Beware the Copyright Trolls

Be VERY wary of the copyright trolls when using images.

Last Updated on January 19, 2020 by Christopher G Mendla

Be extremely careful when using images on websites or blogs. You can get hit with insane demands for payments or sued for up to $155,000.

As I was resurrecting my blogs, the issue of the rights to images arose. There is no problem with images I took or images inherited from my parents. HOWEVER, using any other images must be done with extreme caution.

There are numerous examples of bloggers and designers getting hit with bankruptcy inducing fines such as this article on They got hit for $8000 for a ‘crappy skyline photo’ that they didn’t realize was copyrighted. Total visits to that page, verified through Google Analytics was less than 100. In other words a huge nothingburger. Other people have been similarly hit for having an image on a site with less than 10 lifetime visits.

Copyright Trolls.

One of the causes of this is what are known as ‘copyright trolls’. The scam works like this:

  • A shady firm buys up image libraries.
  • They use automated means or offshore labor to search for those images on the web.
  • When they find an image, they send an extortion letter… er legal document demanding a crazy fee.
  • A retainer for a lawyer to defend you in federal court is something like $5000 to $10000 dollars.
These copyright trolls don’t care if this results in you losing your home, savings and retirement. They are bottom feeders whose moral compass has been thoroughly degaussed.  Keep in mind, that you can be put through hell for ONE IMAGE.  There was a case a while back where a guy got almost ruined for a cartoon image of a shopping cart.

Legitimate artists

Sometimes a legitimate artist will get fed up with the illicit use of their works and contact an attorney. A simple cease and desist with a REASONABLE charge, i.e. what you would have paid anyway plus some fees, is the approach in some cases.
One thing to note here is that the artist owns the copyright of a sculpture or art work. So, if you take a photo of a statue and use that, you might be violating copyright. Also, some building such as the Flatiron Building are trademarked.

Image companies.

One company, Getty Images, is notorious for aggressive attacks on anyone found using their images. The ethics there is a bit questionable. The business model is to hire a whole bunch of attorneys who make their salaries by aggressively pursuing the slightest infraction.
Unlike the Copyright Trolls, they actually own the libraries. Also, unlike the legitimate artists, they are running a lawsuit business as well as an image business.


  1. Use your own images whenever possible.  Be sure to keep documentation that they are actually your images. Make sure that the original image is safely backed up. A nightmare scenario would be publishing YOUR image. Then someone posts that image in an image library. Once it’s there a scum sucking bottom feeding parasitic dirtball slimy no good worthless despicable copyright troll sues you for $155,000.  If you have the original image with the geo locations and original exif data, that would go a long way toward proving that the image was yours.
  2. One of the replies in the article noted above was to adopt techniques used by sovereign staters. In other words, do everything you can to make them prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are the rightful owners. That is a risky path.
  3. Don’t use images. Unfortunately they really help attract traffic.
  4. Use creative commons or public domain photos. If you do this, record keeping is an absolute necessity. Even so, you could still get hit. You would need to keep those records as long as you had the sites and probably for another ten years after.
  5. Hire an artist to do graphics.  You need to be absolutely sure that they actually create the images. If they use copyrighted images you could still be in trouble.
  6. Create your own. That takes some skill but the tools for creating images are getting a bit better.
  7. If you use your own images, consider watermarking them and retaining a copy to prove the origin and ownership.
Shakespeare – Henry VI – Dick the Butcher.

Our post on Google’s search by image feature will give you a good idea of how easily images can be found on the internet.

Beware the Copyright Trolls
Beware the Copyright Trolls

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