Honestly, we were going to let this one go. After all, 2600 gets so many threats and warnings that we simply don't have the time to give personal attention to each. We wish we could.
However, this little gem we started receiving a month or so back has earned the right to be shared. And in so doing, perhaps some real action will be inspired.
The threatening letter comes from License Compliance Services, on behalf of Trunk Archive, using an entity named Picscout, which is owned by Getty Images. In it, they claim that we somehow engaged in copyright infringement with the cover of our Spring 2012 issue.
As evidence, they showed us this image:
We thought it was a joke for almost an entire day until one of us figured out that they were actually claiming our use of a small bit of ink splatter that was on one of their images was actionable. Here, take a look.
That's right, they're coming after us literally for a few splotches of ink. What companies like this do is broker works of art on behalf of actual photographers, but then engage in copyright trolling by threatening anyone who uses even a small piece of them. Increased computing power and more sophisticated algorithms allow them to do this with improved speed and "efficiency." The original artists see next to nothing for their efforts and companies like Trunk Archive make out like bandits with their intimidation tactics. Needless to say, we're not big fans of this.
But it gets even better. You see, not only are they trying to get us to pay them for using a few ink splotches, but as it turns out, the ink splotches don't belong to them in the first place! Our cover artist happened to keep meticulous records (probably not something they anticipated) and traced the source of the ink splotches to a Finnish artist at this page.
And as you can see below, the Loadus image (which is at least five years old) is a background to both our Spring 2012 cover and "Harry Potter in a Vest" or whatever Trunk Archive is calling their image (which also may not even be theirs).
So not only is Trunk Archive trying to scare people into paying them for images, but they're apparently doing this for images they have absolutely no connection to. This insanity needs to end. In the first place, our use of such an image easily qualifies as a transformative work under the fair use doctrine. The absurdly minimal amount of the image used also would qualify it for protection. And then there's the little fact that they have no right to be telling anyone what to do with this image in the first place since they don't even own it. By their own rules, they ought to be cutting a sizable check to Loadus for what are undoubtedly countless uses of his art.
It's indeed impressive that Trunk Archive managed to match these little ink splotches. That's where the coolness factor ends. We cannot tolerate artists being threatened for creating derivative or transformative works. If this were to stand consistently, all forms of art would soon grind to a halt as none could be created without constantly paying off these people. Most others aren't like us - they aren't lucky enough to have lots of people defending them and spreading the word. What happens in their cases is that they are forced to either pay up, be hounded, or hire an attorney that will wind up costing more than the settlement being demanded. If we allow that to happen, creative expression will suffer across the board.
For now, calling attention to these abuses is what's needed. Joining with existing legal action or beginning new challenges to stop this sort of thing in the future is essential. We intend to continue with all of this. We thank Trunk Archive for opening our eyes to this abuse and helping to get us actively involved.