Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Was I right to charge a fee?

Three weeks ago while Googeling the web for "beautiful vineyard photographs" I came across one of my images on a wedding photographer's site. (Name not listed to protect the guilty.) Since I couldn't remember selling them the rights, I sent an email asking where they had gotten such a beautiful photograph. The reply, "from the internet."

Oh. I responded with a strongly worded email explaining that they were in violation of Federal copyright law. In addition, since the photo was registered with the US copyright office, I was entitled to collect up to $10,000 statutory damages, plus all attorney fees and the normal usage fee. (Lesson here: register your images.)

Never have I gotten an email back so fast–we're talking nano-seconds, along with an immediate apologetic follow up phone call from an unpaid intern. On the verge of tears, she explained that she had done the wedding photographer's web site and taken my photo from the internet. She was a little unclear as to the exact source of the photo, but it sounded like one of the Google's image galleries they list by subjects. On those galleries in small print are words something like "these photographs might be copyrighted". (Lesson here: should we let Google post our images for free with all the intended or unintended consequences?)

Now in tears, the intern explained that there was no way they could afford $10,000 and the wedding photographer had just fired her. She had been working for free with the hopes of being hired sometime in the future. As we talked, the intern said she would have to pay out of her own pocket whatever I demanded.

Wow, what to do? I consulted 5 people for advice. All of my advisors agreed that I should charge her something. So I sent an invoice to the intern's private residence for a discounted web usage fee of, as I recall, $225. The intern asked if she could make payments, else she would have to take it out of the family food budget. Of course.

Did I do the right thing by charging the fee?

(Amazingly, just today, by accident, I found another site with one of my photos illegally used. What would happen if I actually started looking?)


Christine Collier said...

She had no intent to use it illegally or make money from your photograph. I agree with notifying her to remove it from the site, but you could have stuck up for her instead of letting her boss fire her and then on top of it you charged her.

Janis said...


She knew the image was copyrighted both from the place she took the image and on the meta data attached to the image.

The boss person never allowed me to talk with her, instead forcing the intern to take the heat. I didn't know what to do with that. I also don't know why the intern was forced/volunteered to pay instead of the person benefiting from the photos. I do have tug at heart-strings feelings since I have interns working with me all the time.

Roberto said...

Not only did you bully some young woman (with children and a family to provide for) into providing you with her personal information in order to get your measly $225, you neglect to see your own fault in this situation. If you don't want people to use your images, watermark them like the thousands and thousands of other photographers out there. The internet is what it is, a place for shared share your photos with the knowledge that everyone can see and download them. You cannot control other people and you cannot go through life catching people and then feeling good about saying "I told you so" with an invoice! You are not on this earth to teach people lessons.

Janis said...

If I rented cars for a living, would it be OK for people to take those without a rental fee?
What's the difference, since I rent (license) photos for a living?

The photo was clearly copyrighted. She knew it was copyrighted. And it's a pain when people break the law for their own gain or the gain of their boss.