Stolen Images: How to Respond if Someone Uses your Photo Without Permission

Caught in the Act by *sax from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Caught in the Act by *sax from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

What should you do if you discover that someone is using a photo you took without your permission? As the person who took the photo, you are likely the copyright owner, which gives you the right to control where and how your work is copied, distributed, displayed, and used in other works. You may have grounds to sue the person for copyright infringement, but that’s often not a practical course of action, especially if your damages are minimal or the alleged infringer doesn’t have means to pay you the damages.

In many cases, the owner simply wants the person to stop using their image, so what do you do? If your goal is removal of the photo and cessation of further uses, this is one way to proceed.

1. Dial Direct: Contact the suspected infringer directly, inform him/her of your concerns, and request that they remove the image. Many people still believe that they can use any image they find on the internet as long as they give an attribution and a link to the original.

Look for contact information on their website if that’s where the alleged infringement is occurring. If that information is not available, it might be listed on WhoIs from when the person registered the domain.

2. Send a DMCA Takedown Notice: If you can’t contact the person or they don’t respond to your request to remove your image, you can send a DMCA takedown notice to the company that hosts their content. If the image is on a person’s website, be aware that the company that registered the domain is not necessarily the same company that hosts the site. Before I send a DMCA takedown notice, I usually contact the hosting company and verify that they host the site in question. I also ask if there’s a specific email address to use to send DMCA notices or if they have a form on their site for submitting them.

The downside of sending a DMCA takedown notice is that it may result in the image being removed, but only for a short time. The infringer can have the content restored to their site merely by sending a counter takedown notice.

3. Consider the Court or the Court of Public Opinion: If sending a DMCA takedown notice is not effective, you may have to sue the person to get the image removed from their site or account. You may also consider turning to the court of public opinion. If you pursue the latter option, be careful about what you say. You don’t want this person to have grounds to sue you for defamation, false light, or a similar claim.

If you’re interested in seeing an epic copyright battle that was fought in the courts and the public eye, I recommend The Oatmeal vs. FunnyJunk. Be sure to read this update, this one, and this one too.

Of course if you’re in this type of situation, it’s best to consult a copyright lawyer to determine the best course of action based on your specific circumstances. If you want to talk with me about copyright issues, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Why Don’t Lawyers Have Empathy?

Shark Car Ornament by  peggydavis66 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Shark Car Ornament by peggydavis66 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

One of my entrepreneurial friends recently asked me this question. He works with lawyers in various aspects of his life. He previously asked me, “Why are you the only lawyer I like?” His most recent question made me ponder if and how empathy plays a role in the practice of law.

We Do Have Empathy
Good lawyers do have empathy for their client’s situation. I respect that my clients are often angry and scared. Their livelihood and sense of security may be on the line. I get that. Effective lawyers get that. If nothing else, it shows that we respect our clients’ perspective on the situation.

However, the fact that we don’t commiserate with you doesn’t mean that we don’t care. The client will always be more emotionally invested in the can that the lawyer. That’s partly why you hire us – we’re more clearheaded and able to attack the situation logically, rather than feed our client’s anger and desire for revenge.

We’re Professional Problem Solvers
If you hire a lawyer, you’re paying us to fix or prevent a problem. At our core, that’s what we do.

When you’re dealing with a legal problem, there’s always a chance you could lose. By hiring a lawyer, you’re betting that the odds of getting the outcome you want are better than if you hired someone else or tried to handle it yourself.

It may seem like we don’t care if we’re not empathetic all the time, but at the end of the day, that’s not what you hired us to do. If we’re putting time and energy into validating your feelings, that’s time and energy we can’t put towards actually addressing the problem you hired to fix.

It’s Not our Job to be Nice
Sometimes we have to say things to our clients and prospective clients that they don’t want to hear, things like

  • I don’t think you have a case.
  • That’s not how the law works.

One of the reasons why the world needs lawyers is because the law is not black-and-white. If the answers were easy to find or resolution easy to achieve, people wouldn’t need lawyers to solve their problems. Sometimes the situation involves bad choices by on people on both sides of the dispute. I don’t tell my clients that they fucked up, but often times, lawyers are hired to deal with preventable problems. I don’t shame my clients for their choices – everyone makes mistakes – but I try not to sugar coat it either.

We’re lawyers, not miracle workers. We have to play the hand our client gives us.

We’re Saving You Money
One of the challenges of being a lawyer is the fact that we work and bill by the hour. I work in an eat-what-you-kill environment, so if I’m not billing, I’m not earning income. I take pride in the fact that I respect my clients’ budgets, but that means I have an obligation to work efficiently.

If a client wants to have an empathy session, that’s fine, but I have to schedule and bill them for it. On most days, I have a to-do list of projects related to multiple client’s cases and I have as much of an obligation to do quality work for each one.  That’s why when I’m in the middle of working on work for a client, I won’t take calls because the distraction will impact my work for both clients, which will force me to take longer to complete my tasks for them.

This question spawned some interesting conversation among my fellow legal eagles. It’s good to know that most lawyers I encounter seem to be thoughtful about this issue. If you want to hear more of my perspectives about being a lawyer, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Know the Fine Print – Dispute Resolution

Fine Print by CJ Sorg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Fine Print by CJ Sorg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Every contract needs a dispute resolution clause – every contract. It’s something you should look for in every contract you read. If you’re given a contract to sign that doesn’t have one, I strongly recommend adding one in. That’s what I would do.

The dispute resolution clause in a contract is the how-we’re-going-do-deal-with-problems provision. It lays out how and where problems will be resolved when they occur.

How Problems will be Resolved
There are three main ways people general resolve problems in a contract:

  • Mediation: Hire a mediator to help you resolve the problem – more likely to results in “splitting the baby” and not a winner and loser.
  • Arbitration: Hire an arbitrator (or panel of arbitrators) to hear/review your arguments and make a decision. (This is what they used in Erin Brockovich.) Sometimes arbitration is faster and more cost effective than litigation, but not always.
  • Litigation: This is the traditional civil lawsuit. This is what I recommend for most contracts I write for clients.

You’re not limited to only these three options. You can have anything in your dispute resolution clause as long as it’s legal. So if you want to resolve disputes by throwing darts or Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, you can.

Where Problems will be Resolved
The dispute resolution clause should specify in which county and state disputes will be resolved. If you’re writing the contract, you want the opposing party to have to fight you on your turf if there’s a problem. This is why most contracts I write for clients require them to resolve all disputes in Maricopa County, Arizona and that all parties agree to that jurisdiction. Without such a provision, you may find yourself having to travel to fight disputes in the opposing party’s state, and possibly needed to employ a local lawyer for additional assistance.

Which Law Applies
The laws in each state are slightly different. This is why it’s imperative that your contract state which state’s law will govern the contract for all non-federal claims. Federal claims (like many intellectual property issues) are governed by federal law. You don’t want to have a dispute within the dispute about which law applies to the state-law claims.

There may be other provisions in the dispute resolution clause like a requirement to notify the other party in writing if you believe they’ve breached the agreement and a set time in which they have to cure/fix it before you can take further action against them. Another clause to look for is a provision that requires the loser in a dispute to pay for the winner’s attorney’s fees. I like to add this into contracts I write. It makes people think twice before going after the other.

Next time you buy a ticket for a show, professional sports, travel, or sign up for an account on a website – read the fine print. See what the dispute resolution clause requires. You’ll quickly see that whoever writes the contract, does so with their (or their client’s) best interests (not yours) in mind.

If you need help writing or reviewing a contract, speak to a business lawyer about your needs and options. If you have questions about contracts that you want to discuss with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Reclaiming your Copyrights

Music by Brandon Giesbrecht from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Music by Brandon Giesbrecht from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It was recently announced that Sir Paul McCartney filed papers in the United States to reclaim the rights to 32 songs from The Beatles’ catalog. The rights to these songs are currently owned by Sony. Yes, there is a provision (call if a loophole if you will) in the U.S. Copyright Act that allows for this.

How the Rule Works
This is a rule that applies to all creatives, not just a rule that applies to the rich and famous. You can look it up at 17 U.S.C. § 203 if you want to read it for yourself. The purpose of this rule is to five an author a “second bite of the apple” to those who may have granted a copyright transfer or license that they later regret. It protects people from being taken advantage of.

Here’s how the rule works: 35 years after the copyright assignment or license was granted or 35 years after the work was published, the author(s) can send notice to terminate this transfer or license and reclaim their rights. There’s a relatively small window in which an author must send the notice of termination with the effective date. A copy of this notice must be filed with the U.S. Copyright Office. If an author has passed away, whoever has the author’s “termination interest” in the work can send the notice – usually the author’s family.

There is one caveat to this rule – it does not apply to works made for hire.

Why More People Don’t Take Advantage of This
Why is this the first time most people are hearing about this loophole? Most of the time, it’s not worth pursuing.

At 35 years after a work was created, there is likely little or no money to be made off the work, so from a financial perspective, it’s not worth pursuing. If money is being made from the work, the author may be better off leaving their work in its current situation and the royalties keep flowing in. They don’t have to fix what’s not broken.

In Sir Paul McCartney’s case, he signed over the rights to his work decades ago, and yet he is still going strong as a musician. The BBC article on his bid to reclaim his rights specifically stated that he’s trying to obtain the publishing rights in his music. John Lennon’s share of the rights in the McCartney-Lennon catalog will remain with Sony.

If you signed away your copyright in a work and you wish to reclaim your rights, speak to a copyright attorney about your options. If you have questions about copyright or intellectual property ownership that you want to discuss with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Arizona’s New Revenge Porn Law

Bound by Connor Tarter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Bound by Connor Tarter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Arizona has rejoined the ranks of U.S. states that have criminal law against revenge porn. This bill was announced with much fanfare in January, but there was barely a whisper when Governor Ducey signed it into law earlier this month. And because this law was passed on an “emergency” basis, it became effective the moment it was signed.

The New Law
A.R.S. § 13-1425 makes it illegal to intentionally disclose the image of an identifiable person in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual activity, when the person has an expectation of privacy, with the intent to harm, harass, intimidate, threaten, or coerce the depicted person. Some important things to note, “image” includes photos, videos, and other digital recordings; and to “disclose” an image means to display, distribute, publish, advertise, or offer.

Offer. Just offering to share revenge porn could be a crime.
Let that sink in for a minute.

The Penalties
If you are convicted of revenge porn using electronic means (email, text message, or social media) under this new law, it’s a Class 4 felony, which is punishable by 1.5 years in prison and a fine up to $150,000.

If you’re convicted of threatening to post/share revenge without actually disclosing the image, that’s a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by 6 months in prison and a fine up to $2,500.

Additionally, it will be up to the judge’s discretion to declare whether your crime makes you a registered sex offender.

These are significant punishments for actions taken when you’re merely pissed off at an ex. It’s not worth the risk when the consequences are this severe.

What if I Sext Someone a Naked Picture?
One question I’m frequently asked is if someone texts or emails you a naked selfie, whether you can post that image online. If someone sends you an explicit image, they have not relinquished their expectation of privacy. If you post that image online or share it with others, it could be criminal revenge porn.

If you believe you are the victim of revenge porn or threatened revenge porn, contact law enforcement for assistance. I’m curious to see the outcomes of the first cases tried in Arizona under this new law. If you have questions about social media law or internet privacy that you want to discuss with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Treat your Blog as a Business

Office Hours by Tanel Teemusk from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Office Hours by Tanel Teemusk from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

If you are making money from your blog, or you want to make money from your blog, you have a business. Treat it like the business that it is. You are no longer a hobbyist; you’re an entrepreneur.

Form a Business Entity
Creating a business entity is a relatively straightforward process. In general, it takes paperwork and money. Check with your state’s corporation commission or the secretary of state office to determine how much it will cost – because they significantly vary from state to state. If you have questions about whether you should form a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation or whether you should form your business in your home state or elsewhere, as your accountant. Most clients I work with in Arizona opt to form Arizona LLCs.

The purpose of having a business entity is to protect you (the person) from liability. With a proper business entity, if the company gets sued, only the business assets will be on the line. Your personal assets (home, car, stuff, dog, etc.) will not be at risk.

Separate Bank Account and Credit Cards
You begin to protect yourself from liability by forming a business entity. The way you perfect that protection is by having separate bank accounts and credit cards for the company. You need to have a clear delineation between where you the person ends and the business begins. This often referred to as maintaining the “corporate veil.”

When you receive money as income, make sure business income passes through the business accounts. Additionally, when you spend money, use your personal accounts to pay for personal expenses (mortgage, groceries, etc.) and use the business accounts to pay for business expenses (office supplies, webhosting, etc.). To steal a line from Ghostbusters, “Don’t cross the streams.”

See your Accountant
Unless you’re a CPA, no entrepreneur should do their own taxes. You can probably make more money if you take the time you would need to do your own taxes to work on your business while someone else does your taxes for you. Having an accountant has saved me a lot of time and headaches. A good accountant is worth their weight in gold.

I love my accountant. He makes doing my taxes so easy. He’s been there to answer all my questions about what can and can’t claim as business expenses and what other information I should track, like mileage.

If you’re new to operating your blog as a business, or if you’ve been doing everything on your own up to now, do yourself a favor and hire a lawyer for an hour. Have a consultation to educate yourself about the legalities of running your business. As an entrepreneurial blogger, you want to be familiar with business formation, contract basics, privacy, copyright, trademarks, and the FTC rules regarding promotions and product reviews. There is a lot to know, but it’s not so complicated that a lay person can’t grasp and apply the concepts.

If you want more information about the legal rules regarding your blog and social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about social media law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that’s shared only with my mailing list, by subscribing to the firm’s newsletter.

Five Ways to be Legal Killed for your Blog

Batgirl on Jersey Ave. (behind bars) by margonaut from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Batgirl on Jersey Ave. (behind bars) by margonaut from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Yes, you can be legally killed because of something you post on your blog – just not in the United States. As a social media attorney, I deal with a lot of situations involving people behaving badly online, but none of them amount to circumstance where a post can result in crime punishable by death.

There are crimes you can commit via your blog that are punishable by death in certain countries:

Witchcraft: Saudi Arabia

Membership in the Muslim Brotherhood: Syria

Homosexuality: Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen

Atheism: Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, The Maldives

Opposing the Government/Treason: Bahrain, Belarus, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, India, Libya, North Korea, Singapore, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates

This list makes me nervous for travel bloggers, including my friends The Opportunistic Travelers who trek all over the world. If you hit the authority’s radar in the wrong country, it could lead to some serious consequences – such as being caned in Singapore for graffiti. Before you pack your bags for your next adventure, make sure you research the laws that impact your actions in real life and online.

If you want more information about the legal rules regarding your blog and social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that’s shared only with my mailing list, by subscribing to the firm’s newsletter.

Using Others’ Content – Legal Dos & Don’ts

Cut Copy Paste by Arthit Suriyawongkul from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Cut Copy Paste by Arthit Suriyawongkul from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve received a lot of questions lately about how and when it is permissible to use other’s content without committing copyright infringement. This aspect of the copyright law is called fair use, and it’s a murky gray area. Each situation needs to be evaluated based on its merits as there few black-and-white rules regarding the legal use of others’ content.

Sharing a Post
If you like a post, you may want to share it with others. The legal way to do this is share a link to the original post with your audience. Sharing a link is the digital equivalent of pointing at something. It doesn’t create a copy of it. You will likely be accused of copyright infringement if you copy/paste the content from the original site to your website. Even if you have good intentions, you’re still interfering with the copyright holder’s right to control where their work is copied and distributed.

If you want to share a copy of a post, ask for permission. I get 2-3 requests a year from people who want to print and share copies of a post I wrote for training purposes or as part of a seminar. I’ve always allowed this as long as they include an attribution so the audience knows where it came from.

Commenting on a Post
If you want to quote someone in a post and add your own commentary to their thoughts, that is generally permissible. This is one of the things fair use is meant to protect. It’s best to quote the original post, provide an attribution and a link to the site, and then add your thoughts about it. By adding commentary, you’re more likely to be contributing to the conversation rather than committing copyright infringement.

One of the questions I was recently asked was whether they could write about the same topic as someone else. There’s no copyright protection for facts or ideas, so as long as you’re not copying someone’s working and claiming it as your own, you can write about the ideas as another writer, even without as attribution – unless you quote them.

Using an Image
This was an interesting question – someone asked when they write a post that comments on another person’s work, can they use the image from the original article. This raises a “red flag” for me because depending on the circumstances, it could be permissible or copyright infringement. If the article is about the image itself, then using the image is likely protected by fair use.

Otherwise using the photo from another’s post may be copyright infringement, especially if readers are seeking the original post and accepting yours as a substitute. I could see readers being confused because the image on the two posts are identical. If the image on the original post is not as essential aspect of the story, I recommend using a different image. I usually get my images from Creative Commons that come with the license to modify and commercialize the original.

Copyright and fair use are complicated issues that permeate the blogosphere. Before using another’s content, consider whether what you’re doing is likely to be legal and whether it might be best to request permission before using another’s content. If you have any question regarding using others’ content and fair use, please contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. If you want access to my exclusive content that’s shared only with my mailing list, please subscribe to the firm’s newsletter.

Kesha v. Sony – Cautionary Contract Tale

Microphone by Photo Cindy from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Microphone by Photo Cindy from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last week, a New York Court refused to nullify the contract between recording artist Kesha and Sony, despite Kesha’s allegations that she was drugged and raped in 2006 by her producer, Luke Gottwald (a.k.a. Dr. Luke). Gottwald has not been charged with this crime. Kesha admitted she’s afraid of Gottwald, but she said if she doesn’t work with him (even though Sony offered to give her another producer), she’s worried Sony won’t promote her music properly. If everything Kesha said is true, she is trapped in a situation where she has to risk her personal safety for professional success.

Why Sony Won
The reason Sony won this case appears to be basic contract law – the verbiage of the contract wouldn’t allow for the change. When it comes to creating a contract, it’s a relatively low bar to clear to have a legally binding contract. And if the parties want to change the provisions later, they may only be able to do so under limited circumstances, such as by mutual agreement. If the contract is valid and the other side is not open to making changes, you’re stuck with the verbiage and the commitments of the original agreement. I suspect that’s what happened in this situation; Kesha signed 6-album deal, and her allegations that her producer raped her isn’t sufficient to force Sony to change the terms or release her from the contract entirely.

Personally, I believe Kesha. It’s rare for a person to lie about being sexually assaulted. However, the law doesn’t have this luxury. The court can only make decisions based on what the parties can prove, so without a conviction or a confession, the court can’t determine if her allegations is sufficient to release her from this contract.

Ke$ha by Becky Sullivan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Ke$ha by Becky Sullivan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Turn Back the Clock
Given that hindsight is 20/20, what might Kesha have done differently when negotiating her contract with Sony? I am not sure it was wise for either party to commit themselves to a 6-album deal. Perhaps it would have been better for the artist to only commit to 2 albums and then renegotiate. Given Kesha’s young age when she signed with Sony, perhaps she, and other young artists, should have provisions geared towards their personal safety such as cameras that record all meetings and security or at least a personal representative all times that she’s working as well as provisions that address physical and emotional abuse. I also wonder if it wouldn’t have been prudent for both sides to have a provision that required regular drug testing to help prevent artists from getting into trouble and from being taken advantage of by people who should be protecting them.

What Could Kesha do Now?
Since a Kesha appears to be legally obligated to work with Sony and her alleged rapist, what should she do now to protect herself? Her safety should be the top priority. In regards to Gottwald, Kesha should never be alone with him. She should have security at her side at all times when he’s present. Gottwald should not be permitted to be within 10 feet of her, be able to contact her directly by phone or using any electronic means, or for any reason except as professionally necessary. I’m also not opposed to Kesha being legally armed (pepper spray, stun gun, etc.) if that makes her feel safer for the duration of her contract.

Contracts are a beautiful thing when they are written properly. However, we can see from this case how it can be a disaster when parties don’t plan for the worst-case scenarios. (I agree that it is an incredibly sad that artists have to consider the possibility that they will be physically harmed by their business partners, but this case shows that it is something that should be discussed at the negotiation table.) If you have a question about writing effective contracts, please contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

I’m also going to revive my newsletter later this year. If you want access to my exclusive content, please subscribe.

How to Move a Business from California to Arizona

Arizona - The Grand Canyon State Welcomes You by Peter Zillmann from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Arizona – The Grand Canyon State Welcomes You by Peter Zillmann from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

California is so weird. (I grew up there. I can say that from experience.) It’s a weird state with weird laws.

I recently helped a client move their business from California to Arizona. Arizona law allows you to simply transfer your company from your old state to your new one with a Statement of Domestication, if the state you’re leaving permits this.

California doesn’t.

Instead of it being a simple process, moving a business from California to Arizona is much more complicated, expensive, and time consuming. The easiest way to do it was to form a new company in Arizona and merge it with the California company, where the Arizona company was the surviving entity.

Here’s how it’s done:

  • Create a new entity in Arizona through the Arizona Corporation Commission and pay the corresponding filing fee.
  • Create and sign a Merger Agreement.
  • Submit the Statement of Merger to the Arizona Corporation Commission and request a Certified Copy of the Merger Certificate. Pay the corresponding filing fees.
  • Once you receive the Certified Copy of the Merger Certificate, send it to the California Corporation Commission with their required filing fee.

The total process took a little over a month – and we expedited the Arizona filings – and the client spent over $300 in filing fees between the two states. Had they been able to file a Statement of Domestication, the Arizona filing fee would have been only $100 ($135 if expedited it).

Dealing with the California Corporation Commission wasn’t the easiest adventure. If I ever have a question and need a crystal clear answer from the Arizona Corporation Commission, I can go down there and talk to the clerk. I don’t have that luxury with California. One day it was impossible to get anyone at the California Corporation Commission on the phone and I ended up using their online contact form to get a call back 2-3 days later. That was a frustration that I’m glad I got to handle instead of my client.

Moving a company from one state to another can be confusing and stressful – especially when you’re trying to sort out which process you have to use and which forms and filing fees you need to submit to each state. It’s not something I recommend doing by yourself. If you have a question about starting a company in or moving a company to Arizona, please contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.