PicRights LTD Copyright Letters Making Noise In The US

 

PicRights LTD has recently come on as one of the most active enforcers of copyright for photos.   They operate out of Canada but appear to send a large volume of copyright enforcement emails to the US in effort to collect payments for their clients.  

 

They do not own the copyrights and they are not a law firm.    They, like ImageRights, CopyTrack, CopyPants, and Pixsy seem to be operating as a form of license enforcement agent— all of which, except ImageRights, operate from outside the US.   PicRights is making more noise than the others in this group, probably a result of the large size of their clients and number of claims they pursue, which based on information from letters and complaints on other forums, include:  The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, StockFood America and many others very large photo agencies.

 

PICRIGHTS COPYRIGHT ENFORCEMENT TACTICS

 

Their copyright enforcement efforts seem to be purely by email and to be very scripted.   They send unsuspecting users of photos notices via email along with instructions on how to pay online with a credit card.    The email also contains screenshots showing their client’s original image with the purported infringing use. Many of their claims involve images that have not been registered with the US Copyright office.   While registration is not required for them to enforce the rights, the copyright owner will need to register the image before actually bringing a lawsuit in the US.

 

PicRights is also not a law firm.  So, they cannot sue you. However, they refer claims to law firms.    Higbee & Associates seems to be the main step-up for claims that PicRights do not settle.   

 

IS PICRIGHTS LTD LEGITIMATE OR A SCAM?

 

PicRights is a real company based in Canada.  They have very big clients. They work with real law firms.    They are members of respected organizations such as the US based Digital Media Licensing Association (http://www.digitalmedialicensing.org/memberdirectory.shtml) and the EU based CEPIC (http://cepic.org/member/directory).    By all objective standards, PicRights is a legitimate company.    

 

That does not mean everything thing they do is legitimate.  There have been a couple of complaints on other forums from people who claim to have received demand letters for images that they properly licensed or for images that did not actually match the image they used on their website.   Their approach to fighting copyright infringement might be unsavory (or at sometimes sloppy), but PicRights is not a scam.

 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU RECEIVE A LETTER FROM PICRIGHTS

 

Start by doing the obvious.  Make sure you actually used the image they claimed you used.   If you did, then see if you have a license to use it. If you have a license that covers the type of use, let them know.  If you think you bought a license and cannot find records of the purchase, contact the licensing agent for the photo and have them check to see if you or your web developer purchased a license.

 

If not, consider a fair use defense.  If you used the picture in a way that provides commentary, criticism or news about the photo, it may be fair use.  About the photo means about the photo itself, and not the subject matter of the photo. Read more about fair use at: https://www.lib.umn.edu/copyright/fairuse

 

Check to see if the image is in the public domain.  If the image was published prior to 1978 without copyright notices, it could have become public domain, which means not enforcement action can be brought based on a copyright violation.

 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE LIABLE FOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT?

 

Like many business decisions, there is no perfect answer to this question.  The path you choose will come down to your risk tolerance. Here are some options:

 

Ignore It And Hope It Goes Away –    Pros:  This may result in you paying nothing.  Cons:  Knowing there is a potential claim that could escalate into something more serous can be stressful.   Copyright claims can last for 3 years or more.   You could end up paying way more to settle it in court, not to mention the cost of hiring an attorney.

 

Pay And Move On –  Pros:  Quickly puts the matter behind you without the stress of negotiating.   Eliminates the risk of the claim escalating and getting more expensive. Cons:  Costs you the full amount they are demanding.  

 

Negotiate for A Lower Payment – Pros:  If they accept a lower offer, you save money and get the security and peace-of-mind of knowing the matter is behind you.  Cons:  You are paying money.  Requires negotiating, which some people find stressful.

 

Should You Hire An Attorney to Assist with A PicRights Claim?

 

Most of the PicRights claims we have seen are for amounts that are far less than it would cost to hire an attorney.   However, if the dollar amount they are requesting is substantial enough or if there are discrete issues, such as you believe it is not an infringement, you may wish to hire an attorney.     The amount of bad information that can be found on blogs and user forums is substantial, so make sure to only take advice from licensed attorneys.

 

If you have questions, comments or information about PicRights that you think others will find useful, post them below.

 

The Following Are or Were Known Clients of PicRights LTD

 

  • Agence France-Presse
  • The Associated Press
  • Aurora Photos
  • Design Pics Inc.
  • Warren Photographic
  • Science Source
  • Science Photo Library
  • CartoonStock Ltd
  • StockFood America

Please let us know if you discover others that should be added to the PicRights client list.

 

35 thoughts on “PicRights LTD Copyright Letters Making Noise In The US”

  1. First it was PicRights, now I am getting pursued by Higbee and Agence France Presse for the use of a photo of Obama that I found on Google. They are asking $2,200. Does not seem right to have to pay for a photo if it is of a politician and it is on Google. Thankfully, my neighbor is a lawyer.

    1. It appears that Higbee & Associates is the main recipient of claims that get escalated from PicRights. Google does warn that images in its search results may be protected by copyright, but you would not be the first person to make that mistake. Hopefully, your neighbor is experienced with copyright law and knows how to negotiate these claims. Make sure he or she knows that $2,200 is an opening offer and there is almost always room to counter, especially early on in the process and if you have some sort of defense.

  2. Trying to charge people hundreds of dollars for images that can be grabbed for free on the internet seems to be quite a scam. The fact that judges and the law allows this is crazy. People should get a warning or some notice. Even the Nigerian email scams give you some clue that by saying they are from Nigeria. It does not make sense for me to hire an attorney. Do they take payment plans?

  3. I received a letter from them because I used a picture I found online that they say belongs to AGence France Presse. I immediately removed the photo but I have not answered PicRights email. Was it a mistake to remove the photo because now they know I saw the email they sent.

  4. CTownCH – I did the same thing and took the pic down immediately. I have received another email and a letter that arrived from Wichita, KS (still PicRights) since then. Trying to decide next steps…keep ignoring or negotiate. I’m a small business and no one even saw the blog post I accidentally used the AFP pic on. What are you going to do?

  5. I have read comments on other sites that lead me to think that Agence France Presse does not pursue blogs unless they are a business or “commercial”. Was your blog personal or commercial? If the latter, you may want to let PicRights know.

  6. The position I am at is if you wait long enough they will send you to Higbee(Law Firm) and the link PicRights (Geoff Beal) will then show a legal surcharge of $700+. I was able to talk them down from $158 to $148, which made it seem suspect that they can do that so I never answered them after demanding documentation which looks like someone just scanned a signature from AFP and put it on the forms. I just received something in the mail from Higbee, but have not opened it.

    1. I am confused. What was $700 and what was $148? I imagine the amount Higbee that Higbee is asking is significantly more. I am very curious to hear what the new demand amount is.

  7. How do you say PicRights is not a scam when they are asking me to pay $950 for an image that I could have paid $50 to use? That seems like the definition of a scam. BTW, this is the second time PicRights has tried to hit me up in 3 years.

  8. Like the article said, one can dislike their practice of demanding that someone pay more for a picture after they get caught using it without a license, but charging more when someone does it wrong is a common practice in many industries, and the courts encourage it. The definition of a scam is a “dishonest scheme or fraud.” If you have evidence of them doing anything dishonest or fraudulent, we would love to see it.

    What happened the first time they hit you up?

  9. It seems like fraud to me (even if not provably so) because the request for compensation is implying that the courts would likely award a higher amount in damages, when in most cases there are no actual damages to the copyright holder, no profits realized by the infringer, and the work is not registered with the US Copyright Office and thus not eligible for statutory damages.

    https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/copyright-infringement-how-damages-determined.html

  10. @Katie. There are always some damages if the copyright holder charges for a license and the user does not pay for the license, because at a minimum, the copyright holder lost out of payment. The conflict usually comes down to the amount of damages, and, as you pointed out, whether or not statutory damages are available. Sometimes unregistered photos can be eligible for statutory damages under section 1202 if the user changes or removes authorship information. The user’s lack of profits may help the user as it might make it less likely that PicRights will want to take the claim to court.

  11. My understanding was that images lifted from the web could be used for educational purposes, i.e., an academic using the image in a lecture or in a lecture given for a non-profit organization. Is this not true?

  12. While the law does allow some uses for educational purposes under Fair Use, it is not as simple as being able to “lift” any image and attach it to something educational. The image must be the subject of the education, not simply illustrative of it. Simply put, if any other photo of the subject would have worked, it is probably not fair use and probably a violation of US copyright law.

  13. Picrights is claiming I need to pay $6900 for photos I used in a news brief for commentary, back in 2016, and those pics were made invisible for over 2 years so do not even appear on the siteI Can I just reply to them saying those pics were originally used for Fair Use and were taken down over 2 years ago and I never made any money from my news brief?

    1. Yes, you can claim fair use, but fair use is much narrower than it sounds. If you think the use is fair use because it is news reporting, the photos themselves (not the action in the photo) must be news. Regardless, PicRights might not know the difference. They are not a law firm.

  14. I am in the same boat as folks above. The last letter I received gave me 2 weeks to respond or they would escalate to an attorney. Again, it is France Presse. They want $700 and I am a small start-up business with a weekly blog that is mostly personal, just to drive traffic to the business website. $700 is a lot of advertising money for me and funds I don’t have as the business is still a TAX DEDUCTION and in NO WAY profitable. Not sure what to do but based on what I am reading here, I guess I had better negotiate it down as best I can? So frustrating and it really does feel like a scam…

  15. Pic Rights are contacting me regarding an image of my father I had posted on my blog when he and his cast mates won an Emmy several years ago. He would be furious to know that anyone is trying to make money off of an image of him. There’s been no license given to Pic Rights by the subjects in the image. Surely a red carpet shot is expected to be used for editorial?

    1. Yes, a photo on the Red Carpet is expected to be used for editorial. However, that does not mean the photographer does not need to be compensated for using the photo or that it cannot be copyrighted. You might have a problem on your hands. Congrats to your father, he sounds cool. 🙂

  16. Yes, you can claim fair use, but fair use is much narrower than it sounds. If you think the use is fair use because it is news reporting, the photos themselves (not the action in the photo) must be news. Regardless, PicRights might not know the difference. They are not a law firm.

  17. @Petra Yes, you can claim fair use, but fair use is much narrower than it sounds. If you think the use is fair use because it is news reporting, the photos themselves (not the action in the photo) must be news. Regardless, PicRights might not know the difference. They are not a law firm.

  18. i had a letter last year, unknown to me of any infringement, was a picture sent in 2007
    we took picture down immediately
    we now have a letter from a so called solicitor
    demanding £1500
    we bough picture from getty recently for £150
    this is extort money over the actual value
    what should i do

    1. Options might include:
      1. Make them an offer to settle (safe, small cost)
      2. Ignore them and hope they go away (some risk, could go well or become very costly)
      3. Hire your own solicitor to properly advise you on the matter (safe, but will get costly)

    1. PicRights is not a law firm or the copyright holder. So don’t expect them to sue you. That problem might arise if the matter gets escalated by the copyright holder to a law firm. Is your business in the US?

  19. Yes. Higbee & Associates sues people. My guess is that they do not sue everyone because many people do not have assets (house, car, money in bank, etc) that make them worth suing. However, court records and sites like this give some insight on who they sue.

    https://www.complaintsboard.com/higbee-associates-sued-for-copyright-case-when-i-was-willing-to-settle-mean-wasteful-c797630#c2008947

    You can also see a fairly current list at

    https://copyright-demand-letter.com/higbee-associates-copyright/

  20. I am from a small non-profit organization. In 2017 we put on our website a photo that we found on Google, now picright is saying we need to pay them $455 for the infringing use. I’ve read several articles about this issue, looks like negotiation is our best bet. However, English is not my first language and I am totally inexperienced with this kind of negotiation.
    Can anyone please share me with how the negotiation email should be composed? Does stating that we don’t have much assets help? We are a start-up, I estimate our net worth to be below $5,000!

    Besides, when we used the photo, which was a picture of a politician, we made some modifications, that is, we cut the photo in half and combine it with a picture of another politician. Is this a good point that we should pay less or even zero?

  21. I too am being chased by Higbee. I have a very small retail training/management consulting practice (working with mom & pop retail stores).
    I also present seminars – unpaid – for small business owners in closed environments. I got a PicRights notice in November about 4 different images (Agent France Presse) that were used in PowerPoint presentations between 2015 and 2017. Handouts from the presentations were made available as PDF’s on my website for seminar attendees (no more than 20 people each time). So, on my website, each image was in a picture of a slide that was used in a non-commercial, educational presentation – once!
    PicRights demanded payment of $3000. I ignored it till the 3rd letter. I replied with an explanation – and got a not-very-friendly answer from Higbee that included the suggestion that I ‘make an offer’. A friend had his copyright attorney look things over and after a few exchanges, the attorney wrote a letter offering $750 to make it go away. They rejected the offer and got very threatening. They said they were ‘authorized to reduce’ the ask amount to $5500! (it was $3000 to start).
    I am really nervous about this. If I could afford to retain the attorney, I could afford to pay the original $3000 ask. Neither is realistic. I have no idea what to do.

  22. @VINCENK. It would probably be best to start by letting them know you have limited financial resources and that you removed the image. Then make an offer that gives you some room to increase it.

    @Kate P. I am confused. How did it go from $3,000 to $5,500? No lawyer wants to sue someone who does not have the ability to pay.

  23. We are a small business being chased by Picrights, AFP too. Our web developer used a picture from another website where it was free for use. And about six months later we received letter from Picrights demanding $900. We explained the case with receiving their first letter, requested documentation with the second letter’s receipt. They did not provide the breakdown of how they arrived at the amount of compensation. With the third letter they sent our file to their law firm and now we have been contacted by their lawyer to pay an increased amount of $2500.
    Our website is yet not complete and has not been used for business ever. The picture in question was used as a thumbnail – wasn’t of a product or something that would bring value to our products. Interestingly, the image has been taken down from the website where our developer found it. A reverse image search a couple months back showed use of this picture on multiple websites, mainly in the middle east. All of them seem to have vanished now.

    1. This is a good example of why you need to make sure the site that says the image is free is a reputable site. There are countless sites on the internet that purport to give free images when they have no rights to give. Many of those sites are fly-by-night, which probably explains why you can no longer find them. See our forum section for questions and answers on how to respond to PicRights copyright letters.

  24. I have a blog on my site and picright sent me something a few months about an image saying they want 500 for the use of the image. I ignored it and now its been escalated to Higbee. Now they are asking for 1000. I live in Toronto and the law firm is in Toronto too. At first, I thought this was a waste of time. I am starting to think this might be a legit claim. I have an internet guy that does all blogs and rips the pictures from the internet. I know that is not an excuse. My business is for-profit and theoretically, I guess I have profited from that picture. It’s also arguable that it has brought me no profit. Besides the point. The picture is absolutely meaningless and was just a random picture so the potency of the picture has no bearing. All and all if the picture is copy written and I used it, then I guess I am guilty. I am now considering just to pay it and move on and never use pictures again. To get legit permission for a picture is probably time-consuming and I would think a simple email would not suffice. Thank you for your blog post this has been helpful.

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