When someone left me a comment accusing me of copyright infringement, something seemed off. So I did a little checking on the claim.
In almost 18 years at this, I’ve seen a lot when it comes to blogging. But a while back, a commenter managed to surprise me. This commented accused me of copyright infringement, claiming I was using her photos without her permission.
I take copyright seriously. I realize that’s kind of a novelty these days. The internet is replete with users and sites who “lift” other people’s work without credit or remorse. I love watching videos on YouTube. But let’s be realistic: almost no one who uploads clips of TV shows actually has the legal right to do so.
Here on this blog, I rely on stock images. Over the years, I’ve built up a little library of images. I license them through various stock image services. Some of you may disapprove. Well, I’m sorry about that; I cover a wide range of topics on this blog and it’d be impossible for me to go shoot my own original image for every post I write.
This accusation seemed a little off right from the start.
This commenter identified herself as Melissa and said she is a “certified photographer.” I’m not sure what a certified photographer is. Oddly enough, she chose to list as her site’s URL the link to one of the stock image companies with whom I’ve done business for years.
She then claimed that she spotted some of her copyrighted images on my site. Here’s an excerpt:
I was confused, putting it lightly, when I recognised my images at your website. If you use a copyrighted image without an owner’s consent, you must be aware that you could be sued by the creator.
It’s unlawful to use stolen images and it’s so ?heap!
Her misspelling of recognised indicated she might not be from the United States, since we spell that word with a Z instead of an S. But that was a minor red flag.
She then left a link to a Google document she claimed would detail the specific images she was claiming I used without her permission. This was a major red flag. If she saw her work on my site without permission, she should have linked to the specific instance, not a Google document.
I did a little investigating of that link. Chrome detected that it was not a secure site and might contain malware. It wouldn’t even attempt to open the file. Tremendous red flag.
She wrapped up her comment with this:
If you don’t delete the images mentioned in the document above during the next couple of days, I’ll file a to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been severely infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property.
And if it doesn’t help, you may be pretty damn sure I am going to take legal action against you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.
When you provide a threat, that takes it to a different level. That was another mistake on her part. I might understand the use of mild profanity, but for the fact that she wants me to believe she’s with the stock image company itself. That would be highly unprofessional for an employee of such a service.
I reached out to the customer service manager of that company. I gave them a copy of the comment in its entirety as well as her name and her email address. They checked. They don’t have “certified photographers” and they have no contributor with that email address on file. In short, this Melissa had zero connection to the company she claimed to represent.
The customer service manager at the stock image company thanked me for reporting the incident. They said they’d keep an eye out for any other messages that misrepresented their company.
You have to keep your wits about you when you face an accusation like this.
It’s easy to become overly-defensive and to act too quickly when someone accuses you of wrongdoing like copyright infringement.
But when someone makes a threat against your website or suggests they’ll sue you, that’s when you have to just stop. You take a deep breath and re-read the message. Then you look for anything that doesn’t belong.
You might have noticed, besides the alternate spelling of recognised, that there was an extra article in the first line of the second excerpt above. Grammatical and spelling errors remain one of the quickest ways to spot a scam.
Since she chose to identify herself as representing a company with whom I already had a business relationship, that gave me an easy way to check out her story. I didn’t have to respond to her when the company she claimed to work with said they never heard of her.
Rather than just clicking the link, I checked with a blogging friend of mine who recognized the general tone as spammy. When I check the link through Google Chrome, its refusal to even consider opening it gave me the additional assurance that the comment wasn’t legit.
Finally, as hard as patience comes for me, I waited it out. I did go through my image library — which I was already in the process of doing because of a logo change — to make sure there weren’t images that didn’t belong.
But it has now been more than a year-and-a-half since she left the comment. She seems to have retreated back into her little dark corner of the web.
I take copyright seriously.
When I license content for this site, I read the terms before I ever click the button. When I have a question about those terms, I ask.
Recently, a question led me to an explanation I wasn’t entirely certain about. So I reached out to a second agent to confirm. I took screen grabs of that conversation. So if anyone with that company accuses me of copyright infringement — or violating their terms in some manner — I can at least offer screen grabs from their own employees that show where any possible failure of communication occurred.
So when someone claiming to be a photographer accused me of violating their copyright, my initial reaction was to be offended. But fortunately, I know there are too many “bad actors” — otherwise known as scammers — out there.
That’s when I started asking questions.
And that’s when I found out that the accusation was bogus.
Unfortunately, there is always someone out there trying to cause problems. Keeping a level head can help you dodge those problems before you wind up with a much bigger one!