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Freelancers accuse image giants of bullying

Freelancers have been sent ‘threatening’ and ‘extortionate’ demands for allegedly using pictures on their websites from Corbis and Getty images without permission.

Lawyers for the two libraries have sent dozens of invoices to the freelancers, who claim they bought their images or paid a developer to build a site who provided them.

One of the invoice recipients is Bryan Weir, a freelance web designer, who claims he received a £2,400 demand from Corbis for using a small shopping cart icon they own.

In an online discussion this week, Mr Weir accused the company’s approach to copyright infringement as being “based on intimidation and threats.”

Speaking to the Financial Times, Corbis acknowledged that some of the letters it sent could have come across as heavy-handed to British business owners.

“We are trying to get people’s attention here,” Dan Perlet, director of communication for Corbis’ New York division, told the paper.

He added that Corbis was “definitely not trying to be intimidating” and, like Getty Images, reportedly said they had a duty to protect the copyright of the photographers of the contested pictures.

Weir and other small business owners writing on the FSB’s forum don’t seem to be disputing the rights of creators to their copyright, not least because their businesses also thrive on the value of IP.

Yet he argued that Corbis’ demand that he pay them £2,400 for the use of one of their icons, said to measure one inch square, “smacks of legalised extortion.”

His posting on the row adds that, as far as public records show, there has not been a single case of Cobra or Getty pursuing an invoice recipient in court since the demands started two years ago.

Under UK copyright law, where a “defendant did not know, and had no reason to believe” they were breaching copyright “the plaintiff is not entitled to damages against him”.

However affected freelancers would be unwise to substitute a reading of clause 97 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or any other of its clauses, with professional, tailored legal advice.

Owners of websites should also note that they will be responsible, not the third-party who designed it, for any claim of unauthorised use of images and other copyrighted material, including logos.

“Unfortunately it is not uncommon for offshore designers, and it must be said, UK web designers, to use unauthorised images,” Weir warned from his site, Toucher Web Design.

“When this happens the owner of the website is responsible, not the web designer. So, if you are using a web designer, offshore or local, you should insist on a written guarantee that any images they supply are legally obtained.”

Sep 30, 2008

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