June 20, 2020
Another Scam Warning:
But I have never ran into this one before!
If you have a website, you’re likely familiar with and/or have spent some time worrying about the possibility of getting sued for using copyrighted images. It is illegal to use other peoples’ images on your website without permission. The one caveat to this is if you are using the image(s) under fair use laws which say that you can do so if the use is for educational purposes or in many cases for the purpose of critique, parody, or other “transformative use”.
What About Memes?
The big one I’ve been unsure about for years has been the use of copyrighted images for the creation of memes or for pasting motivational quotes on top of. I’ve spent dozens of hours researching this issue and have talked with a couple of lawyers, and the overall consent seems to be that any copyright holder can sue you for using their images without permission….but it’s statistically unlikely in this case. This is partially because we are relatively small businesses compared to large corporations that would have a lot of money to be garnered from a lawsuit. Also, because it is pretty common practice to create memes out of other peoples’ images, which they may be likely to see as desirable because this practice potentially spreads awareness of their brand.
Don’t Do It!
Despite this, I strongly advise against using any images that you do not have explicit permission to use! I have known of at least 2 therapists (one in the area) who have been threatened with legal action for using copyrighted images without permission. One such well known therapist is Allison Salmon at Abundance Practice Building. She accounted her experience in the following article:
From what I’ve read, It is relatively common practice for copyright holders to attempt to settle issues outside of court by identifying the images in question and requesting a payment be made to them by a certain date. Often in these correspondences the copyright holder will threaten legal action if they do not receive the money by the end of the allotted time. Depending on the situation, it may be wise to take this offer so that you can avoid a lawsuit. You should contact a lawyer if you find yourself in a situation like this. However, its clear that this practice really resembles some methods that are common among scammers. Basically: say something scary and demand money to avoid the scary thing. So it’s important to be calm and evaluate the situation if you ever receive a copyright claim like this. It may be a scam.
So here’s what happened:
Someone emailed me and claimed that I had used their copyrighted images without permission. They threatened to take legal action if I did not remove the images from my site.
Here’s what tipped me off to the possibility that this might be a scam:
- The letter was written with really terrible grammar – If you ever get anything that’s written really badly, you should be considering the possibility that its a scam.
- Rather than providing links to the images in question or identifying them in any way, this person provided a link to a page on another website that they said contained all of the images in question. – Never click on links from people you do not know! If you’re unsure about the sender you can click the reply button (but not send) to see the email address of the sender. It has become common practice for scam emails to come through with the sender being something legitimate sounding like Apple support. But if you click reply and take a look at the sender’s address you will likely see that its something random that isn’t under the apple.com domain.
After I became suspicious about this email, I copied a section of it and pasted it into google. The numerous results had me 99.9% convinced that this was a scam. What really got me 100% convinced was the fact that I tried to write back to the person but their email address was invalid.
The following is a copy of the email I received with the sender’s name and the unsafe link redacted:
Title: Why do you use my images for sacwellness.com without my consent! This is a violation of my rights! You must delete them immediately!
Hi, This is *****and I am a licensed photographer and illustrator. I was baffled, to put it nicely, when I came across my images at your website. If you use a copyrighted image without my approval, you must be aware that you could be sued by the owner. It\’s illicitly to use stolen images and it\’s so filthy! Check out this document with the links to my images you used at sacwellness.com and my earlier publications to get evidence of my copyrights. Download it now and check this out for yourself: *****Link you should never click on!*****If you don\’t delete the images mentioned in the document above within the next several days, I\’ll write a complaint on you to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property. And if it doesn\’t work, you may be pretty damn sure I am going to report and sue you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.
About the Author
Joe Borders is a marriage and family therapist located in Roseville and Sacramento. He is primarily a sex positive gender therapist, but also specializes in working with couples, teens, addiction, and the LGBTQ community. Joe is also the owner and founder of SacWellness. You can find out more about him by visiting his sacwellness listing or by visiting his website: therapy and counseling in Roseville and Sacramento