Copywriters Have Never Heard Of Copyright… Ironically

- - copyright

Webcopyplus a Vancouver based website copywriting firm recently discovered that, yes, “works no longer need a copyright notice to have copyright protection.” The Canadian outfit specializes in writing website copy that will score high on organic search results. Apparently they also use the internet as a stock resource to drop generic images onto their customers sites, since you know, photographs are merely decoration to their faustian search term acrobatics.

Anyway, a vigilant photographer caught them using one of his images and had his lawyer send a Cease and desist to their client. The letter demanded that they:

1.    Immediately cease and desist all unlicensed uses of the image, and delete all copies from computers and digital storage devices.
2.    Remit almost $4,000 to his trust account.

I’ll let you read the entire story (here) but the kicker on the whole thing is that the photographer had registered the image with the U.S. Copyright Office and the copywriters were “able to confirm the image was copyright registered and the lawyer’s client was the rightful owner.” So they “opted to settle for $4,000.”


There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. While it seems that they were miffed about the amount of the settlement requested I think overall their approach to the issue was amicable. Until you get to the point where they started conferring with others who do what they do or are website designers. The attitude conveyed seems to be that there are those out in webtopia that care less about ownership rights for what they grab.

    End result though is WebcopyPlus wrote an article forewarning of grab and use. It is a moderate win.

  2. Hi, Rob.

    Thanks for spreading the word. For the record, this photo was the only one we’ve ever used on a client’s site (specifically, it was included in a blog post). As writers, we deal with copy, not visuals.

    While some photographers choose to make negative comments, many appear grateful we’re sharing our story so others can learn from our mistake. By creating awareness through productive discussions, I believe everyone benefits.

    • @Rick Sloboda, Thanks for the candor Rick. Tough lesson to learn though it looks like you are taking it with your chin up. Lesson A: Every designer or writer who applies for a job from you must first explain copyright and what it means and covers. 2 min of conversation that could save $4000 or more in the future.

    • @Rick Sloboda, You have struck a tone of lesson learned and paid the fee and that’s good. However to me it sounds like you learned you might get caught, embarrassed, and have to pay but missed the more important lesson that content creators, like yourself, deserve to paid for their work.

      • @Josh R., @Josh I’m actually not embarrassed. We chose to share our story in a bid to generate awareness — for the benefit of photographers, as well as marketers, designers, copywriters etc. who use photos without permission. Being in the photography industry, you have a firm grasp of image copyright laws. That’s not always the case with outsiders, even for those working in the Web realm. I do agree that people should get paid for their work. It was an honest mistake, and I feel we dealt with it appropriately.

        • @Rick Sloboda, Nobody likes to learn the hard way, but at least it’s unlikely the mistake will be repeated. Considering the amount of similar stories I’ve read, I think yours is the only one where the infringing party assumed responsibility rather than trying to outlast the photographer in litigation costs. In fact, a great deal of infringements are not the result of honest mistakes or lack of knowledge, but by entities that are simply trying to get something for nothing and hoping to get away with it. (while profiting from it, of course.)

          For future reference, there are TONS of micro stock photography sites out there where you can get very cheap royalty free shots for $10 or less. No need to even chance a potentially expensive copyright lawsuit.

        • @Rick Sloboda, I assume you were embarrassed in front of your clients, not embarrassed because of being caught. Honestly it blows my mind that this was truly an honest mistake but I have no reason to believe otherwise so I take you at your word on that. In your explanation though you don’t ever say that looking back at the situation you realize the photographer deserves to paid. In fact it’s really kind of the opposite. At one point you presume to be able to make decisions about what is reasonable and not for someone else’s work. Still you seem to have learned the law, good for you, but did you learn the more important moral lesson about paying people for the work that they do for reasons beyond the law?

          • @Josh R., Yes, that aspect was embarrassing.

            With regard to photographers getting paid for their work; here’s a statement I made in a release earlier this week:
            “As copywriters, we work with and rely on a range of creative types and specialists, including photographers,” said Sloboda. “We didn’t mean any disregard for this profession and now have a greater awareness and appreciation for the fact that freely using photos from the Web diminishes a photographer’s income and livelihood. We apologize for and regret our action, and we’ve created internal policies to ensure it won’t happen again.”

            Again, the intent of coming out with this story is to make others aware of the law and issue. Sure, a percentage violate the law intentionally (maybe most), but I know for a fact, there’s a percentage who simply are not aware of copyright laws. We could have paid up and shut up. No one would ever hear about this. But we figured it’s worth creating awareness, and I think everyone benefits, including photographers.

  3. This story is worth a chuckle. I guess people do not realize how much easier it is to simply get permission or purchase a photograph versus the headache of curtailing the process.

  4. I find it amusing that someone in the creative industry would be ignorant of the law…and frankly I do not believe a word of it…they took their chances and lost…end of story…99.9% of the time, they win….because the photographer does not register their images…

  5. is that the only hope for copyright being taken seriously, taking people to court all the time?

    i recently discovered one of my photos on a billboard at a branch of an international hotel group, advertising a bar. after contacting them for explanation, they were acting like they are victims and I am an aggressor – of course, they did not know that photography is intellectual property and subject to copyright! poor babies.

    of course it is not fair for them to pay any fees, because they did not know that this kind of thing should be paid for.

    an attitude only a lawsuit can change, as illustrated above…