services to photographers and stock agencies, chasing
down infringers to force them with the threat of federal lawsuits to pay settlements out of court.
CSI, a member of several photo trade organizations,
was not immediately available for an interview. CDL
founder Randy Taylor, who has provided distribution
services to stock agencies through previous companies,
declined to talk about CDL’s operations and clients. But in
early September he distributed a letter to recruit lawyers
to go after infringers, and two days later, it appeared on
ELI’s website. The letter says that CDL is seeking copyright attorneys who can handle “dozens, if not hundreds
of infringement cases” on behalf of CDL clients.
CDL says it will provide “bulletproof” cases—i.e., cases
where the infringers have used the images on commercial websites, and have no fair use defenses—to lawyers
willing to pursue them. The lawyers must pursue the infringers at their own expense, in exchange for 33 percent
of whatever they manage to collect.
Getty, Corbis and Masterfile all pursue infringers
with the help of outside attorneys. But other stock
agencies—and some individual photographers—also
hire attorneys who specialize in chasing infringers.
Demand letters—many of which show up on ELI’s
website—include invoices for fees exceeding $10,000
in some cases, although from $1,000 to $5,000 is more
typical. Most of the letters have a threatening tone.
Chan labels the work of the enforcers as “copyright
trolling,” and says it goes beyond loss recovery. “This is
a revenue center to help offset the glut of digital pho-
tography” that has caused stock photo prices to col-
lapse, he asserts. He accuses agencies of intimidating
small-business owners into paying far more than the
images are worth or more than a court would award if
copyright holders won judgments.
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has been urging others who receive the letters to stand
up and fight, just like he did. “It’s like buying a car,” he
says. “Only dumb people pay the sticker price.”
Chan insists—despite accusations to the contrary
from his critics, and his refusal to pay Getty anything—
that he believes in copyright law, and the right of copy-
right owners to be compensated for the use of their
work. He says he has no sympathy for flagrant copyright
violators; he’s just advocating for small businesses and
people like himself who tend to be victims of unscrupu-
lous third-party vendors they hire to do their websites.
Of course, those vendors are often fly-by-night,
overseas firms that attract customers because they’re
inexpensive. And they’re inexpensive in part because
they steal images. As Chan discovered in his dust up
with Getty, infringers can’t hide from liability behind
third-party vendors who are conveniently beyond the
reach of U.S. law.
Chan says he’s pushing for what he considers more
reasonable enforcement tactics. He thinks agencies
should send takedown notices, and demand less—a
lot less—for infringement only from those who ignore
the takedown notices.
Not surprisingly, agencies are unwilling to let thieves
set the terms. Attorney Carolyn Wright, who is on ELI’s
list of “copyright extortionists” for her work pursuing
infringers on behalf of photographers and stock agency
clients, says the fees demanded are analogous to parking
fines. If you park without paying, she explains, “The fine
is much higher than the parking fee would be.”
“The price is what the owner wants to charge, not
what the person who steals the image wants to pay,”
Pigeon says. “[For infringers who get caught] their first
argument is always that microstock is a buck a throw.”
Then they invoke fair use or ignorance—“someone else
did it,” says Pigeon.
Getty and Masterfile both defend the fees they demand as reasonable, based on the cost of production and
the type and duration of the illegal uses, and the cost of
pursuing infringers. They concentrate their enforcement
efforts on illegal commercial use. Pigeon says Masterfile
pursues infringement of rights-managed images only
(because royalty-free images are available from multiple sources, and the agency can’t prove where infringers steal those). He also says the agency has a policy of
charging infringers three times a normal licensing fee.
“We’ve taken plenty of these claims to court, and the
outcome has generally been favorable to us,” Pigeon
says. “We go after three times standard fee for the use.
That’s to get them to talk. We want to get a reasonable
fee. We don’t like to settle for less than list price. We
don’t want to reward people for stealing.”
That said, many infringers are impossible to find. Of
those Masterfile does find, most don’t end up paying
what the agency demands at first. “Their first response
is, ‘I’m not going to pay this.’ People accuse of us being
a scam. More than 90 percent of these cases involve
negotiation,” Pigeon says. “If they’re small and they
have a sob story, it becomes a negotiation, but we ex-
pect to be compensated.”
As of October 30, though, the $57,030 claim against
the unnamed company was still unresolved. Pigeon de-
clined to provide any details.