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Victim of Copyright Infringement - Any personal stories?
Old 03-17-2007, 03:15 PM   #1 (permalink)
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So, does anyone have any personal stories or words of wisdom?

I have had an incident recently involving another local photographer. I was mentoring him, and he had access to some of my images that I took for a client. I found out some unpleasant/unethical things about him and terminated our relationship, and also told him that any pictures he had of mine were not to be used by him. I also informed him that I had registered the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. His response was to insult me and my family and make veiled threats.

Now 6 months later, I find him using one of my images to promote one of his businesses, and then I find a podcast of him showing this image to a group of local professionals, demonstrating how he is using his website to market his business and claiming that my image is his work. I have had an attorney send him a letter to stop, and he has taken this particular image off of his website.

I can prove it is my image. I can prove that he knew it was mine and that he knew that I had registered the copyright. His action was willful. I am entitled to statutory punitive damages under Title 17. For many reasons that I will not go into, I think that this guy needs to be punished just as a matter of principal. It isn't just about the money.

Under Title 17, I am entitled to between $750 and $150,000 dollars punitive damage as deemed appropriate by the court if it goes to trial, plus attorneys fees. If he fights me, I am told that my attorney fees alone could run upwards of $30,000 before the trial. Even if he loses, and I get the minimum $750 judgement, it doesn't mean I won't be stuck with having to pay my attorney. Getting a judgement isn't the same as actually getting the money out of the guy. Plus I hear it might take 3-5 years to get to trial.

Is this just stuff the lawyers tell us so we won't proceed unless we are really serious? Why do I have to risk so much just to get a little justice. What was the point of paying 45 dollars to register my copyright in the first place? Who cares if I don't have to prove actual damages. Good luck getting your statutory justice!

Anyway, as I proceed in the next couple of weeks, and see if my attorney can scare this 'idiot' into a possible settlement before the attorneys get all of the money, has anyone ever gone through this process? This is such a minor case compared to one in a 'headline' news story, but on principle, it is very important to me. What is to keep this guy from just using all of my stuff if I can't stand up for myself now?

Feel free to PM me if you don't wish to discuss any details publicly.

Thanks,

Jim
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Re: Victim of Copyright Infringement - Any personal stories?
Old 03-17-2007, 06:08 PM   #2 (permalink)
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You almost never can come out in these kinds of situations unless you are a good size corporation or you have lots of money to burn. Even if you get a judgement, that doesn't mean the person has to pay or even can pay. Suppose you get a $100000 judgement. Does the person have a $100000. If not you can't get it. Generally the lawyers are the only ones who win in this sort of situation. If you can keep him from using your image, then that's about the extent of it. Mostly registering copyright is just to be in a position where if there are "deep pockets" involved, then you can find someone who can pay the fines, fees, etc.
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Re: Victim of Copyright Infringement - Any personal stories?
Old 03-17-2007, 06:54 PM   #3 (permalink)
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If you were to win lets say a $100,000 and he can't pay or won't pay, there are companies out there that will buy the debt for a "fee" of course, then they will suck the life out of him...
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Re: Victim of Copyright Infringement - Any personal stories?
Old 03-17-2007, 09:50 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UNLIMITEDFOTO View Post
If you were to win lets say a $100,000 and he can't pay or won't pay, there are companies out there that will buy the debt for a "fee" of course, then they will suck the life out of him...
That usually doesn't work since the person can just declare bankruptcy and the debt is gone. Also, the amount you get from these companies will rarely even take care of the lawyer's fees (so again the lawyers are the ones who profit).
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Re: Victim of Copyright Infringement - Any personal stories?
Old 03-18-2007, 12:36 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R_Fredrick_Smith View Post
That usually doesn't work since the person can just declare bankruptcy and the debt is gone. Also, the amount you get from these companies will rarely even take care of the lawyer's fees (so again the lawyers are the ones who profit).
Cheers,
rfs
My understanding is that debt as a result of a court action regarding an offense is not absolved by bankruptcy. This is different state to state, of course.
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Re: Victim of Copyright Infringement - Any personal stories?
Old 03-18-2007, 01:13 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I had a guy steal all my websites, cut and paste his name everywhere my name was, did the same in an obvious way to all the photos. He thought due to being in OK I wouldn't notice I guess. an A.Dir at one of the mags I had shot for saw them, and e-mailed me. I had watermarked all the images, he never even changed the html codes. Registrar provided his info, I saved copies of all pages, found out he was using MY work to promote a bridal fair at the COW PALACE in OK!?!?! He had scammed vendors out of booth money, the Conv ctr out of the space, it was wild. He of course went bankrupt, was ruined in Ok, and the ISP pulled the pages, files asap once they got the letter from my Lawyer.

Group REGISTER your CR often. Be Vigilant. Jeffrey
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Re: Victim of Copyright Infringement - Any personal stories?
Old 03-18-2007, 02:17 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JimVanLuven View Post
...I can prove it is my image. I can prove that he knew it was mine and that he knew that I had registered the copyright. His action was willful. I am entitled to statutory punitive damages under Title 17. For many reasons that I will not go into, I think that this guy needs to be punished just as a matter of principal. It isn't just about the money.
That's part of your problem, Jim... you want revenge and thus you've neglected the first rule of civil courts (be they federal or state) ... it IS about the money!

Quote:
Under Title 17, I am entitled to between $750 and $150,000 dollars punitive damage as deemed appropriate by the court if it goes to trial, plus attorneys fees.
Yep, that's what 17USC etcetera says... that's what lawyers call black letter law. Pretty clearly written, as far as federal laws seem to go. You might even get a few more dollars awarded if you can prove damages, but from what you've said, that doesn't seem very likely. But, like you said before.. it's not about the money, for you, right?

Quote:
If he fights me, I am told that my attorney fees alone could run upwards of $30,000 before the trial. Even if he loses, and I get the minimum $750 judgement, it doesn't mean I won't be stuck with having to pay my attorney. Getting a judgement isn't the same as actually getting the money out of the guy. Plus I hear it might take 3-5 years to get to trial.
And those are the rubs, for you...

Since you're not a big business with an attorney on retainer, you're most likely going to have to find one of the intellectual property/copyright firms to take your case. And it's unlikely that they'll take it on contingency, so you're going to be on the hook for their fees with a hefty retainer up front. How much do you want to spend to get even with this jerk, anyway? Remember.. it's not about the money, for you, right?

Quote:
Is this just stuff the lawyers tell us so we won't proceed unless we are really serious? Why do I have to risk so much just to get a little justice. What was the point of paying 45 dollars to register my copyright in the first place? Who cares if I don't have to prove actual damages. Good luck getting your statutory justice!
Think about it this way... you registered your copyrights like all good IP creators should, and when push came to shove, it gave you ammunition that you used to get him to stop infringing upon your property. You achieved your basic goal... but, now you want to punish him and that'll cost you a lot more because you want to use the court system to spank him, and justice ain't cheap.

Quote:
Anyway, as I proceed in the next couple of weeks, and see if my attorney can scare this 'idiot' into a possible settlement before the attorneys get all of the money, has anyone ever gone through this process?
My own experience in this was very similar to yours... only it was three of my images ripped from the portfolio here on GG...err.. G1. I settled for getting the guy to quit using my images... his ISP, though, when they got the copy of my DMCA infringement letter pulled his website off their service. That was my only bit of 'revenge'... I couldn't prove any damages... and though I'm on speaking terms with at least one IP/copyright attorney, I wouldn't want to have to write a check to his firm to start the infringement filing in our local federal court.

Quote:
This is such a minor case compared to one in a 'headline' news story, but on principle, it is very important to me. What is to keep this guy from just using all of my stuff if I can't stand up for myself now?
Consider this... if your attorney does manage to get him into an acquiescent mood, get him to sign a contract that says he acknowledges infringing your copyright in the first place and promises not to ever infringe upon your rights again in return for your not suing him this time (very similar to what the RIAA is doing when someone settles an anti-piracy complaint out of court). Then, instead of a federal copyright infringement suit, you've got a cause of action for a breach of contract which might be easier and less costly to litigate, if you have to. Bounce that off your lawyer and see what he says.

Good luck, and ... consider taking a Zen attitude in all this... he'll get his comuppance sometime.
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Re: Victim of Copyright Infringement - Any personal stories?
Old 03-18-2007, 12:20 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Thanks much for all of those comments. I really like the suggestion about trying to convert this into a contract dispute. Small claims court would make me super happy.

When you say that he "he'll get his comuppance sometime", I hope it is soon. He is currently on probation for a Federal felony conviction, so I don't know what it will take to teach this guy a lesson about ethics or just not being stupid.

I will let you guys know how it goes, and how aggressive I decide to proceed.
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Re: Victim of Copyright Infringement - Any personal stories?
Old 03-18-2007, 08:54 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JimVanLuven View Post
When you say that he "he'll get his comuppance sometime", I hope it is soon. He is currently on probation for a Federal felony conviction, so I don't know what it will take to teach this guy a lesson about ethics or just not being stupid.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.


Jim,

Have you talked to his parole officer? If he was using your images and work to promote a business, then he was using fraudulent pretences to induce payment from unsuspecting clients. Some people might say that's commiting attempted fraud! If it's not about the money, and you want to minimize your costs, this path may meet those criteria.
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Re: Victim of Copyright Infringement - Any personal stories?
Old 03-19-2007, 02:28 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Oh! this is a sad storey. Sorry to hear it.
I do hope that he comes to his senses.


Cheers.
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