Was it just last July when I received that scary looking mail from Michael Hilsheimer of Artist Defense, threatening to sue me for $1200 for using a copyright protected image on a blog post?
Seems like eons ago, but that’s just the pace of my life lately.
While building the HICKS/YOU 2020 US Presidential campaign, I had neglected thus far to tell you all how my spat with Artist Defense played out.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, that’s because the post you are reading right now is the third in a series that starts here and continues there.
I have gotten a steady in flux of emails from other people who have received letters from Artist Defense, asking me what they should do, and wondering what happened next.
First, I will tell you what I did.
I had gone back and forth on whether or not I was going to concede to save time and energy, or to rip Artist Defense apart in court.
See, they target people who are afraid, vulnerable, don’t want to get sucked into an expensive goat rodeo.
Artist Defense takes every precaution to appear professional and legitimate.
I even looked them up on Google Earth, and saw the sign outside their office complex.
The decision I made by about October of 2017, was that I would concede to their demands, because my energy was needed elsewhere.
By that point, Artist Defense Representative Michael Hilsheimer had reduced the fee to $500.
In the previous post, I mentioned that Michael at first sent me a blank .JPG file instead of an actual document to sign.
“Does this mean I won?” I jostled at the conclusion of that post.
Less than a month later, Michael sent me the actual document and a new deadline (with no explanation or acknowledgement of the blank one).
I signed the damn thing.
I did not have $500 at the time, so I borrowed it from my fiancee.
Now, my ex-fiancee, mind you.
Let me make it clear that among the many straws that broke the poor camel’s back in that relationship, one of those straws had the words, “Artist Defense Debacle” engraved on it in gold.
When I wrote the check to Artist Defense, I wrote something cheeky in the memo. Something about, “Thanks for extorting me.”
I also sent this email:
I sent a check for $500 a couple days ago, along with the signed agreement.
I hope you can see on some level, that no actual damages occurred to your client through my use of that image (I did not profit, the number of people who saw that post is laughably small), and that this process you have initiated with me is unjust and quite cruel. There would have potentially been a large number of creative solutions other than this that could have resulted in everyone being happy with the outcome.
That said, I wish you the best, but please just be aware that what you’re doing is more destructive than you may realize. And if you do realize how destructive you’re being to others, well, I hope you get the help you need to come into peace and harmony with the world around you.
Andrew L. Hicks”
To which I received the response:
“Dear Mr. Hicks:
We are in receipt of your signed Settlement Agreement and payment. As such I have attached a copy of the fully-executed Agreement for your records.
I sincerely appreciate the time and effort you have had to commit to this matter and want to thank you personally for the cooperation and professionalism you have demonstrated throughout this entire process.
ArtistDefense and Masterfile considers this copyright infringement matter settled and we have closed our file.
Please contact me with any questions or comments.
Oh happy day, right?
On October 7, I followed up with:
“Hi Michael, I am planning on visiting my fiancee in Toronto in December. Want to meet for coffee? I know this request is unusual. I just have a tendency to look at the curve-balls life throws my way as the universe getting my attention. So what kind of value could we add into each other’s lives if we were in the same room? Could be rewarding to find out.
No response. They got my money. Their work was done.
I was serious about the coffee, by the way.
But I never visited Toronto in December. Instead, my fiancee and I broke up.
Again, not saying that Artist Defense is the reason why, but it was definitely involved in the strain in that relationship.
Which begs the question, is what Artist Defense doing, well, defensible?
They are targeting small business owners, artists, middle class people, and writers struggling well below the poverty line, people who’s only mistake was using a protected image on their website.
A lot of web creators, when we get started, we are either told or we observe that the worldwide web is built from borrowing or stealing code from sites that already exist.
Pictures are shared freely online all the time, people post protected images on Facebook regularly, re-purpose them into memes, and so on.
In my own case, I am an author who does not even copyright my own books, because I personally think that intellectual property rights are a delusional load of hokum. You don’t have to agree with me on that, and I understand that I need to respect other people’s perspectives on it too, and I do.
My point is, I did not mean to commit any kind of crime by Google searching for an image and using it on a blog post. I was ignorant of the crime I was committing, and so are most of the other people who Artist Defense targets.
We are trying to build outside-the-box lives here. We are trying to make careers out of our art and passions, and it is not an easy path.
Organizations like Artist Defense make the path even more perilous, by kicking us when we’re down.
In my case, even worse than when I am down. They kicked me right when I was starting to get off the ground, and almost knocked me right back to the ground.
I’m OK. It’s in the past. I dusted myself off.
But I still get emails from people, wondering.
“Should I fight it, or should I concede?”
Honestly? If you have the energy and resilience?
And if there comes a day when you are actually in a U.S. courtroom in a legal battle with U.S. representatives of Artist Defense, I am open to the idea of you calling on me as a witness.
Or if you just want me to consult with you on how to handle your case, feel free to reach out. I won’t charge you for it.
I wish no harm or folly on the employees of Artist Defense.
But their organization either needs to be dismantled, or reconfigured in a way that’s reasonable, fair, and congruent with a less exploitative set of values.
And yes. I totally understand that people’s hard work is precious to them, and that they should be empowered to profit from it.
And the question remains: Did me using a picture on my blog take away from someone else’s profit?
It did not.
And trust me when I say, I have not used any other protected images since then.
I almost stopped using images altogether, and the ones I do use are from designated stock photo sites.
I care about the rules when I know what the rules are.
What I care about most is fairness and justice.
So let’s get real.
Let’s get reasonable.
And let’s all say a little prayer for the soul of Michael Hilsheimer.
Come on, people.
One like, one prayer.
OK, I’ll stop now.
Also published on Medium.