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?)