Most artists and photographers know who owns the
copyright of all the images on their web site because it's their own
work. But my web site has more than just galleries of my own
photography. I also have a series of interviews with famous
photographers and a few other interviews with people in photography
(or art show) related fields.
Mid December 2010, I received a FedEx letter from Masterfile, a Canadian
stock agency, stating that I've been using one of their images,
without license, on my web site for the past five years. The letter
also included an invoice for $6,633. I immediately picked up the phone
and called the agency to find out what the problem was.
I had interviewed a commercial retoucher and he had provided a set of
a half dozen before and after images, explaining in the interview what and
how the changes were made for each image. One image was a car in front
of a building in the snow, an image of a building that the car
company's advertising agency had licensed from Masterfile for a local
ad. The before image had a studio shot of a car and the after image
had the same car in a different color dropped into the building
picture. While on the phone with the agency rep, I removed the image
from my web site. Actually I removed all the images from the interview
in the event there was a problem with any of the others.
We spent a great deal of time that day going back and forth on the
phone. By the end of the day, the Masterfile rep finally agreed to
call the retoucher who backed up my story that he provided the images
for the article. But since Masterfile doesn't go after anyone but the
end user, this information didn't do much though the rep agreed to
drop the price to $3,000.
In the interim period, I did some research on line and found a New
Oscar Michelen, who specializes in handling Masterfile
(and other stock agencies) copyright infringement suits. When he heard
my story and saw a PDF of the article, he told me that in no way was I
to pay Masterfile any money. He said that they didn't have a case and
he would be willing to represent me at a reduced rate, but to wait to
see how the case developed before sending him any money.
Last week I called the Masterfile rep to see what was happening. I
told them I had spoken to the attorney. The response was wait until after the New Year when the case
could be brought up to the agency owner and see what he says.
Early January 2011 I got a call back that they were dropping the case
completely. Though they told me that they've never dropped a case
before, they realize that though I was the end user, the image had
been given to me with permission and that the retoucher had also been
given permission to use it by the agency that licensed it.
Steve Pigeon, president of Masterfile contacted me with the following
information. "When the facts surrounding your case were brought to my
attention on January 4th, I determined that yours was a usage that
Masterfile would have permitted without charge in the normal course of
business and our Copyright Compliance Officer immediately notified you
of this decision. As I am sure you know, copyright infringement on the
Internet is a huge issue for owners of intellectual property.
Masterfile works diligently to monitor unauthorized usages and ensure
that we and our contributing photographers are compensated for all
commercial uses of our images. It's a tough part of our business but
it's a necessary function of a company that licenses exclusive
There is a thread on ExtortionLetterInfo.com about my case.