Options When Someone Violates Your Creative Commons License

Portion of C.C. Chapman’s Twitter feed – September 10, 2012

I saw the following tweet the other day by author C.C. Chapman: “Since my photos are licensed under “non-commercial” is this a legal use of my Chevy Volt photo by Yahoo?” The question was followed by a link to an article on Yahoo Auto about GM’s report regarding whether Chevy Volts are being sold at a loss. The photo accompanying the article is C.C. Chapman’s photo of a Chevy Volt that he published on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.

This license requires anyone who uses the image to give C.C. Chapman the attribution, only use it for non-commercial use, and not alter the photo in any way. If the image appeared on Chevrolet’s blog, there would be a strong argument that Chevy uses its blog as a marketing tactic to get people to buy its vehicles; therefore every image on the blog is being used for a commercial use. In that case, the use of the image would have violated the license and C.C. Chapman’s copyright.

However, Yahoo published the article. Yahoo isn’t trying to sell cars. It makes money by selling ads and it may charge advertisers based on the number of hits a page gets. C.C. Chapman could make an argument that Yahoo’s use of his photo had a commercial goal; but Yahoo could fire back that it was reporting the news so its use of C.C. Chapman’s photo was protected by fair use. Yahoo could show that it has a history of news reporting and that its articles are accepted as news, not a marketing ploy.

But let’s say this photo appeared on a commercial website in violation of the Creative Commons license. That’s copyright infringement. What could C.C. Chapman do about it?

  1. Do nothing and be happy about the exposure.
  2. Get the photo removed by sending a DMCA takedown notice.
  3. Send the company a cease and desist letter.
  4. Send a bill with a licensing agreement and a letter that says the publisher has committed himself to paying a licensing fee since he already used the photo.
  5. Sue for copyright infringement.

A lot of people would be happy about the exposure and may opt to do nothing. The downside of doing this is someone else could use your work and make a valid argument that your inaction set a precedent that others could use their work for commercial purposes. You may want to send a letter that offers to license the photo in exchange for the exposure and states if the company doesn’t license it then they have to remove it. That way, you will still get your exposure but you still exert your copyright rights in your work.

If you have questions about how to protect your intellectual property rights, contact an intellectual property attorney (like me) in your community.

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Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

DMCA Takedown FTW: The Follow-up

Don't Steal by Uncleweed, Ruth Carter, Carter Law Firm

Don’t Steal by Uncleweed

Last week I posted a blog about my experience sending a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice to Google. A few questions have come up since I put up the post, and I wanted to address them.

When I first noticed that another blogger had taken a photo from my blog and posted it on her site, one of my friends asked me why I sent a DMCA takedown notice instead of just sending her an email. That’s a valid question, and an option I considered.  I chose to send a DMCA takedown notice because I’d never sent one before I wanted to experience the process. I had no malicious intent. The blog where the copyright infringement was occurring was taken down in about 24 hours, and the blogger who stole my work changed the image and had the post back up in less than a day after that.

It seems like a lot of people use images they find online without thinking about the potential legal implications. This situation could have been a lot worse. My blog is not currently registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, but that’s on my to-do list. If I registered my blog and sued for infringement in this situation, I would only be eligible for my actual damages, which is probably nothing.

If you steal an image from a blog that was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office within 3 months of publication or 1 month of learning of the infringement (whichever happens first), you could be sued for copyright infringement and ordered to pay the copyright owner’s statutory damages and attorneys’ fees. In the worst case scenario, you could be ordered to pay up to $150,000 in damages plus attorneys’ fees.

So what’s the take home lesson? Be thoughtful about the images you use on your blog. Only use images that are available under Creative Commons. If there’s an image that you want to use that doesn’t come with a Creative Commons license, get permission from the copyright owner to use the image.

Feel free to connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

DMCA Takedown FTW

Poolside Studying, Ruth CarterI think I do a decent job monitoring my blogs with my sites’ widgets and Google Analytics. I like to see where my readers live and how they ended up on my sites. When I see that someone got to my blog from a site that’s unfamiliar to me, I try to find the post that linked to my site to see what it said.

Poolside Studying, Ruth Carter

This is the image that was stolen from The Undeniable Ruth

This week, someone got to The Undeniable Ruth via a blog on BlogSpot. I checked out that blog and found that the blogger didn’t write a post that referred to me or a topic I’ve written about. She copied an image from my post about studying in the pool. She mentioned the name of the post she got the image from, but she didn’t ask my permission to use the image or even give me an attribution. Unfortunately for her, she copied one of the few images that I personally took with my camera phone and own the copyright to it. I decided to send a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice to Google, which owns BlogSpot.

The DMCA is a law that provides a safe harbor to companies that don’t control the content on their sites. They have to remove or disable access to the infringing material when they receive a DMCA takedown notice or else they can be liable for copyright infringement. To qualify for protection under the DMCA, you have to register a designated agent with the U.S. Copyright Office. This is the person you send the takedown notice to.

Google has a DMCA agent, so I sent them a takedown notice to get my picture taken off BlogSpot. A takedown notice is a simple letter that must include the following:

  1. Your physical or electronic signature,
  2. The identity of your work that is allegedly being infringed,
  3. The specific URL for the website where the infringement is occurring,
  4. Your contact information (i.e., your address, telephone number, and/or email address),
  5. A statement that you have a good faith belief that the material violates the law or the copyright owner’s rights, and
  6. A statement, under penalty of perjury, that the notice is accurate.

I emailed my takedown notice to Google yesterday and I got a response today that informed me that the post was taken down. I tried to visit the BlogSpot post where my photo was published, and verified that the blog post was taken down. I thought they were only going to remove the photo. She can put the post back up if she wants, just not with my picture.

If you create content, it important to keep an eye on your analytics so you can detect when someone steals your work. I was pleased to see that the DMCA takedown process was fast and easy and that Google was responsive to my notice.

If you detect someone’s stolen your content, consult an attorney to determine your options for recourse.

Feel free to connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Copyright Infringement on Pinterest

My bulletin board (for inspiration) by Monica Arellano-Ongpin

There’s a strong possibility you’re committing copyright infringement on your Pinterest board.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’m not on Pinterest. I don’t need another internet addiction. From what I hear, everyone who’s on it, loves it. Essentially, Pinterest lets you create “boards” where you share pictures of things you like. As you visit various websites, you “pin” things that you like, and add them to our Pinterest boards. Then people who visit Pinterest can see your boards and everything you like.

So Where Does Copyright Come Into Play?
Copyright protection is extended to any original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium. You don’t have to register it with the U.S. Copyright Office to get this protection. When you have a copyright in a picture or other work, you have the exclusive right to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and to make derivative works based on your work.

If you take a picture, you have the exclusive right to decide where it will be displayed, including on which websites. When someone pins your picture and adds it to their Pinterest board, they likely made a copy of it without your permission. That’s a violation of the Copyright Act.

What About Fair Use?
The Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act allows you to copy a work for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, or research. Pinning something on your board probably doesn’t qualify as any of these things.

Is Pinning Someone’s Work Ever Ok?
Absolutely! You can pin someone’s work without worrying about being sued if they’ve given you permission to do it. Look for works that come with a Creative Commons license. You may be required to give an attribution to the author when you pin their work. If a work doesn’t have a license, you could always ask the author for their permission to pin their work.

Should I Be Worried about Pinterests Terms & Conditions?
Probably. Have you read them? A woman who is a lawyer and a photographer recently deleted her Pinterest boards after reading them. According to her, Pinterest users agree to some strongly worded terms.  If you are a Pinterest user, you’ve agreed

  • You own or have permission to use everything you pin on Pinterest;
  • That nothing you pin violates or infringes on any third party’s copyright, trademark, or other intellectual property or rights to publicity or privacy;
  • You will defend, indemnify, and hold Cold Brew Labs (Pinterest’s creators) harmless against all claims, damages, and expenses (including legal expenses) related to your use of the site or violations of the site’s terms and conditions; and
  • You accept all the risks related to using the Pinterest site “to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

So, if you and Pinterest get sued for copyright infringement for something you pinned on your board and you lose, you’re required to pay your and Pinterest’s legal fees and the fine assigned by the court. The fine for willful copyright infringement can be up to $150,000. (Hat tip to Cold Brew Labs’ legal counsel on drafting such great terms and conditions!)

What Do I Do If My Copyright’s Being Infringed on Pinterest?
You have three main options when your copyright is being infringed on Pinterest:

  1. Nothing.  If you don’t have a problem with it, do nothing. I think a lot of people select this option because Pinterest exposes their work to a larger audience.
  2. Sue for copyright infringement. This can be a long expensive process, but it’s your best chance for a financial gain.
  3. Send a DMCA takedown notice. If all you want is for your work to be removed from someone’s board, send a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice to Cold Brew Labs’ statutory agent. The Copyright Act tells you what information you have to include in the notice, or you can find a local attorney to do it for you.  Once Cold Brew Labs gets the notice, they’re required to remove the work that allegedly infringes your copyright.

From what I know of Pinterest, I suspect copyright infringement is occurring on most Pinterest boards. You have to decide for yourself how much risk you’re willing to take. If you need help assessing the legal risk related to your Pinterest boards, contact a copyright attorney in your area.

UPDATE (3/26/2012): Pinterest announced its new terms of service will become effective on April 6th. They allegedly make it easier to report copyright infringement.