copyright, digital rights, law, photography

They stole an image of my son and just had to pay $4000

I seems like I’ve done a bad job selecting words for my headline. Some people think that I am complaining because I “just” got $4000. I’m not complaining. It’s a not-so-successful formulation to say that this happened recently. Or like one of the commenters over at Reddit said:

“I assume that “just” refers to time. Meaning they only now, a short while ago, had to pay $4000.”

About a year ago I was surprised when I saw an image of my son in an ad for a shop called “Vinderen Elektriske”, selling electronics.

I immediately contacted the editor of the magazine in question, “Vinderen Magasinet”. She directed me to the advertiser and the designer behind the ad. I contacted the designer. She had found the image “on the internet” and reacted like I was rude and angry without any reason when I told her that she couldn’t use the image without my permission. I was obviously talking to a professional designer with absolutely no knowledge of intellectual property laws.

The use of my image is a very clear violation of several paragraphs in those laws. Both because I own the rights to the image and because they need permission from the easily recognizable person in the image.

So I called the manager of the shop responsible for the ad. He was not very friendly either and simply directed me to their lawyer. Probably in hope of me simply forgetting about it because I didn’t want to fight their lawyer.

Unfortunately for them this simply pissed me off. Seriously. I am not too difficult when it comes to people wanting to use my images. An apology and a suggestion for some kind of compensation would have been okay. But now I just went from a minor irritation to pure anger.

Fortunately I am pretty well connected and a couple of emails later I am in contact with the utterly talented Mr. Halvor Manshaus. You know, Jon Lech Johansen aka DVD-Jon’s lawyer. A lawyer you don’t want on your neck when discussing digital rights.

But he’s not cheap. Not even after a couple of beer and a very interesting discussion about technology and new media… And with this incident I don’t know if I’ll get any kind of economic compensation in the end, so I have to put aside thousands of dollars and prepare to cover the expenses if I lose.

Most people would probably just give up. That’s why this story is important.

Some weeks later I am fortunate enough to meet Mr. Jon Bing at a conference where we both where speaking. Jon Bing is a Norwegian writer and law professor at the Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law. I tell him about the case. He tells me that the economic compensations people get in cases like these very often are pretty low. But he also says that the case is somewhat important and that I should go through with it to state an example. I should do my duty.

Okay. This would cost me time and money, but I’m pissed, the professor tells me I should do it and Halvor Manshaus is at my service.

I instruct Mr. Manshaus to go on and send a proposal to the lawyer that Vinderen Elektriske was using. He proposes a compensation of about $8000 and make it clear that they have violated Norwegian law of intellectual property. He also asks for documentation on exactly where they used the image.

After a while they reply that this is out of proportions and that they won’t pay more than something like $1000,- No apology and no documentation on the usage.

I don’t accept this. Mr. Manshaus sends another letter. This time with even more references to Norwegian law and a statement about the fact that I am willing to go on and charge them for violation of intellectual property law.

They fail to answer on time and we need to send a reminder with yet another letter. In the next letter they propose something close to $4000,- as long as I prove that it’s my son in the image(!) That’s not very difficult to prove. Because I don’t have the time and money to push this further I accept the $4000,- It’s enough to cover my expenses and leave some dollars that I will put away for my son.

Still, Vinderen Elektriske never gave me proper documentation on where they used the image. They never gave me any form of apology.

But at least it states an example. And I hope the designer now have learned that she can’t just use whatever she finds through Google Images and I hope Vinderen Elektriske are more careful the next time they put together an ad.

And there is another important lesson to be learned here. The one about communication and marketing. In about 20 seconds the owner of Vinderen Elektriske could have avoided:
- $4000,- in compensation to me
- Expenses for his own lawyer
- Bad publicity

How? Instead of answering

“We found the image on the internet. Talk to our lawyer”

He could have said something like

“Oh. I’m so sorry. Our designer must have made a mistake. We really liked your image. How can we fix this? Of course you should have some kind of compensation. Maybe you would give our shop a visit and pick a Nintendo Wii and some games for your son?”

Unfortunately they selected the other option. Pissing me off. Making sure I now hate really dislike Vinderen Elektriske. Making sure my family, most of my readers and huge amounts of people around the different forums where this story has been shared also hate dislike them.


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Did a couple of edits that I have moved down into the comments.