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