Copyright Bullies: Beware Older Creative Commons

  • On June 27, 2019 ·
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Fees punching you in the face

Something I’ve been dealing with behind the scenes for several months is a copyright bully. I debated posting about this but decided it’s important other people know the dangers involved. At the beginning of the year I wrote a blog about my plans for 2019. I found an image online that said it was Creative Commons, pasted the info in the WordPress field for credit, and thought that was the end of it.

Couple months later I get an email from a case management address of a site I’d never heard of alerting me to Unauthorized Use of Image. Apparently there was an error in crediting the image creator and this site was claiming I needed to pay a fee. I checked to see how much they were asking for:


I decided to speak to an attorney before responding. During that time I received a second, third, and fourth notice, saying registration with the US Copyright Office entitled their client to between $750-35,000 should they seek legal escalation. Time was running out for them to negotiate a lower price. After various referrals the lawyer I consulted with told me about what I figured – that I could expect to pay at least $750 for their services and I might still have to pay out in the end.

As an artist I understand the need for creators to get paid for their work. However, this type of intimidation goes against the spirit of Creative Commons. If I found somebody using one of my works without permission I’d contact them myself first. Maybe they aren’t even aware of the mistake. I wouldn’t sick some 3rd party on them. Out of options I responded to the case manager’s email. Was their client aware they were using version 2.0 of the Creative Commons license when the site was recommending 4.0? Perhaps it had something to do with this line,

In the 4.0 licenses, your rights under the license are automatically reinstated if you correct this failure within 30 days of discovering the violation (either on your own or because the licensor or someone else has told you). Under the 3.0 and earlier licenses, there is no automatic reinstatement.

Creative Commons FAQ

I asked what the least their client would accept to resolve the matter was. While I waited for them to get back to me I discovered said client’s account was blacklisted from submitting images to Wikimedia due to sending huge invoices for minor licensing errors. This resulted in a mass deletion of images from a large number of articles. In a discussion log they decided it was best to prevent potential re-users from dealing with charges should they use the images improperly. “It may not be illegal but it’s a scam and we need to protect our users from potentially falling prey to it.”

Case management said I could pay $250. At this point I was going on a trip to Canada for several weeks. My case was forwarded to a new manager who promptly warned me of legal escalation again. Sick of the whole thing I paid their fee and told them any further contact would be considered harassment and forwarded to my representatives.