The Best Excuses for Copyright Infringement Ever

cop writing ticket

As a photographer in the digital age, copyright infringement is an accepted part of the game. Sometimes it’s a swiftly corrected mistake, but often times the misappropriation falls on the nefarious side of the spectrum. Of course, invoices always follow infringements and this is where things can get very entertaining. Take a look at these ridiculous and perhaps hilarious excuses for copyright infringement.

Photo: Greenkozi (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

1. “We added value to your photo…. Any court would see it that way”

This is essentially what a staff member at one of the Internet’s largest tech blogs told me after I contacted them regarding a misused photo (I never lost an iPhone at a bar). The legal team’s exact words:

Well, in that case clearly we provided the initial exposure that created the purported demand and hence “value” for your photo… I think we helped bring your skills into the limelight and garner you a bunch of fans for your future endeavours, and I think that any court would see it this way.

2. “Your photo isn’t that great.”

ugly photo

One of the first digital photos I ever took. Would you steal this or one of these? People don’t steal ugly photos.

There are many iterations of this excuse. Another common one is, “There are thousands of photos like this. We could have used any one.” This is like robbing a small community bank and saying, “Well we could have robbed Goldman Sachs instead. Your bank isn’t very popular so we didn’t do anything wrong.” Would you steal a Galaxy Tab and tell the police it’s ok because you could have grabbed an iPad instead? Clearly there is value in a work if someone takes the risk of misappropriating it, but infringers will do all they can to diminish the value of what they posted to their own sites.

The Content Factory had this to say about a photo it misappropriated after reaching a settlement with the photographer:

It all started when one of our writers published a blog post to a client’s site – it was about finding great deals in Omaha, Nebraska (complete with an altogether underwhelming photo of the city, which may or may not have been taken by a drunken college student with a camera phone in 2005).

So what was a perfectly fine photo to use on a client’s site is now a “crappy photo of Nebraska?” If I were seeking a content marketing firm this lesson in copyright wouldn’t put me off, but a marketer who admits to delivering underwhelming work would.

3. “But our website terms and conditions say…”

Some people are under the impression that their websites’ terms of use cover everyone and everything. UN conventions and international law are obsolete in today’s world– just visit my website and whatever my terms of use say automatically apply to you, even if I stole your photo:

if not based on the terms on websiteremoved.com , you would have to take me to court in south florida, get a local lawyer ,lodging ect etc . probably cost you a fortune for something that no longer exists in the digital world.

While it is true that claimants generally must file in the defendant’s jurisdiction (there are exceptions), the excuse above is perhaps the worst I’ve ever seen. I felt so bad for the guy I dropped the issue and moved on.

4. “Our posts are transformative and thus fair use.”

face palm

This is more or less the mantra of Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti, as stated in an interview with The Atlantic. Repackage a bunch of copyrighted photos into a list post and because you did such a good job compiling the list, you’ve created an entirely new work and you can use anything under fair use. Following this reasoning I could theoretically be able to take a group of songs from various artists (let’s go  with Madonna, Lady GaGa and Britney Spears), create a mashup and enjoy fair use protection. Because I was so creative in positioning “Like a Prayer” before “Poker Face” and “Circus,” the record labels will have no case against me when I play it on the radio, right?

Photo: Striatic (CC-BY-2.0)

5. “Sorry, our mistake.”

I’m pretty forgiving of honest mistakes and don’t care if Grandma uses my vacation photos on her blog, but I always roll my eyes when corporate infringers say, “Thanks for pointing out our mistake,” or “We’re so sorry, it won’t happen again.” Companies claim to know so much about their speciality yet so little about copyright.

Unfortunately, this head-in-the-ground approach is likely profitable. It’s cheaper to misappropriate 100 photos, receive a complaint about two or three and feign ignorance than correctly licensing the work. In any case, anyone engaging in online commerce can and should know better. Don’t fall for the “We didn’t know” spiel.