Copyright infringement of photographs is anything but uncommon in this Internet age, as countless images are published all across the web every day without the owners’ consent. The problem is so widespread that virtually everyone gets away with it. The ones that don’t, however, are occasionally in for a good deal of pain.
Case in point: the viral-content aggregation site BuzzFeed is currently being sued for $1.3 million by a photo agency after publishing nine — that’s right, nine — of the agency’s photographs of celebrities.
The agency, Florida-based Mavrix Photo, claims that BuzzFeed intentionally misused the photos in an effort to drive more traffic to its website. Knowing how BuzzFeed works, this is more than likely true.
What’s crazy, though, are the figures being tossed around. Copyright law gives owners the right to damages of up to $150,000 per infringement. For 9 images, this total comes out to $1.35 million buckeroos.
GigaOM writes that this aspect of copyright law puts a dangerous weapon in the hands of people looking to make a quick buck:
[...] Mavrix appears to be in the business of copyright trolling [see here] — scouring the internet for unauthorized use of its images and threatening anyone who uses them with million dollar lawsuits. This practice has recently degenerated into lawyers recruiting other lawyers to hunt down a hit list of alleged infringers and then share the bounty.
[The $150K penalty] penalty has its place as a nuclear option of sorts to stop or deter serial infringers. Unfortunately, some image owners are brandishing the nuclear option against everyone — from small blogs to careless interns (who may have been responsible for the BuzzFeed shots) – without taking any account of the actual harm done by the copyright infringement. Instead of a simple request to take the image down (which most people would comply with), we get a legal train wreck.
They suggest that copyright law should be rewritten to include some kind of “small claims court for copyright”, with the punishments only going “nuclear” when the accused are repeat offenders.