Category Archives: Photo Image Copyright Trolls

CEG-TEK asleep. Why new hits?

[UPDATE: This mystery has been solved.  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.]

This is confusing me.  CEG-TEK has not been active since last summer.

As I wrote in December, CEG-TEK started to change the internal makeup of their company, and they changed the clients they were taking to more ‘mainstream’ movie clients.  …But then they went *SILENT*.

[In passing, I want to note that CEG-TEK had a shake-up as well over the summer. They were changing their business model from sending DMCA notices and soliciting small $300 settlements for copyright infringement claims for just a few titles to sending notices only to “more egregious downloaders” which in turn would increase the per-person settlement amount paid to CEG-TEK on behalf of their clients. They also appear to have been changing their client base by transitioning away from little porn companies to more well-known copyright trolls (e.g., Millennium Films, LHF Productions, etc.) — copyright holders who threatened to sue downloaders (and in at least one circumstance did sue at least one client of mine in federal court.) The point is that they were changing their image from being a company who’s clients didn’t sue to a company who’s clients do sue…]
– Excerpt from the “CEG-TEK and Lipscomb – Star Crossed Lovers” article, 12/21/16.

CEG-TEK has been silent since the Girls Gone Wild fiasco in July, 2016, where their once-flawless DMCA machine started sending hundreds of duplicate notices to the same internet users.  At the time, I joked that ‘perhaps they were being so effective at stopping piracy that they were probably putting themselves out of business’.

Then the following month, I noticed an across-the-board drop in activity from CEG-TEK.  As far as I knew, they even stopped sending DMCA letters to accused internet users through their ISPs.  I noted the defeat of a once-great foe, and even wrote a cautionary article revealing my observed changes in the “Unintended Consequences of Winning the Bittorrent Piracy War” article.

Since August, 2016… silence.  September… silence.  October… silence.  November… silence.  December… silence.  January… silence.  February… silence.  March… some activity.

In the past few days, I’ve noticed a significant ‘uptick’ in visits to the CEG-TEK articles.  I don’t even watch the keywords enough to notice the little changes, but this one looked significant.  That’s enough to pique my interest and ask you, the reader, whether CEG-TEK has risen from the dead.

Please do share if you have received a DMCA notice of copyright infringement from Ira Siegel, from CEG-TEK (a.k.a. “Copyright Enforcement Group”), or some new attorney affiliated with their cause.

What could CEG-TEK be up to?

To me, this uptick means one of two things: 1) They started sending DMCA settlement demand notices out again, or 2) CEG-TEK is considering taking on a new partner (something I was gravely concerned about early last year).  When the opportunity passed and I learned from CEG-TEK shared that they would not pursue this option, I wrote the “CEG-TEK and Lipscomb – Star Crossed Lovers” article to share the disaster that could have happened if someone like Lipscomb took over CEG-TEK’s DMCA notification system and “copyrightsettlements.com” website.

The confusing part is that their “copyrightsettlements.com” website forwards back to http://www.cegtek.com, which for the moment has been taken down and only shows the following notice:

Settlement opportunity services are currently not provided through CEG TEK.

So, what is going on with CEG-TEK?

-Rob


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.

CEG-TEK vs RightsCorp. Same genus, different species.

Are Rightscorp and CEG-TEK Comparable?

Rightscorp (a.k.a. Digital Rights Corp.) has been compared to CEG-TEK in many ways, but they remain a separate ‘kind’ of entity and thus they have their own rules.

Similarities Between Rightscorp & CEG-TEK

Copyright Enforcement Group (a.k.a. CEG-TEK) and RightsCorp at first glance look alike, but they are different animals. While they both use the DMCA laws (or with CEG-TEK, their foreign-country’s equivalent) to send letters to internet users accusing them of copyright infringement, and while they both attempt to force account holders to pay a “settlement fee” to settle all claims claimed against them, the mechanisms of how they operate are quite different.

Rightscorp asks for $20-$75/title, CEG-TEK $300/title

True, both CEG-TEK and RightsCorp send DMCA notices to ISP subscribers (internet users). CEG-TEK (currently) asks for a settlement of $300 per title (C$225 for account holders in Canada), and RightsCorp asks for $20-$75 per title (multiplied by the number of times the song was downloaded or uploaded).

Rightscorp does not release the settling party from liability.

The big difference between CEG-TEK and RightsCorp is that CEG-TEK releases the accused downloader from liability when the settlement is paid; in CEG-TEK’s contract, there is NO ADMISSION OF GUILT (UPDATE: CEG-TEK recently updated their settlement agreements and now they have an inflammatory “admission of guilt” provision, speak to your attorney about this), whereas RightsCorp contracts explicitly have the settling party admit guilt in an “I did it, I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again” fashion. This ‘admission of guilt’ issue was the initial reason I wouldn’t work with RightsCorp.

Rightscorp sends additional infringement notices for other titles after one settles.

There are obviously other issues with CEG-TEK settlements that we’ve discussed before, just as there are obvious issues with RightsCorp settlements (namely, with RightsCorp, many have reported that after paying one $20 settlement, they received 10-40 additional infringement notices, whether or not the downloads actually happened).  In the end, a $20 settlement (1 settlement @$20) can result in a $3,000 settlement ($75 per additional infringement notice x 40 additional notices = $3,000 settlement).  Personally, I prefer CEG-TEK’s method of being transparent over Rightscorp later asking someone who settled for more money.

CEG-TEK does not sue people (although their clients might).

Lastly, there are customer service differences between CEG-TEK and RightsCorp. CEG-TEK retains multiple individuals who respond to inquiries and convince those who call in [with inquiries, objections, and website troubles in processing payment] to pay the requested settlement amount or face a lawsuit. They have been known to claim that they record the conversations (watch out for this, as an admission of guilt here can be used against you, as can a lie later be used against you later in a perjury claim).

The important thing to note about CEG-TEK is that CEG-TEK DOES NOT SUE PEOPLE. Rather, they are a SERVICE PROVIDER providing COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT SERVICES TO THEIR CLIENTS (namely, the copyright holders). CEG-TEK has also been known to scrape the list of callers to ascertain their identities (although this used to happen before we learned that they are now able to obtain [from select ISPs] the geolocation data identifying where the download took place). Thus, if a settlement is not reached, they forward the file over to the copyright holders to allow them to follow-up with the accused downloader using their own attorneys.  At this point, CEG-TEK is out of the picture.

Well, to be accurate, first CEG-TEK has their own attorney Marvin Cable send out settlement demand letters asking for $1,750 per title, and only after he is unable to obtain a settlement from the accused downloader, only then do they forward the file over to the copyright holder(s) for their own attorneys to do what they will with it. This is where in my opinion the “ignore” route can result in an accused downloader being contacted by an attorney requesting a settlement, this time asking for a significantly higher amount. Again, depending on the COPYRIGHT HOLDER [namely, whether they have sued in the past (you can look this up on http://www.rfcexpress.com), and whether they intend to sue again in the future], this is how to best determine whether to ignore or settle the claims listed on the CEG-TEK website.

In my opinion, this CEG-TEK policy of “we forward your file over to the copyright holders” is where the misuse of that information *can* originate. Not all copyright holders are upstanding citizens (note to self to write about how a particular action might be illegal or unethical, but we see lawyers doing it anyway, unpunished — “LEGAL, BUT NOT LAWFUL”), especially considering that most of Ira Siegel’s clients are adult entertainment companies (pornography), and their lawyers do not think twice before reminding the accused downloaders that they could be involved in a lawsuit for the download of pornography.

Rightscorp has been accused of fabricating their infringement notices.

RightsCorp has its own set of problems. First of all, aside from the settlements having accused downloaders admit guilt to one or more downloads, there is a difference in the validity of the claims between RightsCorp and CEG-TEK.  RightsCorp’s initial claim may be valid, but the many follow-up claims have been said to be fabricated.  Contrast this to CEG-TEK — CEG-TEK sends an infringement notice within days of a download taking place, but when the internet user logs in to CEG-TEK’s site, CEG-TEK’s computers have already searched and found any older downloads somehow linked to that internet user (based on the geolocation provided to CEG-TEK, presumably by the ISPs themselves, and also based on the list of IP addresses leased to the subscriber over how long the ISP keeps these lists of past IP addresses based on their “IP retention policy”).

NOTE: There is more to say here, but the jist is that CEG-TEK uses fuzzy science (same geolocation, same bittorrent software, same port number) to link cases together.  This causes problems when CEG-TEK’s system links together multiple tenants’ downloads in an apartment complex or dorm, or when an unlucky VPN subscriber receives an infringement notice containing all of the downloads from the hundreds of other users connecting through that same VPN IP address.

Rightscorp operates with NOBODY answering the phones.

And, while CEG-TEK provides what they call “Customer Service” (a.k.a., “tell me about what a bad boy you were so that I can thank you for admitting guilt and force you to settle or face a lawsuit”), last I checked (and admittedly, it has been some time) there is ABSOLUTELY NO CUSTOMER SERVICE from RightsCorp. Yet, RightsCorp won’t hesitate calling you with their Robocalls all day and night.

Rightscorp’s stock is plummeting.

Lastly, the biggest difference between CEG-TEK and RightsCorp is that whereas RightsCorp is financially a “sinking ship,” and last I checked, their stock price dropped to $0.06 per share on the stock exchanges, CEG-TEK has only been *expanding* their operations, growing in size, expanding into other counties (most recently, sending copyright infringement notices in Canada), openly speaking about hiring foreign attorneys to enforce their clients copyrights, and they even have been going into other areas of intellectual property (e.g., going after those who sell counterfeited goods over the internet).

My thoughts about CEG-TEK versus Rightscorp (so far).

In sum, Copyright Enforcement Group in my opinion is the “big bad wolf” of copyright infringement, yet they do everything they can to keep their “paws” clean. What has always bothered me about them (other than that former plaintiff attorney Ira Siegel‘s name appears on each of their settlement demand letters), is that with their growth comes the ability to push around attorneys and internet users with boilerplate settlement agreements, (recently) new terms on their settlement agreements which are less friendly than the former friendly terms, and the ability to continually raise the settlement amount (which was initially $200, then $250, then $300), and nobody can do anything about it.

“Settle or ignore,” it does not matter to CEG-TEK.

As for RightsCorp, I still hold by what I said almost 24 months ago. I see no reason to get involved with them, as they have always been a sinking ship. It is only a matter of time before they are bought out by someone else.

NOTABLE RIGHTSCORP ARTICLES (from Slyck.com):
Rightscorp’s Red Bottom Line Gets Larger and so Does its List of Copyrights to Protect (8/19/2014)
Rightscorp Scores More Copyrights to Protect from The Royalty Network (7/11/2014)
Rightscorp, ‘We Aim to Protect Millions of Copyrights as we Continue to Lose Money’ (5/14/2014)
Rightscorp Sets its Sights on the Pay-Up or Else Program for UK Pirates (5/7/2014)
Rightscorp Scores Again, Gets 600 Copyrights from Rotten Records to Protect (4/16/2014)
Rightscorp Adds 13,000 More Copyrights From Blue Pie Records to Protect (3/31/2014)
Rightscorp Publishes its Full-Year & Fourth-Quarter 2013 Financial Report (3/26/2014)
Downloaders Beware; Rightscorp Now Monitoring Billboard Hot 100 Songs (2/28/2014)

COPYRIGHT ENFORCEMENT GROUP (CEG-TEK) ARTICLES (from this blog):
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)

[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 their methodologies are nearly identical, this article is still very useful in order to understand how they operate.]


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.

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.

Picture This: “Photo Image” Copyright Trolls?

Our firm has been working in a bubble for over two years now, focusing exclusively on copyright infringement lawsuits as they relate to accusations of piracy through the use of bittorrent (“torrent”) peer-to-peer programs over the internet.

However, it has been brought to my attention that our “copyright troll” problem is bigger than just bittorrent.  People even today are receiving DMCA threat letters for the so-called infringement of other things, such as the unauthorized use of pictures, articles, poems, you name it — even works that are not copyrighted at all.  However, unlike our federal copyright infringement lawsuits, these settlement extortion “scare” letter campaigns take place on a larger scale, outside of the courtroom, and there is no federal judge overseeing an actual lawsuit.  The Copyright Enforcement Group appears to now be doing it, Getty Pictures has been doing it for years, and most recently, non-attorney John Jolin is doing it on behalf of Linda Ellis and her poems.

These new kinds of threat letters are obviously less “sexy” than the six-figure [and sometimes seven-figure] lawsuits in the federal district courts across the U.S. that our law firm has been dealing with, but these smaller copyright trolls need to be dealt with, and they need to be handled with the same harshness as the larger copyright trolls we have been fighting for years now. Maybe it is time for a few of us attorneys to explain to these smaller trolls the definition of a declaratory judgement. If they want to throw around threats of “we might sue you unless you settle,” well, maybe we should bring a few of these threat letters in front of a federal judge and see what they think about this.

On a personal note, I am not sure whether approaching this topic in our “Torrent Lawyer” blog will muddy the waters since our blog has been focused on copyright trolls of the bittorrent kind, but whether we discuss “photo trolls,” “literary trolls,” or “music trolls,” they are still all copyright trolls.


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.