When piracy hits the mainstream news, it’s often in relation to books, games, music, TV-shows and movies.
These industries grab headlines because of the major players that are involved, but they are not the only ones dealing with piracy.
In fact, photos are arguably the most commonly infringed works online. Not just by random users on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, but also by major mainstream media outlets.
The lawsuits in question, filed on behalf of several independent photographers, are fairly straightforward.
A news site or other media outlet uses a photo to spice up an article but fails to pay the photographer. This is fairly common, even for major publications. The photographer then files a lawsuit demanding compensation.
However, before the case goes to trial both parties usually resolve their issues in a private settlement. Just this year alone, the Liebowitz Law Firm closed over 200 cases for its clients.
ABC, AOL, CBS Broadcasting, NBCUniversal, NPR, Time, Viacom, Warner Bros, Yahoo and Ziff Davis are just a few of the companies that have signed settlements recently.
While the court records don’t point out any winners, it’s safe to assume that many of these cases end favorably for the firm’s clients. Otherwise, they wouldn’t continue to file new ones.
TorrentFreak reached out to Richard Liebowitz, lead counsel in many of these cases. Unfortunately, he can’t share exact details as the settlements themselves are confidential.
The photographers don’t make millions through this scheme, but it appears to be an effective way to get paid a few thousand dollars. If one repeats that often enough, it should provide a decent income. And indeed, several have already filed over a dozen cases.
The practice is reminiscent of copyright trolling cases, with the exception that the accused are major companies instead of random citizens. And unlike the lawsuits movie companies file against BitTorrent users in the US, the evidence the photographers have is rock solid.
When a random copyright troll sues BitTorrent users, hoping to extract a settlement, they rely on indirect IP-addresses and geo-location evidence. The photographers, however, can show an actual screenshot of the infringing work in the mainstream news outlet.
That’s hard to ignore, to say the least, and based on the number of settlements it’s safe to argue that the media outlets prefer to settle instead of litigating the issue. It’s probably cheaper and avoids bad PR.
For the record, all photos used for this article are properly licensed or part of court documents, which are public domain.