seems that you at one time supplied your photographs to the stock photography service used by Internet Brands; it seems that one of the images legitimately purchased by Internet Brands was one which you claim to be yours; and at one point, it seems that you removed your photographs from that service for whatever reason. Now that there is no record of your photographs being associated with that stock photography service, you decided to engage in a campaign of extortion upon people who have legitimately paid for the “privilege” of using your photographs from years ago — attempting to take full advantage of all of those years which have passed, as memories become fuzzier and as records are either more difficult or impossible to find as proof of the legitimate use of your photographs.
Who do you think you are to skirt the limits of the law and engage in such sorry scare tactics to waste the valuable time of innocent people — including myself — by outright threatening them? How do you have the unmitigated audacity to embark on a campaign to harass the very customers from whom you have already legitimately profited — only to attempt to extract substantially more money from them through what can be considered as extortion?
Companies and attorneys have used the law — known as Title 17 U.S. Code § 504 – Remedies for infringement: Damages and profits — in their favor over the years to perpetuate an arguably legal way of extorting people for money by applying fear and intimidation to accuse unsuspecting people of illegally using the protective copyrighted work of others. They craft a standard template of a demand letter; and then use variations of it which are customized just enough to send to a blanket list of intended recipients. The letter usually includes a blatant accusation of wrongdoing — followed by the legal definitions associated with copyright law; citations of the aforementioned law and threats of legal action if a monetary settlement is not reached.
If even only a few of those recipients succumb to the pressure of intimidation and send either the full amount of money or the result of a negotiated settlement, the sender of the demand letter is already ahead of the game.
This dubious practice is potentially substantially more profitable than the legendary legal tactic known as ambulance chasing — in which attorneys go to disaster sites and solicit clients for whom they want to represent in the hopes of scoring as a winner in a substantial monetary judgment as the result of litigation — as an entity in the willful copyright infringement arena need not leave his or her home; expend much time or effort; or incur any significant expense to execute the shady tactics which could land them an undeserved windfall from unsuspecting targets of their schemes.
As a business owner, writer, artist, designer, photographer, actor and videographer — I have even dabbled in writing and composing my own music and lyrics over the years — no one is more adamant about protecting the rights of people who produce creative content than me; and I will vehemently defend the rights of the owners of those works to ensure that they are properly compensated for the use of their work…
…but to use this protection in a way which is legally questionable at best is deplorable, inexcusable and unacceptable — and that is exactly what you are doing.
I am not exposing or revealing the name of you or your company — yet, anyway, for reasons pertaining to protecting myself legally — but it is under consideration…
…and if you attempt to take this matter further with me, you will be so incredibly sorry that you even tried. Still want to pursue this? Just try me. Go ahead. I dare you. You will not win. That is not a threat from me. That is a promise; and I will keep it.
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.