I’m not sure if this post title quite conveys my recent experience. Well, that’s what a title is for, isn’t it? Not quite conveying an experience but leading readers to say, “Gee, I really want to know more about that!”
And if you post on any of the social media you really might want to know what happened to me so that you can avoid it happening to you.
A number of months ago, after the election, I grabbed from Twitter a Slate tweet which made me laugh. Although I don’t remember the tweet, I do remember being rather proud that I managed to copy the entire tweet and the photo appended thereto, and got it pasted in here, on my blog.
I’m not particularly agile with manipulating photos. Which is why you’ve noticed I don’t have many on this blog, unless they’re incidental (and accidental) to some text I’m commenting upon. Generally, if a photo actually appears here as part of a story I’ve excerpted (and credited), you can bet I was sitting here saying, “Oh look! Here’s a photo showing up, too! My, my.”
The photo I copied with the Slate tweet was a full frontal view of Trump’s Washington, DC hotel, a/k/a Trump International.
As pleased as I was to post that Slate tweet, I was as displeased to get in the mail an in-my-face letter from an entity calling itself License Compliance Services (“on behalf of Agence France-Presse”) telling me it had noticed “imagery” appearing on my website that belonged to their client, Agence France-Presse. Their purpose was to “identify an active license for this use, if one exists.”
My first thought was: LCS (sorry, I’m not going to type the entire name) is a phisher. I wasn’t too sure what a phisher was exactly but sensed it was someone trying to extract money from me by threatening something. After the requisite fast Google search, I learned I wasn’t entirely correct but that I was correct enough to be suspicious.
The letter stated, “If you do not have an active license for the use of this imagery, we request that you remove the imagery from your website and contact us.”
I removed the “imagery.” (Took a while to locate it, since I post a lot of stuff and didn’t know what search string to use which says nothing much for my search string expertise.)
But that wasn’t going to be enough for LCS. “Please be aware that removal of the imagery will not resolve this issue. We do require payment of a settlement for past usage of the imagery at issue.”
They think I’m going to pay for inadvertent use of an unlabled photo?
I put the letter aside for a few weeks. I got another letter. At this point I checked around to see if LCS was an authentic whatever and found that, (a) yes it was but (b) it was sort of notorious for (I’m quoting a highly credible pro bono organization called the Electronic Frontier Foundation), “The stock photo industry…appears to be leveraging the threat of litigation to extract settlements well beyond any actual harm.” And “LCS already has a reputation for careless demands.”
The expression “fair use” came up. As did “the copyright trolling epidemic.”
I evaluated my situation thusly: indeed, I had posted a photo which–although there was no copyright citation, photography credit or anything indicating it was covered by copyright–seemed to be part of Agence France-Presse’s archive.
But I had no idea I was using their “imagery” impermissably. And, as I later stated in my letter to LCS, the photograph in question–of Trump’s hotel–could have been taken by me, when I was in DC for the Women’s March, or taken by absolutely anyone. In fact, one picture or another of that façade had appeared in every newspaper, magazine, tweet, journal, social medium because of the emoluments scandal.
I had a shred of startled respect that there were algorithms–I felt moderately sophisticated that “algorithm” was a word popping up in my mind, since I didn’t realize I knew that much about these things–sufficiently fine-tuned to land on that (small) picture of a hotel on my blog. A picture that could have been taken by anybody.
But it was all irritating, especially when I got another letter stating that “the cost of settlement for past usage of the imagery on your company’s website is $175.” Please remit.
Anyone who has read this blog knows I am the wrong person to threaten thusly.
How did I handle it?
My letter to LCS follows.