Vincent K Tylor Lawsuit | Copyright | Trolls

An Honest Mistake

Recently I was sued for $600,000 by Vincent K Tylor VKT, a professional photographer based in Hawaii.  Four years ago a student working for me included one of VKT’s photos in this blog post.​  The photo was obtained from a free photo website.  I now know (and want you to know) that even if an image has a big “Free Download” button on it (VKT’s image was and still is on hundreds of free-download websites with no watermark or copyright identification on it), it may not be available for use without written permission.

The Sanctity of Copyright

The sanctity of copyright is of personal importance to me.  We’ve had people infringe on original work from our Vermont Woods Studios website.  A few years ago I blogged about someone who I believe is trying to trick people into buying his furniture by making his logo and website look like mine.   So I understand how it is to feel someone has stolen your work and I totally support a content creator’s right to protect and enforce his/her copyrights.  When I received notice from Vincent K Tylor about the alleged infringement I immediately took down the photo and called him to apologize, explain and make restitution.  He would not talk to me.

$600,000 For A “Free” Photo The Size Of A Postage Stamp

Actually $600,000 was just the start.  In his lawsuit against me Vincent K Tylor also sued unknown people (“John Does”) who allegedly entered into a “conspiracy” to “commit wrongful acts” related to his photo. That part of the lawsuit looks like it was copied and pasted from another case.  But regardless of the quality or legitimacy of the lawsuit, the accusations were serious.  They threatened the very survival of my small business and created a living nightmare for me. I was forced to retain attorneys and shift my attention from running a business to worrying about copyright litigation.

Copyright Trolling: A New Industry

Most copyright owners are legitimate and fair-minded, but there are a few who have learned to abuse the system.  Known as Copyright Trolls, they have shifted their business plans from creation to litigation.

Trolling refers to the way they install invisible digital tracking tags on their works and then cause or allow them to proliferate on hundreds of “free download” websites.  People use the photos (or poems, drawings, stories, etc.) thinking they’re free and then receive an extortion letter, demanding thousands of dollars and the threat of a lawsuit.  For a troll who does not visibly mark his/her work with copyright ID, the viral nature of the Internet insures a steady stream of innocent infringements for many years.  It’s like a perpetual annuity.

Innocent Infringement

I’m not a lawyer and I don’t claim to understand the details of our country’s complex copyright laws.  However, I do know that US copyright law addresses “innocent infringement” (17 U.S. Code § 405).  In many cases the courts have handed down $0 to $200 penalties for this, not $150,000 or $600,000 as threatened in the extortion letters I received from Vincent Tylor.  Furthermore, I personally have seen no cases where innocent infringement involved paying court costs for a copyright troll (another threat included in the extortion letters I received).

“Public Domain” & “Creative Commons” Confusion

Since initial publication of this post, a number of people have told me that photos like this Vincent K Tylor image have proliferated so far and wide on the Internet without any type of visible ownership identification that they are now in the “public domain”.  Others say that VKT images can be found on numerous “creative commons” sites where they have no copyright restrictions.  So am I guilty of copyright infringement or not?  Share your opinion with me on Facebook or in the comments section below.

Could This Happen To You?

If you download anything from the Internet, publish online or even use social media (a blog, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook) you may look like fair game to a copyright troll.  Check out this article by Stefan Winkler, on (Nov 13, 2012), How to Avoid Falling Prey to Copyright Trolls for tips on copyright compliance.

What to Do if It’s Too Late

Nobody’s perfect so if you’ve made an honest mistake and you’ve received a threatening extortion letter from a copyright troll, don’t think you have to just write a big check (or as trolls are only too quick to suggest– have your insurance company write one).   The first thing to do is take the infringement down.  Do NOT reply to your troll or his/her attorney while you are still in shock.  Instead, take a deep breath and do some research on your troll.  Personally, I found ELI to provide a wealth of useful information.  There are many imperfectly wonderful people at ELI who have deep respect for copyright but– trolls?  Not so much.  Intelligent discussion, great camaraderie, spirited debate and (occasionally irreverent) humor make the ELI forum a valuable resource for troll victims. Take a couple days to scour through the ELI postings and these related websites:

Defend Yourself

Once you’ve done your homework and read through the free resources available online, you’ll realize that you’re probably going to have to spend some money to defend yourself.  In my case, I started with a $60 consult with ELI founder Matthew Chan which was worth every penny.  Even so, I needed to hire a lawyer.  If you’re under attack, be sure to find an attorney whose specialty is copyright extortionist defense.  ELI attorney Oscar Michelen has an impressive track record in the area and there are a few other attorneys as well.  Try to find an attorney who’s working on cases against your troll so you’ll know the troll’s background, strategy and tactics from the start.

Check the Integrity of The Troll’s Attorney and Law Firm

Matthew Chan and other ELI members did some brilliant detective work on VKT and his attorney Adam Gafni of Woolf, Gafni & Fowler LLP.  After they posted on ELI that Gafni’s firm was not found as a legally registered US corporation, Gafni and VKT dismissed their lawsuit against me.  The firm took down their website and changed their name to Woolf, Gafni & Cirlin.

Now VKT has hired a couple new attorneys (J. Stephen Street, aka James Stephen Street and Dane Kristofer Anderson) who have filed a new lawsuit against me in the federal district of Hawaii.

Judges and Trolls

Trolls have not been looked upon favorably by the courts (think: extortion, entrapment, shakedown, slander, defamation of character, harassment, etc). What judge is amused by frivolous lawsuits?  Trolls know this so their endgame is not, as they say to “see you in court”.  It’s a large settlement because they know you are probably in a much better position to make your case to a judge than they are!  ELI will help you to understand troll tactics and deal with your particular situation cost-effectively.

Join the Troll Patrol

In Vermont we’re winning a slightly different troll battle. An article by Timothy B Lee in the Washington Post (Aug 1, 2013), How Vermont Could Save the Nation from Patent Trolls tells of how Vermont has emerged as a “hotbed of anti-troll activism”.  Our Attorney General has teamed up with our governor, senators and legislators to enact legislation to protect us from patent trolls.  I’ve appealed to them to follow suit on copyright trolls as well.  I’ve also submitted formal complaints against VKT and his attorney Adam Gafni (Woolf, Gafni & Fowler LLP) to Attorneys General and state bar and professional associations. I’m asking other victims to do the same.  Get educated, join ELI and fight back on behalf of yourself, other victims and content creators who are fighting legitimate copyright battles.

Have you had experience with copyright trolls?  Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below or on Twitter .

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.

visit us

Our beautiful fine furniture and Vermont made home decor showroom is open 9-6 on Saturday and 12-5 on Sunday. If you’ve been dreaming about making the trip to visit us and see our Vermont handcrafted furniture up close, we’d love to have you here this weekend! The weather in Vermont is supposed to be great, the showroom is full of great furniture pieces, and we’re sure it’ll be worth the trip.

Bring a picnic lunch and walk around our 100+ acre property. Enjoy the natural beauty of the trees while you shop for wood furniture that comes from well managed forests just like the one in our backyard!

To see what furniture we have available ahead of time, check out our selection of ‘showroom furniture.’

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.

Independence Day Furniture Sales

Searching for Independence Day Furniture Sales this year?

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So what’s on Sale?

From July 1st to July 7th, our entire store is on sale besides our Copeland, Polywood, Artisan, Barnwood and Clearance collections. You have the great opportunity to save 20% on:

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 All of our furniture is traditionally handcrafted in the United States by highly skilled craftspeople, and is available in Cherry, Walnut, Maple and Oak. Our 4th of July furniture sale is one of our best and biggest sales of the year, so don’t miss out on this opportunity to save on those pieces you’ve been daydreaming about.

*Excludes Copeland, Polywood, and Artisan pieces.

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.

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. 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 ExtortionLetterInfo ELI blogELI 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 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 I called and emailed 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 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.

Support Groups

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?

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

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.



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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.