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 on 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.

Don’t forget to see the comments as there are some good examples of what is happening.

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

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.

Summary

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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Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

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

Copyright symbol
Copyright symbol. Source: Pixabay.

Introduction

The article discusses more than the definition of copyright. A definition is a summary and more than that is appropriate in this instance. This article relates primarily to internet works; words and images.

Over the course of the development of the Internet, the concept of copyright with respect to images has changed in my view. Google is the prime motivator in this change. They do not want the ‘chilling effect’ (as they describe it) of copyright laws. They want the Internet to expand which is entirely understandable in order to increase their profits. A strict application of copyright law in respect of, for example, cat photographs (my area of operation) is very stifling to the creation of new content. More content means more adverts leading to more income for Google under their excellent Adsense program. I support Google in this objective (if my assessment is correct 🤞).

Big businesses such as Pinterest has severely undermined the concept of copyright in respect of photographs and other images. I believe that copyright no longer exists on the Internet in practical terms. It’s the way the companies that run the Internet want it. It’s too difficult to enforce copyright on the Internet because it knows no boundaries. I like this development.

Copyright law is different from country to country but the Internet is not bounded by borders. It is universal and worldwide. I would argue that a new form of copyright law has been created informally by the Internet which basically states that there is no copyright on images.

People have given up enforcing copyright on the Internet for practical reasons and to serve the objectives of the big players, as I call them, who run the Internet. There is no governing body which watches over the Internet. Perhaps there should be but they won’t be. The big players like a free for all and they don’t like restrictions. Copyright law is a form of restriction.

You could believe that Pinterest was created with the objective of breaking the concept of intellectual property rights with respect to images. It may have been created with the support of other big Internet companies with this purpose in mind.

Now for the boring bit.

Definition of Copyright — Summary

Copyright is a right enshrined in law that provides the owner of the right wide ranging but limited rights in respect of his/her work and allows him to dictate how his work is used. The limited rights are (a) right to make copies (b) authorize others to make copies (c) make derivative works (d) sell and market the work and perform the work.

In terms of allowed use by the copyright holder he can, at one extreme, retain all his rights. In the alternative he can allow limited use. The concept of “creative commons” falls into this category. And at the other end of the spectrum, he can allow unlimited use.

“Use” refers to copying the work, or making derivative works from the original unique work. The concept of copyright is a compromise and sometimes controversial. Some people argue that the laws stifle innovation. The law varies from country to country but a large number of countries have agreed to common rules under conventions.

Definition of Copyright — Video

Fair use

A defense against a claim for breach of copyright is fair use. It says that can reuse copyright-protected material under certain circumstances without getting the copyright owner’s permission. It is a flexible concept. Perhaps abused. For example, using a small version of an image in an educational article. The copyright holder would accept it.

Note: This is an embedded tweet. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.

Fair use in copyright
Fair use in copyright. Image: emergingedtech.com.

How it works for me in practice

I find copyright law a bit confusing in part because it has evolved and there are some differences from country to country. The argument I use is this: as the law is off-putting or looks muddled it is best to play safe. From a practical point of view, I observe these rules:

Update 2022: My attitude has changed because of the attitude of the big Internet players such as the social media businesses, Pinterest and Google. So, what I have said below needs to be viewed in this light.

  1. Assume all work is protected by copyright. Generally, all original work is automatically copyright protected. It doesn’t even need to have the copyright logo under it. Works can be registered but need not be to have protection. The vast majority of work is not registered. In order to make it clear that a photograph is protected by copyright I place this text on or under it: ©copyright Helmi Flick (as an example)
  2. Copyright registration is as I understand it useful for major original works and as evidence that the author owns copyright to it. “Poor Man’s Copyright” is a means of establishing ownership by sending it to oneself or sending it to your lawyer, for example.
  3. If you want to use something on the internet (a) ask the author or (b) check if its use is allowed under a creative commons license or (c) check to see if copyright has expired or (d) ask yourself whether it can be used under “fair use”.
  4. Fair use allows use of copyrighted material under certain circumstances. You will have to justify fair use by arguing the following (a) the purpose and character of the use (b) the nature of the copyrighted work (c) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (d) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work (src: Wikipedia). Wikipedia authors argue fair use not infrequently.
  5. One argument is that the copy is of poor quality (I am referring here to an image). As a result, it cannot harm the rights of the author. Indeed, publishing copyrighted material can assist the holder of the copyright sometimes. Another argument is that its use is for charitable purposes.
  6. Copyright can expire over time. This is a quote from Wikipedia under their Wikipedia commons license: “In most of the world, the default length of copyright is the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years. In the United States, the term for most existing works is a fixed number of years after the date of creation or publication. In some countries (
    for example, the United States and the United Kingdom), copyrights expire at the end of the calendar year in question.” At which point the work is in the public domain.

Definition of Copyright — Creative Commons

A lot of authors allow use of their work under creative commons. This is the author granting a certain type of license of use up front, which saves the bother of the user from having to ask. This is an important tool for internet workers. This should be checked as a matter of course. There is a website where a search can be done: http://search.creativecommons.org/. There are many millions of images on Flickr for example that are usable under a creative commons license. http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/. There are 4 types of creative commons license.

The creative commons website allows you to build code that informs readers of the kind of license that you are allowing. Below is an example. This allows people to use this page under a license that limits use in one way only, namely to use the article “as is” and to attribute it to me, Michael. It is a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. It was built on this page: http://creativecommons.org/license/:

Creative Commons LicenseDefinition of Copyright by Michael is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

All of Wikipedia is under a creative commons license. They call it Wikipedia Commons. However, it is always preferable to write original work. Why? Because simply duplicating work is rather pointless unless you wan to use a particularly complicated definition or reference that cannot be reworded without spoiling the meaning.

Creative Commons is a wonderfully useful tool. It allows people to share in a controlled way. Below is a copy from the Creative Commons site of the 4 licenses. This copy is allowed by them.

Definition of Copyright — Creative Commons License Conditions

Creators choose a set of conditions they wish to apply to their work.

Attribution Attribution

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give credit the way you request.

Share Alike

You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.

Noncommercial Noncommercial

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for noncommercial purposes only.

No Derivative Works No Derivative Works

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it.

These licenses can be mixed. See all the Flickr licenses on this page of Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/

Note: this is not comprehensive (obviously). Please check the law yourself. For the vast majority of internet users we don’t understand copyright law fully (at best) and we haven’t the means or time to achieve full understanding. The best course of action under these circumstances is caution. And remember Google will notice if you are simply copying other people’s material.

Definition of Copyright — Enforcement

Once again this relates to breaches of copyright (“copy vios” – copyright violations) on the internet. This is what I do:

  1. I track down the person who is in breach. (see below)
  2. I contact that person and ask politely and firmly that they remove the material (and ideally the code if it is an image) from their website. I allow a 10 day time limit and inform them of that.
  3. I also contact the website hosting company. You can do this on this website: http://www.whois.net/.
  4. Step 3 can prove particularly effective. I also mention in emails that I may contact Google under their own scheme: Digital Millennium Coyright Act if this is applicable.
  5. I find that the worse cases of copyright violations come from Blogger or blogging sites. Blogger is owned by Google so a warning of the Google route as a last step is generally useful and effective.

Definition of Copyright — Picture top right: This is in the public domain.

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