What I did when threatened by collection agency

Yesterday I told you I’d been “approached” (a polite way of saying “assaulted”) by a collection agency claiming to represent Agence France-Presse.

The letter indicated they’d been trying to reach me via email. I vaguely realized they were correct, but since I maintain the highest possible spam blocker on my email–and never, never open any email I do not recognize as legit–I had ignored them.

Thus, their letter.

Below the bullet list is my response to them. Several things to point out. Thus the bullet list:

  • First, over the many years I’ve been involved in lawsuits and legal stuff, I’ve learned to temper my, um, temper when responding to troubling or irritating stuff. Answering such a letter is not an opportunity to open up the vents to the rage over life’s insults which most of us have accumulated. The idea is to answer, not erupt volcanically, because the idea is to gid rid of the problem, not further incite attack.
  • Second, I have no idea if this will bar the collection dogs from jumping at my throat. But–especially because I copied Agence France-Presse in my letter–I’m hoping the agency will call off LCS which is, after all, their dog. If I do hear from them again I’ll take the next step.
  • Third, I would suggest to agencies such as Agence France-Presse that they limit their efforts at collection to seeking payment for unique photographs, not this one of the Trump International Hotel.
  • Fourth, I’m a fairly sophisticated user of the internet, yet had no idea when I copied and pasted that Slate tweet I was also using a photograph without permission. No credit or tax was attached to the photo saying I had no right to use it. So I’d suggest to License Compliance Services, et al., that the first impermissable use of a licensed photograph be a reason to advise the user, i.e., me, of how to spot and not use a licensed photograph, etc., without demanding a “settlement” payment.
  • So, fifth, be warned not to use photographs or text belonging to someone else, unless you’ve paid for it via, say, subscription to a newspaper or journal. Or unless you understand this business better than I do.
  • Lastly, I sent the letter by certified mail sort of tongue in cheek, because I remembered Trump’s lawyers sent what was claimed grandly to be a “certified” letter to Congress responding to one of the many appropriate accusations over the past few weeks. Using the word “certified” made me (and a lot of other people) laugh because all it meant was…someone in the law firm’s mail room attached the return card and sticker to the envelope and paid around $6.80 to ensure that RRR, i.e., return receipt requested.


May 9, 2017

License Compliance Services
701 Fifth Avenue, Suite 4200
Seattle, WA 98104

Re: 6209-8458-4338

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I’ve received your communications about what you term “Unauthorized Use of Agence France-Presse Imagery” with the above reference number.

Given the number of spam emails and phishing attempts I’ve received, I had–and really still have–no way of determining your authenticity as a collection agency for Agence France-Presse.

Despite your statements, I did not copy and publish a photograph. As the images you enclosed with your letter demonstrate, the “image” I used was a tweet from Slate, the online magazine. The photograph happened to be appended to the tweet.

I was not interested in the photo per se. In any case, the photo was of Trump’s DC hotel front and, therefore, is virtually generic. Photos of the front of this hotel have been published by every news media in every format. Indeed, I was in Washington, DC for the Women’s March and could easily have taken such a photograph myself. No rational person could look at that photo and determine its authorship, especially since the version Slate used was clipped and had no credit line.

As soon as I got your letter I removed the photo from my blog.

I’ve now done enough research to know that your claim is iffy, at best. You’ve received letters from the Electronic Frontier Foundation accusing you of a “reputation for careless demands,” of “improper attack[s] on fair use;” and part of a “copyright trolling epidemic.”

You have threatened me with legal action if I don’t send you $175 for inadvertently using a stock photo attached to a tweet. While I have deep respect for copyrights and creators, I have caused Agence France-Presse no harm by that inadvertent, limited use. Moreover, although you address your letter to me as “Dear Business Owner,” I am a writer, not a “business owner,” and my one-woman blog does not make money, does not sell advertising. It exists strictly for my own personal expression.

I am now much more careful about images I might inadvertently put on my blog–images always attached to stories I’m commenting on–but won’t pay you $175 for that lesson.

I am copying Agence France-Presse on this letter and urge them to restrict you from going after individual bloggers like me. It’s mindlessly aggressive and certainly can’t enhance their reputation.

I’m attaching a copy of your letter.


Naomi Fein

cc: Agence France-Presse
1500 K Street, NW, #600
Washington, DC 20005

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