Copyright Infringement Fraud: Serious Business

Image credit to Flickr user gaelx.

Copyright infringement is serious business and a true violation is something that should be addressed as soon as possible. But what if it isn’t a true violation? What if it was a ploy to make money? And, whether true or a scheme, how would one know the difference?

Getty Images is based out of Seattle, Washington and has become well known over the years for sending out ‘settlement demand letters.’ Unsuspecting parties receive these letters and are informed that they are infringing on the rights of copyright protected material — specifically images — by posting the protected material on their websites without a proper license to do so.

According to an article posted in the International Business Times from 2014, Getty Images used an automated process to scan hundreds of thousands of websites looking for images they held the copyright protections for. Once a ‘violator’ had been discovered, they would receive a letter in the mail from Getty Images, informing them of the infringement and suggesting a dollar figure to settle the complaint before it went any further.

Unfair and deceptive schemes

Unbeknownst to Getty Images, one of these letters was sent to an intellectual property law firm in Florida, a firm that deals with and understands how copyrights work. The firm sued Getty Images for their ‘unfair, deceptive scheme.’ Getty Images commented that had the firm informed them of the mistake it would have been corrected immediately. According to the firm, though, this is irrelevant because the unknowing average person may not know a mistake was made and would pay the prescribed settlement fee without further inquiry. The alleged ‘violator’ could also be a small business with little ability to pay for a lawyer to advise it. So the firm pressed forward with their suit to draw attention to the issue and bring to the forefront the possible scam at play.

Another company has recently ‘popped up’ using a similar approach to Getty Images: LCS Global (‘LCS’ stands for License Compliance Services). Nothing on LCS’ website suggests that they are owned by Getty Images; however, users in many forums where these letters have been discussed certainly believe that the two companies are one and the same.[1]

People receiving letters and emails from LCS are often told that LCS represents a copyright owner (either an individual or a company) and that the recipient has infringed the rights of said owner. Additionally, these communications often suggest a settlement fee for the alleged infringement. However, LCS does not appear to be a law firm of any kind, and whether or not any of their staff have a legal background is also unknown as their website provides no insight as to the staff or specifics of the company.

Do your research

It’s certainly possible that some of the copyright infringement claims against individuals and companies in these letters are legitimate. However, if the system sending out these letters is automated and people are choosing to pay the fee instead of challenging the validity of the claim, we won’t know whether the whole system is a scheme or not.

So what’s the moral of the story? Do your research and double-check the facts. What if you receive a letter from LCS Global? Research the allegedly infringing image, ask questions, and seek legal advice before cutting LCS a check. Otherwise, you could unnecessarily be out several hundred dollars or more without cause.

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