Infringe me and I'll let the dogs out! / by Neil Alexander

One of my weekly chores is to spend an hour or so trawling the internet looking for unsolicited use of my photographs. It’s a ball ache that quite frankly I could do without but in this day and age the internet is by far the best place to get my work seen and more importantly sold. However there are too many uneducated individuals and organisations who believe that because it’s on the internet, it must be free. I have often found my work used on blogs for example without any accreditation or links back to me and sometimes even with my copyright watermark removed. Is that theft?

So whilst bloggers get on my tits, companies and organisations that certainly ought to know better really rile me. I don’t give a monkeys if you contracted out the building of your website to a shack in India. It’s yours and you are responsible for it. Were there any libellous comments made on there, it’s your ass the courts are coming after.

And so to that latest cheeky blighters to have tried to rip me off. Some years ago I took a trip around the inside of John Rylands Library on Deansgate in Manchester. It’s architecture is stunning from the outside and it’s even more captivating inside. I made several photographs, and whilst there are tons and tons of images of this building on the internet, a couple of mine seem to get hijacked over and over again. Maybe it’s because in those days I was putting a white frame around my images and adding my copyright marker in the border making it easier to remove, rather than on top of the image itself, the way I work it now. Maybe it’s just because other people think they’re really good. Who knows. But the source of this most recent infringement turns out to be none other than Manchester University. I mean a bloody university. Of all people surely they get the concept of the law where it pertains to patents and copyright. But clearly not. Somebody there deemed it appropriate to not only lift the image from my website, but they then cropped off my copyright statement. How do I know it’s mine? I may have shot hundreds of thousands of photographs, the majority of which are utter crap and never see the light of day. However the ones that eventually make it online are my babies. It’s just like a mother’s ability to hear her child’s cry above the raucous clamour of hundreds of other kids. They’re mine and I could spot ‘em a mile off. 

Intellectual Property Section at Manchester Central Library

But clearly this wouldn’t be enough in a court of law, so I painstakingly trawled the net trying to find anything that resembled my image, the angle, the lighting etc but found nowt. Many close but none exactly the same. So I then pasted the two side by side, the one from their website and mine and proceeded to add highlight markers that would point to the similarities between the images. Convinced I’d now be able to argue the toss in court, I emailed them with a bill for usage (I’d used Google’s archive to determine that they’d been using it for at least 12 months) and demanded they took it down forthwith. Bizarrely they complied with the latter but denied any wrong doing. 

Incensed, I released the hounds. It’s very handy having a wife who is a solicitor. The university clearly assumed that I’d have to factor in legal costs and counted on me not pursuing such a paltry figure. I couldn’t go after them for damages (copyright law in the UK doesn’t permit it) so I billed them for what it would have legitimately cost them to licence the image and then added a bit for my time and the aggro. So it wasn’t going to buy me a new Lambo but there was principal at stake here too. They wrote to me several times offering gradually increased payments but each time I would have to sign a disclaimer stating that I wouldn’t reveal anything about the case. In my mind this smacked of guilt and a desire not to have their name muddied. Red rag and bull. 

A case was lodged with the small claims court, and we awaited their defence. And waited. And waited. The way the small claims court works is that you file your case and the defendant has so many days to file their defence case. A judge then looks over the details and arrives at a conclusion based on the facts in front of them and a full understanding of the law. If a defence is not filed, then you can automatically enter a judgement against them without a judge ever having to get involved. It’s very simple. But Manchester University failed to file one. One can only assume that it was because they didn’t actually have one. But at the last minute the offered to pay in full, still demanding the disclaimer. Eventually, to avoid being ruled against they capitulated. 

I got my dues and I am finally able to tell the story without fear of retribution.

Try and pursue me for slander or libel they might, but facts are facts. So a word of warning to anyone looking to use an image they “just found” on the internet; if a person creates something, be it a photograph, a painting, a piece of music, or the design of a new interstellar spacecraft, they own it. Taking it or copying it is copyright infringement. This is illegal and theft of another person’s livelihood.