Is Copytrack A Scam?

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 skeptical 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 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 is yes, but not just yet. You need to look at your situation. How big is your website? Are you earning a lot of money from your website and it does it get a large amount of traffic? It is going to be very hard for you to negotiate if it is. Your traffic statistics are publicly estimated via Alexa, quite accurately at times. If you are getting 500k visitors per month, you should be able to afford this. Does this mean you should pay?

Well, even though these emails seem like extortion, they are legally valid. You will need to respond. 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.

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.

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.

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 get that persons back up. Negotiation is optional after all. They will more than likely be understanding, but only if you are respectful. They have no legal obligation. 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.

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.

10 comments

  1. For me, it’s obvious: it’s a scam. The picture I used was published for reuse (we are talking about a 150×150 pixel mugshot image). This is the 10th time someone calls and sends letters and it’s really annoying. I recommend not to answer.

  2. What happens if you get a complaint of infringement from Copytrack when you just happen to be the rightful owner or the IPR? Will they supply details for the other party?

    1. Yes, they will provide you the information of the copyright holder they have for this image. You may find someone else has claimed your IPR as their own which might be a handy win for you

  3. It’s absolutely not a scam. I use them all the time and have successfully recovered a lot of money from images stolen from me. If you live in a country where the legal system is not robust for IP infringements then you might get away with it. However if you live in a country with a good legal system, Copytrack will pursue you and almost certainly will win. The advice in this article is very good. Don’t ignore them, negotiate. If you are a small blog then it’s unlikely you will have to pay a huge amount. If you are a commercial business, and have stolen a photographer’s images, then expect to pay for them. Moral of the story, unless otherwise stated, all images on the Internet are protected under copyright law and a lot of photographers now have the tools to fight back.

  4. “Extortion is not illegal”
    – That sentence, from the article above, pretty much sums up the article as a whole. Garbage.

    Yes, extortion in nearly all of its manifestations is – indeed – illegal. Of course that is not to say what Copytrak does in extortion, but to the next point …

    “So the big question you will be asking is, should I pay them? The answer is yes, but not just yet.”
    – Actually, the answer is no. Never pay them. Never respond to them. If you are just a regular blogger who accidentally used an image on a webpage – and that’s it – ignore the letters. They will NOT come after you in court because they will know the actual damages they could win would pale in the costs associated with taking you to court. (which they would have to do in your home country. Copytrak is in Germany.) Unless you directly profited from the image (i.e. sold it directly) then damages/costs awarded would be pittance.

    Just quietly remove the image. That’s all you need to do. Don’t even respond to them. They’ll send a bunch more messages, probably say they’ve outsourced the “debt” to a company in your country. And then they’ll just stop when its clear they cannot threaten a response from you.

    Speaking from experience.

    1. Hey man, im not a lawyer. I am just a blogger who got caught using an image by copytrack and I am trying to help others out as the experience had me quite stressed and worried. There is no need to be such a dick to make yourself feel smart. Just be nice and try to help others out instead of being aggressive.

  5. What if the image was on your college portfolio that literally you have abandoned for like 5 years!? I gave up on design and just have it sitting there and literally it gets no traffic and I make no money at all on this…I ignored the first email but now I’m getting stressed about it….I took the project down

    1. There may be some time limits on this depending on where you live but i think the idea is, if you broke the law 5 years ago, you still broke the law. I know it seems weird to say it like this when you simply published an image somewhere but this is how serious copytrack take the matter. Deleting the offending image should always be the first thing you do.

  6. So my question is l don’t use any images l don’t pay for and l don’t have a website ? So how do l know what image they think l have used incorrectly. I don’t want to engage with them yet for fear of extortion . Surely if they are asking for money they need to show proof or what they are accusing you of ?

    1. Their initial email should provide proof. A URL or some source of the infringement. If they can’t provde you illegally used your image, then you owe them nothing.

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