CEG-TEK is now your friendly “photo” copyright troll.

I try my hardest to separate out the “photo” copyright trolls from the “bittorrent” copyright trolls when writing articles on this blog, as they are a separate category of trolls with their own rules.

In sum, “photo” copyright trolls search the web for images that are used on websites, often by bloggers, without permission or license from the owner of that photograph. Essentially, a blogger writes (for example) about the topic of “red pepper” vegetables. To make their blog entry more visually appealing, they search Google Images for “red pepper,” copy the first image they see, and they paste it on the top of their blog.

Most bloggers stay away from pictures that have a watermark on it, or from images which have a copyright logo marked on it. The problem is that 99% of the pictures out there have no copyright marking, and are not sold anywhere. Unsuspecting bloggers use these photos or random pictures on their blogs, and unbeknownst to them, the owner (or a third party who purchases the rights to the photo with the intention of suing bloggers) begins asserting their copyright interests in the photo. Many accused bloggers who I have spoken to have expressed that they didn’t think they needed a license for a photo for non-commercial activities, and now they are facing threats of a lawsuit for using an image on their website.

Where the waters get muddied is that now Copyright Enforcement Group (a.k.a., “CEG-TEK”, “CEG TEK”, and more recently, “CEG”) is sending out the same DMCA letters that they ordinarily send to my bittorrent clients, but now they are in the “photo trolling” business. Their letters assert that a particular website used a copyrighted photo without a license, and the copyright holder is now asserting his rights for the “theft” that happened to his intellectual property rights. Thus, they are asking for $500 per photo, which in my opinion is obscene considering all their other letters ask for $200 per video shared via bittorrent.

On a personal note, hitting website users with a threat of a lawsuit over an image pulled from a Google image search is simply obscene. I would certainly understand such a letter if the image had a watermark pointing the user to a website where they can purchase rights to the photo without the watermark, or if there was a copyright mark on the image. Yet these photos have none of these, and they are literally trolling old websites and blogs looking for photos which were copied from other websites.

What makes this so obscene is that the photo copyright owners are asserting the same copyright infringement claims as do the copyright holders for the bittorrent cases we deal with daily. Along with the same copyright claims come the same shock of having the law provide statutory damages of $150,000 to the copyright holder who can prove the infringement. $150,000 for a movie download in my mind is an obscene and disproportionate punishment for the “crime” of downloading a copyrighted title. Even moreso for a photo. AND, even moreso for an unmarked and unwatermarked photo freely available on a Google image search.

Now here are the details as they are unfolding. So far, it appears as if the “photo” copyright troll entity asserting the copyrights is a company called “AKM Images / GSI Media.” The letter CEG-TEK is sending out provides a screenshot image of the blog containing the photo (and in a number of cases, the blog is no longer in existence and is only shown in the internet archives on the “Way Back Machine” on http://archive.org). It appears as if even CEG-TEK was unsure if they wanted to go into this area, because many of the screenshots are said to be from last year (2012). And, the so-called DMCA letters are not sent by ISPs, but appear to be forwarded by the website admins who host the various blogs.

6/13 UPDATE: There is some talk about the copyrighted images being posted on the website owner’s website or blog by a third party RSS aggregator. In sum, the accused blogger or website owner in many cases didn’t even post the images themselves, yet they are still asked by CEG to pay $500 to avoid a lawsuit.

2017 UPDATE: Carl Crowell has created a new entity called RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT which has reverse-engineered CEG-TEK’s proprietary DMCA copyright infringement notice system.  Many of you have visited CEG-TEK links thinking that RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT was CEG-TEK, but really they are an ‘evil twin’ competitor.  Since the two entities operate almost the same way, I assume RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT will also pursue this avenue of contacting alleged infringers over ‘photo’ copyrights.


UPDATED COPYRIGHT ENFORCEMENT GROUP (CEG-TEK) ARTICLES:
Canada begins receiving CEG-TEK DMCA settlement letters. (3/12/2015)
How time limits / purged records stop a copyright holder from learning a downloader’s identity. (12/18/2014)
CEG-TEK’s growing list of participating ISPs, and their NEW alliance with COX Communications. (11/12/2014)
The Giganews VPN Problem (11/12/2014)
CEG-TEK is now your friendly “photo” copyright troll. (6/13/2013)
CEG-TEK’s new “you didn’t settle” letters sent from Marvin Cable. (3/22/2013)
CEG-TEK’s DMCA Settlement Letters – What are my chances of being sued if I ignore? (2/22/2013)
Why CEG-TEK’s DMCA settlement system will FAIL. (2/22/2013)


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

20 thoughts on “CEG-TEK is now your friendly “photo” copyright troll.”

  1. Rob,

    In this situation, would not the “safe harbor provision” in the DMCA/Sect. 230 in the Communications Decency Act apply?

    From eff.org re bloggers:

    When can I claim the safe harbor for comments others post to my blog?

    If you’re concerned that people might post copyrighted material to your blog, you might want to be able to use the DMCA safe harbor yourself. You too can be a “provider of online services” — all you need to do is designate an agent for notification with the Copyright Office. The safe-harbor provision requires that providers have a policy against repeat copyright infringement by their “subscribers and account holders.” If you have no subscribers or account holders, that policy can be as simple as “If we become aware that one of our users is a repeat copyright infringer, it is our policy to take reasonable steps within our power to terminate them.”

    1. That *might* be an answer for some, but a lot of people put the images on the websites themselves. Alternatively, they subscribed to some widget (I am hearing a lot about some “celebrity” .au widget that put content on their websites. Now people are getting these CEG-TEK letters.

      1. As for a widget delivering copyrighted images, I have to guess at how they work, but the most reasonable interpretation suggests that those images aren’t even hosted on the supposed infringer’s site. The widget would simply direct the viewer’s browser to request the image from another site, not unlike how ads work.

        Is the site hosting the widget (not the images) responsible for THAT content? I’d say no, just as you’d expect sites not to be liable for the content at the destination of hyperlinks (the only difference between the widget and the hyperlink being how the browser reacts to them; requiring user intervention to follow one, but automatically following the other). I know there is some weight given to the intent of the link (e.g., the unfortunate DeCSS business), but lacking intent to display copyrighted images via the link, what’s the liability?

        What if some baddies hacked your ads provider and pumped in a bunch of copyright material (or worse, illegal material)? Are you to be held responsible for your ad network’s security lapse?

  2. I got the same DMCA letter from Ira M. Siegel today because of an alleged copyright infringement of a photo that I am automatically pulling from facebook public pages.
    How do you recommend to deal with this?

    1. I sent this email to Mr Siegel, but I am not sure it will make him stop.

      I received a notice from my ISP that you are claiming a copyright
      infringement on my website.

      However I want to point out that the picture in question was a link to a
      publicly available photo on facebook:
      https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=xxxxxxx

      The webpage was just listing facebook information (posts) made publicly
      available by Mr XXXXXXXX facebook page.
      If this image is a copyright infringement please contact Facebook. I am
      not liable for what is on Facebook.

      I have removed all the cached information related to Mr XXXX on
      XXXXXX, so I hope this fully satisfies your request.

      Regards

  3. I have this too – deadline Aug 17 – A bunch of blog sites that I set up for my clients has a plugin called WP Robot that has been set to pull RSS feeds into posts (with pics). It has pulled in one disputed pic (also from AKM Images / GSI Media). Problem is that we’re based in South Africa – can they even sue us? My hosting provider (Hostgator) was quite happy with the fact that I deleted the offensive content immediately but could they possibly be forced by these trolls to suspend us or worse?

  4. Hi, I have also tried to contact you using the genbook but no luck scheduling an appointment so far. Also sent some emails and waiting for you to get back to me.

  5. I just received one of these, and deleted the file in question. I logged into the payment site (from my cellphone) and it wants me to pay $1500 for one image, which is ridiculous. Please help!

  6. I have a blog and got so many email from Ceg Tek about copyrighted image Is there away to stop Ceg Tek emailing me.. or emailing my hosting provider?? This is getting so annoying. And no.. I refuse to spend a DIME for them or any lawyer!!

    There’s so many sites using images found via public domain eg:google.. why complain about it!!

  7. Hi there. I’m having a problem with a troll and they claim that I am not protected by Safe Harbor because the so-called infringement took place before I had my DMCA agent registered. However, their complaints started long after my DMCA was registered. Does anyone think they’re telling the truth? If so then this is terrible news for people who have blogs that might be 10+ years old and have old posts with god knows what images on them!

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