I wanted to make you all aware of an unsavoury situation while using Unsplash.
Recently, I was using an image through unsplash for a blog (thankfully not a website). A little while later I received a communication from a copyright infringement company called COPYTRACK, based in Germany, stating that the image I had used was not available freely and that I had breached copyright. I was being told that I had to pay a licence fee for the image or face prosecution for copyright theft.
So, I have contacted Unsplash and currently am waiting for them to resolve the issue, as the image is no longer available on their service. In fact the photographer who had put the image up is no longer on the service.
Having explained that the use of the image was through unsplash and in good faith that Unsplash had used due diligence to certify the use of the image, it still hasn’t put the copyright company off. They are still trying to force me to pay up.
As a photographer myself, and knowing the issue they are trying to make some money out of, I thought I’d share this with you.
There are companies online that photographers can upload their images too, and then the company has image algorithms that search out uses of that image on the internet. They then determine if there is a copyright breach. The companies take a commission for every successful payment taken, and pass the rest onto the photographer (which is only a small amount of the total fee).
While the original idea of this was extremely appealing to photographers, as chasing payment for copyright breach is an expensive and time consuming process, it has now become more akin to Patent Trolling.
If you are threatened with such a process, please do not give in. The issue should be pushed through to Unsplash.
I will try to update this thread when more information comes to light (for I go to jail!!!).
The issue here is that in the Unsplash Terms you are granted the rights to use the images:
“Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive,
worldwide copyright license to download, copy,
modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from
Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes,
without permission from or attributing the
photographer or Unsplash, but this license does not
include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to
replicate a similar or competing service.”
I’m just letting folks know about this…thats all, as RW has the facility to use unsplash hardwired into the software.
I ran into a similar situation about ten years ago. A similar company was offering stock art with similar open licensing. In my case I had to pay to use the art, but once paid I was granted a full commercial license.
Because I would be basing a product I was developing around this art I even took the extra step of contacting the company’s legal department and getting a signed letter stating that I had commercial rights to the artwork. And contacting the original artist and getting a “yeah, whatever, I don’t care” email from him.
But, needless to say, someone somewhere in the chain saw the product after release and decided they didn’t like it one bit. Not only did I receive a cease and desist, I got a bill for the full price of the their license for every copy of the product that was already in the hands of customers: hundreds of thousands of dollars.
After lots of lawyering they were eventually put off by the signed letter from the legal department. But I had to agree to kill the product. All in all, I lost a ton of money and wasted time on building, launching, and then killing a product.
The moral of this story is that good faith and due diligence count for little when a group a well paid lawyers think that you might be a source of revenue. If you plan to use stock art make sure to get a physical or pdf copy of license terms.
How would you learn if the person is the owner or not? In this day of scams I can see someone sending out thousands of emails pointing out pics on sites and claiming to be the copyright owner. “oh… but send me $300 and I’ll drop the whole thing and you can use the image.” You send the money but it’s merely going to some scammer and the image was fair use copyright all along…
Not saying at all that’s what is happening here but I do wonder how you confirm.
In the good old days, you had a negative that physically proved it. With my work, I typically keep the original raw files, and only ever release jpgs etc. That way, I can prove that the image is mine (and have on a couple of occasions).
The companies that do the searching use automated systems in the first place to determine duplicates online. You can actually do this through googles image engine by searching for an image, with an image. Then once you have a list, you start the rest of the systems up to track ip addresses, and then you can extort (sorry, invoice) prospective victims.
I’ve used the Google image search to find images where a thumbnail was provided me and I needed a higher res pic. Also to somewhat find the “original” source. Few people know about image search (I think) - it’s pretty awesome.
I had the same with a YouTube video where we used an Apple Garageband Loop. Merlin AWAL Digital Limited claimed that we did infringed the copyrights of a composer that gave his music to their database. I did check his composition: he used the same Apple Garageband Loop (in fact he only makes Garageband loop based music and claiming so copyrights of influencers via the Ai-network of Merlin). It was “Nordic Keyed Fiddle 02.caf”. I searched for the original “royalty-free loops in GarageBand”-notice In the box of iLive '08 and send it in to YouTube. YouTube then lets it between parties. They do nothing themselves. It took Merlin AWAL 6 months to decide that they had nothing to claim.
So anyone on the internet can claim copyright on free materials if they host their claim with a big company.
After I explained the situation about unsplash (and supplied the proof that is where I got it from) I would of told them that was the last reply they will get from me. I would then block their email address and domain from getting through to me. The only way to contact me from there would require them to spend money.
Unsplash’s wording about usage is clear… I would just worry about proving I got it from there. I will make sure to get proof from now on.
Copyright in pictures is particularly complicated and not helped by US law being treated as though it applies everywhere. Wikimedia has photos of old paintings which it classes as out of copyright because the underlying painting is out of copyright. However, while US law (after a controversial case) says that there is no copyright in a photograph which has no artistic merit of its own of a work of art which is out of copyright, English law recognises copyright in the photograph. Making such images freely available also ignores the fact that many of these photographs were only supplied by art galleries under strict contractual conditions. Some images on some sites have effectively been stolen from galleries’ servers.
There is a pattern behind this: a photographer loaded his pics to Unsplash. After a while he removes the pics and hands them over to the lawyer. So you struggle to prove that Unsplash was the source for that pic. I save screenshots from Unsplash (profile and picture with Unsplash header) to be prepared. Knocking on wood, never to require them
If I were forced to pay I would tell them I am poor but will do my best to pay. I would make payments of $2 per month. None of it would happen via the Internet until I was forced to pay. They would need to contact me through the mail.
I would remove the offending photo immediately… beyond that I would do nothing. My first and last email would tell them that. In other words… they would probably lose interest.
I have deep respect for artistic talent. I believe a person can charge whatever they want for their work… up front. Trying to force people to pay with sleazy tactics is another matter.
I will continue to use unsplash photos as needed. I will be sure I keep proper proof where I obtained the photo.
I will also point out that you can change the photo through manipulating it in PS or similar software. This will make it harder for them to find it to begin with.