Content, images, even icons used on your web site and web applications can be the source of legal problems – if you are not careful. And I am not just talking to the scofflaws.
There is a growing business paradigm, probably started by the Digital Media Copyright Act (DMCA) of 2000, where companies seed the market with content that looks free and unencumbered, and then go back and threaten to sue people or companies who use that content, for large sums of money. Lawsuits do result, but in most cases the “Copyright Trolls” are looking to profit off of quick settlements.
- The Dash Poem which has made it around the internet a number of times through emails (yes you can be guilty of copyright infringement for forwarding an email with content you did not know was covered by copyright) and appears on a large number of bereavement sites has been the subject of copyright trolling. Check out April Brown’s blog or this radio broadcast about the subject.
- For years companies like P2P BitTorrent, Righthaven, and Getty Images and the law firms they drag with them have been pursuing individuals and small companies for large sums of money for what they claim is copyright infringement. In most cases, the small companies and individuals had no idea the images were even covered by copyright. They contain no watermarks or other information identifying themselves as copyright material. In many cases, it looks like these companies are actually seeding the market to encourage people to use their images, so they can pursue them for large settlements. Often, the material in question shows up when doing internet searches for free images. Don’t kid yourself, it is easy to get trapped. Use only images, icons and the like that you’ve taken or that you can readily produce a license for. It is not a slight probability that you might be caught. It is a technological certainty with the robot software these companies employ.
- For a little different twist on a similar issue, here is a heartwarming story of a guy who makes his living publishing comics on the internet. Another web site takes and publishes his comics without permission. When he calls them on it publicly, they threaten to sue for $20,000 for defamation. Luckily, this story might have a happy ending.