You are likely here because you have just received an email from a company called Copytrack claiming that you have used stolen images on your website. They want you to pay damages for this. It is natural to be sceptical of this email, the internet is a bit of a wild west at times. Is this letter a legitimate threat and should you do anything about it?
The answer is yes, Copytrack are a legitimate business. They function as a reverse image search engine for people who wish to stop people from using their images illegally. Assuming the website that contains the stolen image belongs to you, you should take this email very seriously. You have broken the law and how you handle this situation is very important. Do not worry though, it isn’t as bad as it seems.
Before you do anything, go to your website and delete the offending image. Keeping the image online will not help you one single bit, no matter what you decide to do. So I would advise you to eradicate all traces of this image. Then go through your entire image library and delete anything else that has the potential to cause more copyright infringements.
Should I Pay Copytrack The Money?
The legal language used in their initial letter can sound quite scary. If you are just a regular blogger and have made a very common mistake, the fee they are asking for to pay for damages may be more than you make in an entire year. I for one was in this situation when they contacted me about it.
So the big question you will be asking is, should I pay them? The answer depends on your website. How big is your website? Are you earning a lot of money from your website and does it get a large amount of traffic? It is going to be very hard for you to negotiate if you are running a successful business. Your traffic statistics are publicly estimated via Alexa, quite accurately at times. If you are getting 500k visitors per month, you can’t play the poor card. Does this mean you should pay?
Even though these emails seem like extortion, they are legally valid. If you have a lawyer, go straight to them, but there is little they can do if you are guilty. The only silver lining here is that the copyright holder is likely some photographer struggling to make a living, just like you. There is room to negotiate if you made a genuine mistake and can’t afford the cost. If you reach out and explain that you run a hobby website, they may be willing to drop the claim. They can’t draw blood from a stone!
If you are running a big website that works as a business and has employees, you may still be able to negotiate but chances are the person on the other end will see you as a cash cow. A business can be targeted much easier. This is why being a personal blogger with a small website is likely going to result in you being fairly safe.
Should You Ignore Copytrack Emails and Letters?
When I first got an email from them, my immediate reaction was to ignore it and hope the problem would go away. I read through forums and found help online. There were many examples of people who ignored them and after several threatening legal letters, the problem went away. Will this work for you? Maybe, if you live in the US, otherwise the company is perfectly capable and in their right to take you to court. The cost of the legal fees will more than likely outweigh the cost of paying the fine but then again, the cost of them taking you to court would likely outweigh the profit they would make. If you are just running a hobby site, they will lose more money taking you to court, so you are likely going to be safe.
After doing all the research, I decided that It was in my best interest to respond to the original email before things escalated. The blog in question was earning about $50 per month before hosting and other costs were taken away. The $1500 they wanted for the image could not be afforded. I didn’t have any money of my own to pay either. But I decided that It would be best to try and work it out. I could try and pay something as a way to recognize that I have done wrong and that I am sorry for it.
Contacting them was the best decision. We were able to work out a deal that I felt was fair and everyone was happy in the end. Looking back, I feel I could have probably ignored the emails and gotten away with it. There is no way to say for sure though.
How To Respond to the Extortion Letters
Extortion is not illegal, even though it sounds very threatening at times. You can be sure that the wording of all of these emails has been read over by countless lawyers to ensure so. If you chose to respond, responding with aggression will not help.
There are two reasons why you need to be calm. First is the initial letter you received was automated. It was done so because it detected that your website was illegally hosting images that you did not have a copyright license for.
The second reason is due to the fact that your email will be the first proper email in the conversation. A human will respond to your email. You do not want to have this person angry with you. Negotiation is optional after all. They will more than likely be understanding, but only if you are respectful. They have no obligation to be nice. If you decide to be a total ass and cause distress to the person on the other end. They may decide to close communication and come after you through the courts, so it is in your best interest to be respectful here, it costs you nothing.
The best way to respond is to explain your situation. Provide some metrics that show the traffic levels your site gets. Show some AdSense reports for the domain in question. Let the person see where you are. At the end of the day, the copyright holder wants damages for the item you stole. Your current financial situation doesn’t really matter, but the copyright holder is human too. They may be willing to listen to you and lower the amount of money they had originally asked for.
From what I could find on forums and other discussions. A large number of people were successful in getting the fee reduced after some negotiation. It may be hard if you do not do this regularly, but it is your only lifeline.
How Does Copytrack Work?
I only discovered how they work after the entire, highly stressful, process was over. Knowing how their business operates may help you out a much as it would have helped me.
Anyone can sign up to Copytrack. You upload your images and they will use their framework to find websites across the web that are using your images. When they find a match they will flag it for you to confirm. If you are happy that the image belongs to you, you can issue the request. This will trigger the first email to be sent to the person who owns the website.
From here Copytrack will take over all of the work. They handle the communication and all of the legal efforts. They will then take a chunk of the license fee money depending on how the situation goes. It’s great for the copyright owner because they do no work and can potentially catch people who steal their images. The critical thing to remember is there are normally just regular people behind the camera for those images. They could be amateur photographers who are sick and tired of people using their images without people paying. It isn’t entirely personal, so try be understanding too. Being understanding can make a big difference to how the situation plays out for you.
Need More Help?
I am not a legal professional, but in the time I spent desperately crawling the internet for any help I could get on this situation, I discovered a lot. I decided to write this document as I know it would have been a lot of help to me back when I got the email. Feel free to leave a comment below if you need extra help or have some questions. I will try to answer them all to help people out.
Q: If I remove the image, does that mean I don’t have to pay anymore?
Unfortunately not. They are looking for you to pay for the damages in the past. Removing the image isn’t going to solve the situation.