I am being threatened with a lawsuit, for unknowingly grabbing a protected picture from a Google image search for a blog post several months ago.
Apparently, I can settle out of court for $1,170.00, or face litigation.
I’ve sufficiently researched the sender of the notice and the company they work for. Michael Hilsheimer is a Copyright Enforcement Officer for a Toronto-based company called Artist Defense. This all seemed very scam-like at first, but unfortunately it is legitimate, at least in a legal sense.
I’m quite dumbfounded.
As someone that replaces the copyright page in my books with a message about how all the content can be duplicated by anyone and for any purpose, I’ve found myself distant from conventional mentalities on intellectual property rights. I find the concept of ownership in general to be quite rigid and obtuse, especially when it comes to sub-concepts like land, ideas, and art. In a truly open world, everything could be shared freely, maximizing exposure and utility, rather than merely highlighting profit and recognition.
I believe this is where the world is headed. Even if it seems absurd now to some people, eventually the human species will need to make a choice about transcending the egoic and restrictive for the sake of the greater good. For the sake of survival, really.
Can get more into that another time. For now, I must formulate a course of action to take with Mr. Hilsheimer. Besides, although my perspective varies from the norm, I do have an understanding and respect for people who want to protect their work.
Michael’s first letter to me came on August 3, 2017. I was sent a screenshot of the unauthorized image I’d used, and asked to pay $1,170.00 for a settlement so that he can pay his client for the damages rendered.
Damages? OK. I’d love to see an invoice that shows how the total came to over a thousand dollars.
My blog averages about 10-20 readers a day. Once in a while, I write something a bit controversial, and maybe get 60-70 hits in a day. Some days, I only get one or two hits.
The particular post in question has been seen by maybe about 30 different people, if that.
I might feel and act like a big shot, but I’m a small fry.
I immediately removed the image in question, and you can bet your sacred stars that every other image I’ve pulled from Google is coming down too.
No harm was intended. I thought I was doing what other bloggers do. Some silly part of me thought this was just common practice. And maybe it is, which is why people like Michael Hilsheimer protect some artists while grossly exploiting others.
I made an ignorant mistake, and I am sorry. However, as has often been the case in my experience, the “crime” and the consequences are vastly out of proportion.
This inflexibility and inhumanity are characteristic of so much that’s wrong with the system.
Does the artist have any idea that Michael Hilsheimer is representing them? If I cough up $1,170.00, how much of that goes to the artist? 30% 10% How much of it goes to Artist Defense? 80% 90%?
I don’t know. No one is interested in sharing these facts with me. All they care about is the bottom line. If they cared about protecting artists and people, they would see that I am an artist and a person.
If this sounds whiny, I apologize. I do not have $1,170.00. If I did, maybe I wouldn’t feel so encroached upon.
Michael’s second mailing came to me this morning. Basically: “I know you took the image down. Doesn’t matter. Pay up.”
To emphasize one point: although my philosophy on intellectual property varies from the norm, I have no need or insistence to use other people’s images on my blog. I had actually been scaling back on that anyway, before this happened. So, this is not about saying that I should be able to use whatever images I want. Not at all.
This is about: I made a stupid mistake, and the penalty is, from my perspective, unreasonable.
I mean, we could be so much more creative about this, you know?
If it’s really about making it up to the artist, then connect me with the artist. Let me find out what I can do for them, personally. I could mow their lawn or design their website or provide some writer coaching. I could provide way more value directly than can be provided through this shifty Artist Defense paradigm.
Solving problems is what I do. I’ll solve this one too.
And I am open to any and all ideas.
What would you do if you were in my position?
Also published on Medium.