Copyright Infringement Claim by Masterfile

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 York attorney, 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 rights-managed images."

July 2012
There is a thread on ExtortionLetterInfo.com about my case.


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