Copyright Protection Is a Good Thing
My company, Vermont Woods Studios works with Vermont craftspeople to market and sell their furniture online and at Stonehurst, our new gallery and showroom in Vernon, VT. We put a lot of time and resources into creating our fine furniture website. It’s where we publish original photos, artwork, opinions and ideas. On the bottom of every page is a note indicating that all of our content is copyrighted (© 2013 Vermont Woods Studios – All rights reserved). Still, we do find content gets taken or imitated by competitors from time to time (here’s an example). It’s frustrating. That’s one reason we are careful to avoid violating someone else’s copyright. So I was pretty unsettled when…
Saturday the Windham County Sheriff Came to My House & Served me a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
Here’s why I’m being sued: In July, 2010 a student who was working with us wrote a blog post about the fact that we had just delivered a handmade cherry dining set to a customer in Hawaii. We were excited to see our company growing and placing Vermont made products so far away from home! A customer photo of the furniture was included in the post along with a small photo (not much bigger than a postage stamp) of Hawaii.
It turns out the Hawaii photo was taken by Vincent K Tylor VKT of Kauai Photo Tours. It was obtained from one of hundreds of websites that advertise it as a free photo download. There was no copyright information on it but it was invisibly tagged (see Extortion LetterInfo ELI blog, ELI discussion and VKT email chain) by VKT.
VKT Demand Letter #1 Arrives in May, 2012
On May 5, 2012 I received a letter from Carolyn Wright and Cindy Hsu at PhotoAttorney.com demanding $9500 for use of the photo. If I refused to pay up within 10 days, they said VKT might sue me for $150,000. I immediately took the photo down and called VKT. He refused to talk to me, insisting that all correspondence go through PhotoAttorney.com. I called and emailed PhotoAttorney.com several times trying to reach a fair settlement. We negotiated for months and eventually they went away.
VKT Demand Letter #2 Arrives in April, 2014
Next time I heard from VKT and Hawaiian Photo Tours was several weeks ago April 25, 2014. I received a letter from Woolf Gafni & Fowler attorneys demanding $12,000 as their “final offer”. The letter contained inaccuracies. I responded via email the same day by telling the sender (Adam Gafni) I intended to file a complaint about him to Vermont’s Attorney General’s office. I then called Adam, discussed the facts and explained that we are a small company that cannot afford a $12,000 fee nor did I think it appropriate. I asked him to drop the lawsuit. He told me to make him an offer to settle and I said I’d been advised not to settle. At that point, he accused me of extortion, said “see you in court – have a nice day – click!” VKT filed a $150,000 lawsuit shortly thereafter. Now it appears he’s going for $600,000.
Incredibly, in the lawsuit VKT requests leave of court to amend the complaint so he can also sue unknown John Does who may have read the blog post and entered into a “conspiracy” to profit from the image. He filed the lawsuit in CA which is home to Typepad (the blog software we were using) citing that “critical evidence pertaining to who, when and in what quantity the image was viewed and downloaded is located” in CA. I guess that means he wants to subpoena Typepad for records identifying who has read this blog post. Then he wants to investigate them for conspiracy.
How Many Others Have Received Similar Demands?
- Google “vincent k tylor”
- A reverse image search of the photo (“hanauma bay”) shows about 788 sites that offer free downloads of it, such as:
- Aloha Plastic Surgery received a demand letter and they counter sued. Although the results of the lawsuit are confidential, word on the street is they were happy with the outcome.
What’s Next for Vermont Woods Studios?
Unfortunately I guess we’re going to court– the last thing on earth any small business can afford to do. But hopefully we won’t be battling it alone. An article by Timothy B Lee in the Washington Post, How Vermont could save the nation from patent trolls tells of how Vermont has emerged as a “hotbed of anti-troll activism”. It seems our Attorney General (William Sorrell) has teemed up with our governor, senators and legislators to enact legislation to protect our citizens and businesses from trolls who use extortion as a business model. I’ll be appealing to all of them for help in fighting trolls. I hope common sense will prevail but you never know. The whole situation is scary.
How You Can Avoid Copyright Issues
If you download anything from the Internet, publish online or even use social media (a blog, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook) read this article for tips and advice on How to Avoid Falling Prey to Copyright Trolls.
If it’s too late and you’ve already been unfairly accused of copyright infringement, don’t panic. It can happen to anyone and you are not alone. There is great camaraderie among victims and their advocates. Contact your senators, congresspeople and attorney general and ask for their help. Contact an attorney (asap) who specializes in fighting copyright trolls. I recommend Oscar Michelen. Also check out these grass roots communities for detailed news and information:
Need to Learn More?
- Study Guide for Copyright Extortion Victims
- Proposed changes to Copyright Laws
- Slaying the Troll
- Lawsuit against first U.S. copyright trolls for extortion ends in victory
- How to Avoid Falling Prey to Copyright Trolls
- Judge, Siding With Accused Pirate, Orders ‘Copyright Troll’ to Pay Up
What Do You Think?
Have any thoughts or advice? Or a similar experience to share? Please comment in the section below or email me at Peggy@VermontWoodsStudios.com.
Follow up post on July 15, 2014.
This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.