I sent takedown notices to a store selling phone cases, to Etsy for an artist hawking pirated prints of a fire ant, and to Twitter for an exterminator heading his company account with one of my bed bug photographs.This rate of commercial infringement is normal, as photographers and other online visual artists can attest. I deal with most cases by using a provision of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act DMCA that requires Web hosts to remove infringing content when informed. I send, on average, five takedown notices to Web hosts every day, devoting ten hours per week to infringements. Particularly egregious commercial infringers get invoices.
I actually have let a few of my most commonly infringed images go unenforced. I could not keep up, so I left these as a natural experiment. The result confirmed what I suspected: images that become widespread on the Internet are no longer commercially viable. Thousands of businesses worldwide now use one of my Australian ant photographs to market their services, for example, and not a single paying client has come forth to license that image since I gave up.
Copyright infringement for most artists is death by a thousand paper cuts. One $100 infringement here and there is harmless enough. But they add up, and when illegal commercial uses outnumber legal ones 20 to 1 in spite of ambitious attempts to stay ahead, we do not have a clear recourse. At some point, the vanishing proportion of content users who license content legally will turn professional creative artists into little more than charity cases, dependent only on the goodwill of those who pity artists enough to toss some change their way.