COPYTRACK – How to beat them and not pay a penny (review)

This article is about how to beat COPYTRACK. I am more bullish than the other websites discussing this topic. You will see advice elsewhere. Some of it is not great. I know what I’m talking about. I’m a retired solicitor (attorney in the US). I retired 20 years ago. I still remember the basic law! Also I am angry at the way Copytrack are preying people who’ve innocently used a photo and don’t know the law. Copytrack targets these people as they are likely to pay their excessive demands under threat of litigation.

Note: IF (see below) they prove that you have violated copyright (and you know that you have) and IF you want to negotiate a proper amount, do so, but don’t pay the exorbitant amounts that they claim (important: see below on this). Note 2: I am not saying you should violate copyright. Don’t do it. But also, don’t pay scammy amounts of money as demanded by this unscrupulous business. And demand that they PROVE that they are agents (act for) for the copyright holder and demand that the claimed person has copyright in a sworn statement (affidavit in the UK). Then offer $50. BUT PLEASE READ ON.

I would ask you to read the comments below to see what I am saying about the impracticality of enforcing copyright on single images used on the internet from time to time by independent website owners. If it is unviable to enforce image copyright, in effect copyright does not exist for that image.

Short summary: If you don’t live in Germany, simply brick wall them – do nothing and don’t communicate – if what I have said below seems too bothersome. They can’t sue you internationally. They’ll go away.

COPYTRACK can be beaten and should be beaten. Image: MikeB
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Google and Pinterest

For many years now, Google has been firmly against copyright being enforced by the copyright holder. They consider enforcing intellectual property rights to have a “chilling effect” on the Internet. They want the Internet to expand constantly and if people restrict that expansion by preventing the use of their images, they regarded it as bad news. I’ve learned that through personal interactions with Google on this matter.

This supports my view that people should fight COPYTRACK because it goes against the general modern trend on the use of Internet images.

Although, of course, all images are protected by copyright but the point is this: things are changing and things have changed. The Internet has changed the copyright landscape.

For instance, Pinterest, is based on copyright violations. That is its modus operandi! And Pinterest is engaged in hundreds of millions of copyright violations and they do this in full knowledge of what they are doing.

Fair use

A defence when using someone else’s image without permission is to claim fair use. If for example you are using the image to educate people and the image you use does not undermine the copyright holder’s ability to earn money from that image and further, if the image is quite small, a claim for fair use is, in my view, a good defence.

COPYTRACK won’t sue you. Here’s why

COPYTRACK won’t sue you if you don’t live in Germany (they are based in Berlin). They have to rely on fear. They make you frightened that you are going to be sued but you won’t be. They might even, as a last resort, ask a law firm to write to you but they still won’t sue you. Why can’t they sue you?

The amount of money they ask for copyright infringements are inflated, grossly inflated (I deal with this further below). However, if they want to sue you because you refuse to pay their demand they would often have to sue internationally and in the Small Claims Court of the country where the defendant lives i.e. you.

In the Small Claims Court, you normally won’t receive a court order that the other side pays your costs when you win. Therefore, all the money that COPYTRACK puts into suing somebody cannot be recovered after the litigation.

The costs of running an international small claims action (if it’s viable at all) will far outweigh the amount of money that they are claiming in compensation. Therefore, COPYTRACK will suffer a net financial loss. I repeat: if they sue somebody, they will lose money. They will be out of pocket.

Therefore, it is financially unviable to sue. Therefore, they can’t sue.

International element

There is a big question mark over whether anyone can sue somebody internationally in the Small Claims Court. If you sue in the higher courts internationally you can claim costs. But COPYTRACK would not sue in the higher courts because the court fee which accompanies the application is going to be more than the amount they are claiming. The financial risks are far too high.

And I mention the international context of this. COPYTRACK is based in Berlin. The picture on this page is from Google Maps of what I believe is of their office block. It is nearby.

Copytrack offices
Copytrack offices or they are nearby. Image: Google Maps.

They send out their demands to everybody in the world wherever they live. Therefore, very often, they will have to sue somebody internationally which is a big challenge. It is an insurmountable challenge for a business like COPYTRACK. Note: if you live in Germany this section does not apply but the remainder of the points do still apply.

Claims are inflated. The use fear of the unknown as leverage

They have to scare you into paying up. They demand huge sums of money, well above the normal licence fees. You go to Getty Images and see what they charge for a perpetual licence fee. It might be £50 or $50 for a single image. And Getty are not the cheapest.

The point is that COPYTRACK is making inflated demands with menaces. They can’t be called a scam in the classic sense. But they are scammers in one sense in that they are operating on fear firstly and the fact that most people don’t know the law about copyright and neither do they know about litigation and the cost of litigation. They play on this weakness to force people to pay up. This is unscrupulous behavior and unethical.

People do not want to be involved with lawyers and litigation. It is frightening for them. As stated, they play on this fear and that’s a very important thing to state in this article. They don’t frighten me though.

It is equally important for the recipient of a COPYTRACK email to stay calm and not succumb to this fear. You’ve got to be solid and brave and see them off. You’ve got to beat them at their game.

RELATED: Definition of copyright – does copyright of images still apply to the Internet?

No one sues for copyright infringements on the internet

Almost nobody sues (has anyone?) for copyright infringement on the internet as it happens hundreds of millions of times annually. To all intents and purposes copyright is as good as dead in the context of published photos on the internet.

What to do

I beat them on two occasions. Knowing what I have stated above, you can simply do nothing at all. Create a brick wall. Wait to see what they do. There is a 99% chance that they will eventually give up.

You could communicate with them if you want to buy making demands of your own on them. Turn the tables. Go on the offensive.

Firstly, you can ask for evidence that they represent the person they say they represent AND that the person they represent is the true copyright holder of the image concerned. Challenge them on this. Ask for documentary (written) evidence.

Don’t admit anything

DON’T admit guilt. Don’t admit that you have infringed copyright. And on all correspondence with them start off with “Without Prejudice”. This means that it can’t be used against you if you say something wrong.

More ammunition

You can then tell them that your website doesn’t make any money. This is probably true because the vast majority of website don’t make any money when you factor in the author/creators unpaid work. In fact, they make a loss. You can also tell them that you give to charities some of the money that the website makes. That would make your website a non-profit business although it won’t be registered but that is beside the point in this argument.

Ask who they represent

Sometimes they say they act for a particular person when the photograph concerned is on one of the major image websites such as Shutterstock. If they do that you could challenge them by asking them whether they represent Shutterstock or the person they say they represent. You can ask for evidence as to who they represent. They cannot act on behalf of Shutterstock unless they represent them in an agreement between the two businesses.


These are some examples of how you can challenge them and beat them. My personal view is that you should not negotiate to pay any money at all as some websites have stated. Stand up and beat them. They are nasty people in my opinion. They run a nasty business because it is entirely based upon YOUR FEAR. Don’t be frightened. Stay calm. And remember they have one enormous weakness which gives you one enormous strength: they can’t sue you in court for the money they are demanding because it is financially unviable to do so.

Ask a question in a comment and I’ll be pleased to help if I can.

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29 thoughts on “COPYTRACK – How to beat them and not pay a penny (review)”

  1. Received one of these COPYTRACK letters, and I wrote back furious, talked a lot of shit, and BEGGED them to sue me.

    Why? 2 reasons:

    1) I think its absolute BS that they assume guilty and place the burden the proof on the innocent – through threatening, legal worded emails. The fear they impose on people that they assume are doing wrong is INSANE.

    2) I purchased the license, with real money, to the image I am using on my website, years ago. I have the proof in my Adobe Stock account, where I purchased the image. Their case is dead in the water, and I know it. Now I just want to mess with them as much as possible.

    So I wrote back, asked them to come to the states and sue me. I’ll bring my lawyer, and we will prove in court that I purchased the license. I told them I want to waste as much of their money and time as possible. I am not submitting my proof until they come and get it. Guilty until proven innocent is simply NOT how this should work.

  2. I just got an email from them today! They are asking for 900 pounds for past usage and 900 pounds for future use. It’s a thumbnail literally 1 inch by 1 inch! I used on a free quiz. It’s ridiculous.

    I did delete the picture immediately from my site. I also just went ahead and deleted just about all pictures from the site, just in case. I appreciate your advice and it makes me feel a lot better. I marked their email as SPAM and will ignore any future emails from them.

    1. As you say they are ridiculous and their inflated demands point to one thing: demanding money with menaces. They are almost criminal. Although their demands are based on a genuine issue: copyright violations they demand far too much and in any case as I say in the article intellectual property rights regarding images are very dubious nowadays on the internet.

      I can’t avoid the conclusion that they are scammers. Good idea to mark their emails as spam as it means you’ll ignore them. ‘Brickwalling’ is the best way to beat them.

  3. As an online store, we use Copytrack to monitor 15000 product images. As the CEO, I regularly get teary-eyed when I see where our images are used. It ranges from personal blogs, to online magazines, to competing flag stores.

    Google is not against copyright being enforced by the copyright holder. Just search for: “google intellectual property policy”. The Google Terms of Service clearly say: “Your content remains yours, which means that you retain any intellectual property rights that you have in your content.”. The problem is that Google generates less advertising revenue when there is less content on the Internet, so there used to be concerns in the early days of Google.

    I cannot confirm the photo of the Copytrack office. There are no Google Maps photos of Copytrack. You can see the offices via Google Earth. The offices look different on Google Earth than in the photo posted here.

    I don’t agree that claims are inflated. According to German jurisdiction, 100% can be added if the author is not named. It also depends on whether the image was used non-commercially, editorially or commercially. In addition, Copytrack’s service must be paid for.

    I do not understand how you can write that copyright for images is almost dead on the Internet. Each creator of photos may determine for himself where his photo appears. Just because a photo is stolen a hundred times, it does not mean that the theft automatically becomes legal.

    To be clear: I am not affiliated with Copytrack. My company just uses their services to find stolen product images. The Internet is evolving every day, and this includes the fact that stolen images can be easily found.

    1. Sorry Michael. Please remove the image in my comment. I thought it’s my avatar’s image. Or add it as my avatar’s image. Thank you, Christian

    2. Google, which in effect runs the Internet, want copyright to be dead. Pinterest, as a business model, is entirely based on copyright violations. Google images is based on copyright violations in the billions. Protecting copyright for the odd image by which I mean a single image used some years ago and which is picked up by Copytrack, is dead in my opinion because copyright cannot be protected in practical terms on the Internet. There are billions and billions of examples of copyright violations on the Internet because copyright cannot be protected.

      And it’s getting worse and worse. For many years I protected the copyright of cat photographer, Helmi Flick, on my website because she gave me a licence to use her photographs. I stated that the photographs were copyright protected but they were still stolen in their thousands by others. I asked Google to help me to protect them and they said that I was having a chilling effect on the Internet and they put that information on the Internet to damage my website!

      Since then, I’ve given up protecting these photographs. And it also taught me a lesson: that I shouldn’t be that concerned about copyright with respect to images on the Internet. I do my best not to use other people’s images. But sometimes it’s impossible not to use them sometimes and I claim fair use.

      It’s getting worse because artificial intelligence is now creating books after the computer has been programmed to read many books. So, they use existing books to write new books with the assistance of AI. That’s a form of copyright violation but there’s pretty well nothing that can be done about it.

      Like everything in the law, if it can’t be enforced there is no law. An effective law has two branches to it: the law itself often a statute and the enforcement of that law. Without the second the first is pretty well useless.

      I think you are wrong.

      Just because a photo is stolen a hundred times, it does not mean that the theft automatically becomes legal.

      Correct but if copyright is never enforced because it is impractical to do so, IN EFFECT a copyright violation becomes legal.

      Also sometimes images have been used so copiously and so often to which the copyright holder has consented that the intellectual property rights have been waived.

      Another point: sometimes Copytrack are wrong. They pick an image and claim money for its use when they’ve not been instructed by the copyright holder to act on their behalf! That’s happened before. They are a rogue agency basically. Do they always start by getting their client’s instructions? No, is the answer.

      1. You mention Germany law but which country’s law is applicable?! The law of the country where the image creator lives? Or the law of the country where the ‘theft’ took place? And which court deals with it?

        1. It was just an example. The fee can be doubled in germany if an author is not credited. My statement refers to a court decision in Germany. The law of the country where the theft took place should be applicable.

          1. The point I am making is that quoting Germany law is probably irrelevant. Copytrack have to sue internationally for a tiny breach of copyright worth around $100. Just does not stack up. No one does that.

            1. I agree. In this case, we request a DMCA Takedown, which can cause an even higher damage than $100 on commercial websites.

      2. Google Images is not based on copyright violations. Basically, I allow Google to use my images with indexing. If I do not want my content to appear on Google, then I have the option to set the content to noindex. I am in full control of my intellectual property on Google.

        I am not a big fan of AI, but created works by AI are something entirely different from copying an image. With AI, a new work can be created based on several other works. This also happens with other creative works when the creator is influenced by another creator or many other creators. Nevertheless, all AI work must be reviewed by humans. In addition, license fees must sometimes be paid for AI created works because the creator of the AI requires them.

        Creating images costs a lot of time and money. As a content creator I am sick of image theft. But I also understand your point of view.

        1. Yes, I am sick of image theft too. It’s because the internet is almost the Wild West. The usual laws don’t apply or hardly because governments have been reluctant to get involved and the big boys like Google and Facebook either can’t control it or don’t want to. You control when and if Google publish your images on Google Images. But 99% of people who upload pics to the internet don’t do this. Anyway, people need Google Images to publish their images. Also, Google and Bing take large snippets of websites for their search results. Often this stops people visiting the site because the answer they want is there on Bing or Google. That’s copyright violation in my view but they can’t be stopped. They gradually take ownership of these sites.

  4. It’s interesting that almost nobody has even reflected on the fact that we all did wrong in the first place. Stealing others work isn’t cool. I’ve done it before, many times – sometimes by accident – but I always remove the images when reminded and substitute them with ones I paid for, or took myself, or were royalty free. Yes, these guys are trying to make money on behalf of their clients – and way too much – but always remember, YOU are the one who did wrong in the first place, so don’t get all snotty and indignant about it. Play by the rules and understand that a photographer’s work isn’t there for you to simply screenshot and use as you wish. At minimum you should remove the offending image, even if you do nothing else. For more useful tips… use common sense and don’t be a dick.

    1. Yes, fundamentally you are correct. But the concept of copyright which is an intellectual property right is very dubious today on the Internet. Google doesn’t want it. They want copyright holders to allow other people to use their images. Because this helps to educate people and it helps to spread information. It is beneficial generally to humankind. Clearly, in some instances intellectual property should be protected with vigour but when it comes down to the odd image with little value, it is fair, sensible and reasonable to allow it to be used.

      You are painting copyright as a black-and-white situation in terms of morality. But isn’t that black-and-white. Google says that if people defend their copyright they have a chilling effect upon the Internet and in respect of passing on knowledge to others. On morality basis it is a dubious argument to say that people have done wrong.

      There is also an argument that fair use of copyrighted images is acceptable because you helped educate others and it has a minimal effect commercially on the copyright holder.

      And on top of that, this German business is demanding money with menaces. They are demanding highly inflated amounts of money which are a factor of up to 10 times the true amount that should be demanded. That would seem to me to be highly immoral and it may even be a crime. People shouldn’t submit to that. It’s a good reason why they should resist.

      If they want to play that game which is a very rough and callous game then in return the person who is using a picture protected by copyright has, arguably, the right to defend themselves and behave in a less than entirely moral way.

  5. Thanks Michael, great article. Very concise and well written. I’m dealing with these shakedown artists right now over a 20 year old picture of a tulip field. I made the mistake of responding to them, stating that I removed the image in question, that the case is considered closed, and that no further action or correspondence is required. Now of course they won’t leave me alone. Bless you for taking the time to research and review this “company”. I feel the polite thing to do is let them know any further emails will be blocked, but it might be best to jut ignore them. Again, thanks and be well kind sir. Jim

    1. My pleasure. Yes, the best thing to do is nothing. Keep quiet and stop communicating with them. They can’t handle that because their whole MO is based on menacing people in emails which requires communication. They rely on people paying up because they are scared of being sued. But they can’t sue if the ‘victim’ is not in Germany as it is totally unviable commercially. Good luck.

  6. Thanks for this Michael, I have also received an infringement notice one one image a student who I was giving some work experience to put up, probably thinking it’s not copyright back in 2018. They wanted an exorbitant sums, I offered a small amount as the image was not being sold on a site that makes almost no money.

    They have come back with an offer less than half their original ask. I don’t live in Germany, so you feel I should just ignore them? It’s been worrying me sick. A mistake made all these years ago and they are like vultures.

    1. How much are they demanding? It is likely to be far more than the most expensive picture agency would charge for a lifetime license. I would not pay them. Do nothing. They will make more demands. Still do nothing. They will have to go away. They’ve demanded money from me twice and I’ve never paid a penny.

      Please don’t be worried. I makes me annoyed to think that these shits have made you anxious. Don’t be. They can’t sue you. Please don’t pay them. Keep me in the loop on what they do please. I’d expect their demands and threats to fizzle out in about 2 months max.

  7. Hi Michael,
    Your post gave me a relief, although I updated them stating that the image have been replaced will this be a problem.

    1. No that’s okay. But they’ll probably still chase you for money as you’ve used the image. I presume that you are not in Germany. If not don’t do anything else. Leave it there. But don’t pay them. They are a scam really. Forcing people to pay under threat. To hell with them. They are unpleasant people.

  8. Hi Michael, your article made me feel somewhat relieved. But may I ask you this – when you say “brick wall”, what do you mean? To ignore their emails at all or to start a counteroffensive?

    And another question – should I still remove the image?
    The one they contacted me about was downloaded from a free photo stock, so I am not sure how to deal with this…

    1. Hi Yana. ‘Brick wall’ means do nothing. Be passive. Don’t engage with them at all which means they’ll have to chase you and they’ll get tired of that as they have to nowhere to go. They can’t sue you. All they can do is email you and if that produces no response they’ll give up. If you engage it feeds them. They can apply more threats etc.. They work of threats. Their MO is to scare people. Also, if you brick wall they don’t know if they are emailing the right person. That will be barrier to them proceeding.

      I wouldn’t remove the image. I don’t think it matters much either way if you leave it on or remove it. I leave the image on my site.

      Above all don’t be frightened as that is what they want! Good luck. And thanks for asking.

  9. They wrote to me about this situation, there is a site where I quote the content, I automatically pulled it with a bot. I removed the image, but they keep sending emails. I am abroad, I share news locally, and I sent them an e-mail explaining the situation. What do you think I should do?

    1. I would brick wall them and see where it goes. The best way to deal with these sorts of threats is to present to them a brick wall. Do nothing because they are chasing you. They have to do all the work. And a brick wall is very hard if not impossible to overcome in this instance. How much are they claiming? They will have to sue you from Germany if they are considering it which they won’t be as their whole MO is based on threats. Where are you? America? As long as you are not in Germany all the points, I make in the article apply. They can’t sue you internationally for a small claim. It is financially untenable. You have to be brave and stand your ground. But it depends on your attitude. But don’t be anxious about.

      Disclaimer: I am no longer licensed to give legal advice. So, you can’t rely on my advice.

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