Boston, MA asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property for Massachusetts

Q: We recently received a copyright violation notice for an image that we purchased 12 years ago, but can't locate records.

The the image is from an American photographer, but the company demanding payment represents a large stock company that we are certain we have never done business with, and we suspect repurchased the image from another company. They are asking removal of the image from our piece, and over $800 fee. They have done this with other small business owners. Should we pay and have it go away, or get an attorney? Our budget is tiny. It frankly feels like a shakedown.

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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A: In this situation, it's important to understand your rights and the potential consequences of your actions. Here are a few steps you can consider:

1. Request proof of ownership: Ask the company demanding payment to provide clear evidence that they own the rights to the image in question. This should include documentation of the transfer of rights from the original photographer to their company.

2. Search for your records: Even if you can't locate the original purchase records, try to find any documentation or correspondence related to the image purchase, such as emails or invoices.

3. Consult with an attorney: Although it may seem costly, consulting with an intellectual property attorney can help you understand your legal rights and the best course of action. Many attorneys offer free initial consultations or have experience dealing with similar cases. They can advise you on the risks and potential outcomes of paying the fee or fighting the claim.

4. Consider the cost-benefit analysis: Evaluate the cost of hiring an attorney against the demanded fee and the potential consequences of not complying with the request, such as legal action or damage to your reputation.

5. Negotiate: If you believe the company has a valid claim, try to negotiate a lower settlement fee. Some companies may be willing to reduce the amount if you explain your financial situation and intentions.

6. Remove the image: If you cannot locate proof of purchase or the cost of fighting the claim is too high, consider removing the image from your piece to minimize potential damages.

While it may feel like a shakedown, it's essential to take the matter seriously and explore your options before making a decision. If you suspect that the company is engaging in predatory practices, you can also consider reporting them to the relevant authorities or seeking advice from organizations that support small businesses in such cases.

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