How should I go about handling a letter I got from a Law firm claiming I infringed on some Photographers copyrighted photo?
I received a letter from a law firm in Calif called Higbee associates stating that I infringed on a photographer ( name listed) photo by publishing it at my blog back in Sept. 2014. The letter demanded $2500 or threatened a lawsuit with 30 days. It was a form letter. I had no intention of knowingly infringing on anyone's copyright and no watermark was visible. I'm not even sure where the photo came from. Anyway, I don't take well to threats from law firms out of the blue demanding money as if I was guilty. It's tastes like extortion, nevertheless I don't want to act in haste. The letter was not sent to be by registered mail.
You need to consult an Intellectual Property attorney. I recently had a similar case where my client was sued for using a few photographs of a famous (deceased) actress in a book. During our initial investigation, we determined that the copyright claimant owned NONE of the copyrights to the photos and that the plaintiff's case was bogus. In our case, the damages demanded was significant, which justified the client's expense to fight off the lawsuit. In your case, the demand is small. So, unless you can quickly uncover evidence to push back on the claim, your best bet is probably to negotiate a deal. Good Luck.
There is certainly more than one way to approach this kind of situation. Anytime you receive a letter like this from legal counsel threatening legal action you should be getting some proper advice.
I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your best course of action in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC on the basis of this posting.
How did you receive the letter (there is no requirement that it be sent registered mail). My first question is whether the letter is legitimate or whether a scammer is using the name of a law firm. Next, if it is legit and you did use the photo, you have 2 options. One, try to negotiate a lawyer payment or two, weigh the risk of actually being sued for a small amount. Did the letter state that the copyright had been registered and provide you with the registration number?
Your own New Jersey-licensed intellectual property attorney will explain to you that it's no defense to copyright infringement to assert that you didn't know the work you copied was protected by a copyright -- that's no defense because it' simply silly and, in any event, copyright infringement is a "strict liability" tort [no intent to do wrong is necessary]. It's also no defense to complain that the work did not have a watermark and that you're not even sure where it came from. Again, both are silly and you DO know where the work came from: somewhere other than the person who owns its copyright or that person's licensing agent. Your attorney will also explain that the law firm who sent the letter, unlike many others, does, in fact, routinely file copyright infringement lawsuits against those who chose not to settle the dispute. Far from "extortion," the copyright owner is simply enforcing its copyright. You're the bad guy in this situation. Cowboy up and hire your own attorney to handle the matter for you. Good luck.
The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.
You should discuss this with an intellectual property attorney, who can review the letter, and in general the facts of this situation and provide you with guidance and/or negotiate a settlement, if that is appropriate, with the other party.
Many intellectual property attorneys in the New Jersey area, such as myself, offer free initial telephone consultations.
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