Tough Call: The copyright conundrum

A photo that inadvertently made it onto your website has turned into a choice between a $3,000 payoff or a copyright lawsuit. What would you do?

As the owner of an LBM company with nearly 100 years of serving its market, you and your business have seen a lot of changes and overcome a lot of challenges.

Typically, when there’s been a disagreement with a vendor or customer, you’re able to work it through with a solution that all can live with. You’ve recently encountered someone whom you strongly disagree with—and you’re not sure how to proceed.

Here’s the situation: though you don’t do any e-commerce yet, you’re a strong believer in having a solid web presence for your company. Since you and your team are experts in building materials, not websites, you’ve secured the services of a well-respected and very able web developer. Last summer, after months of work, your company unveiled a new website packed with information about your company, your products, your services, and more. The response from existing customers was overwhelmingly positive (“I’ve been buying from you for years, and I just learned about some of the services you offer from your website!”). And, to your delight, the new site also introduced a new set of customers to your store (“I’d driven by and seen your sign, but had no idea what your company does. As long as your prices are reasonable, you’re my new lumberyard!”).

- Sponsor -

The new site also resulted in an email from a photographer claiming that you used one of his photos without permission. After looking into it, he was right: there was a photo of your city that he took, and that somehow ended up on your site. Your web developer and your people all know the importance of copyrights, and you learned that image was never supposed to go live—it was intended only as a temporary placeholder. However, that image was never replaced.

You instructed your team to immediately take the image down from your site, and you apologized to the photographer, explaining what happened. “The fact remains  that you used my copyrighted image without permission,” he responded. “And I need to be compensated for my work.”

“Of course you do, I wouldn’t expect you to work for free,” you replied. Since you’d recently paid a local professional photographer $500 to do a half-day photo shoot at your yard, and since you wanted to make things right, you offered what you thought was a very generous $500 for that one image. He countered with a demand for $3,000. For one image.

When you responded that you didn’t think that was reasonable, he replied that you violated his copyright, and from past experience, he knew exactly how much he could demand. When you talked with your attorney, he agreed that $3,000 seemed like extortion, and mapped out a plan to fight it. He also cautioned that if it does go to court, attorney fees alone would likely cost more than $3,000.

While you believe that people must be paid a fair price for their work, you believe that this photographer is not being reasonable. You don’t want to give in to what you see as extortion, but you’re not sure you have the appetite for a copyright lawsuit. What would you do?

  • IGNORE IT. In your view, you hurt no one. You took the photo down immediately, offered him a very generous $500, and he refused. Ignore it, and see if he goes away.
  • PAY $500. Send him a check for $500, along with a letter stating that this is what you pay for a half day with a pro photographer, so you think it’s more than fair for his one.
  • PAY THE $3,000. It’s not right, but he’s got you right where he wants The quickest, and possibly least expensive, way to make this problem go away is to pay. Hold your nose and write the check.
  • GO TO COURT. It may cost less to settle, but sometimes you have to stand firm. This is one of those times. If he thinks he can convince a copyright court that one picture is worth $3,000, you’re ready to fight.

What would you do?

Something else?

If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to James@LBMJournal.com. If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.

Stay Updated

Get our email newsletter with LBM industry trends, data, new products, and best practices.