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Copyright trolls don’t want you to know what fair use of a copyrighted work is.

Copyright trolls are the ambulance chasers of the Internet. Their primary target is images used on websites. They purchase copyrights for generic images and then use software to crawl the web looking for websites that use the image. Then they send threatening letters demanding money. They wait for the website owner to call, then cut the demand in half, and settle. It’s a money-making bonanza for get-rich-quick companies and unscrupulous attorneys who’ve taken a break from frivolous lawsuits.

It’s fairly certain that copyright troll methods will be examined and curtailed at some point. Only recently, there was a rash of lawsuits against people who posted negative product reviews. Of course the courts stepped in and supported free speech and Internet freedom. They will surely step in and bite the heads off of the copyright trolls, possibly via a three-strikes rule, Internet search filtering changes, or meta data requirements.

Now let’s be clear, there are legit reasons for copyright owners to seek compensation for their work. Before you use a copyrighted photo, remember that a photographer took the picture to put bread on their table. If the photo is not an integral part of your article, leave it out or pay for its use.

First, what does copyright law say about fair use of a copyrighted work?

The rule is pretty clear: “The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

How do you know if it’s fair use?

Let’s break this down. The rule covers art, photographs, music, and written works. Essentially, anything that can be copyrighted.

The law provides these examples of fair use:

  • Criticism
  • Comment
  • News reporting
  • Teaching and education
  • Research

So how do we now if our use of the work falls within the scope of the examples provided in the law’s prose? “In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.” In essence, what was the purpose of the use. For example, it could be a photo of a newsworthy event that you are reporting on – fair use. But a photo that you use in a news article just to pretty-up the post is not considered fair use.

It’s not just the purpose of the work that dictates fair use, it’s how the work was used and how that use could impact the value of the copyrighted work. “The nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.” If the new work which incorporates the copyrighted image is a “transformative work” – what you created no longer resembles the original – it is likely fair use. If you used the image in a infographic or PowerPoint presentation, it’s considered fair use because you “transformed” the image into something else. If you’re doing a post about facial features and are just using a portion of the face from an image, it would be considered fair use.

Other things to consider

There are a few other things to consider. If you’re using a thumbnail and linking to the original location, there is greater likelihood of finding fair use than if you just post the original image because you’ve helped retain the value of the original image.

In short, you can shoot the middle finger at the copyright trolls if you simply ensure the copyrighted work you use is integral to your story or transformed and not just fluff to enhance the look of the post.

List of known copyright trolls

Many copyright trolls use Picsout software to crawl the web for potential copyright violations. The software is not 100% effective so each case must be manually reviewed. Here are some known copyright trolls.

Aflo –
Alaska Stock Images –
Amana Images –
Arcaid Images –
Arcangel –
Arcurs Productions –
Bios Photo –
Blend Images –
Blickwinkel –
Bokelberg –
Conceptual Pictures –
CSA Images –
Die bildbeschaffer –
DK Images –
Erikson Stock –
F1 Online –
FloraMedia –
Gallery Stock –
Gap Photos –
Garden wORLD –
Glow Images –
GoZooma –
Gulf Images –
Guliver Images –
Hawaii PIctures – –
Illuscope – Owned by Masterfile –
ISI Photos –
Israel Images –
Laughing Stock –
Look –
Maground –
Masterfile –
Mauritius Images –
Mediscan –
Michael Friedel –
Monkey Business Images –
Mood Board –
Nature Picture Library –
Nordic Photos –
Ojo Images –
Other Images –
Panther media –
Pacific Stock –
Panorama Stock –
Peter Frank –
Photo Alto –
Photo Non Stop –
Photo Shelter –
Picture Group –
Picture Press –
Pixmac –
Plain Picture –
Science faction – –
Stock Connection –
Stock Food –
Stock Fresh –
Super Stock –
Trunk Archive –
Vario Images –
View Pictures Limited –
Visual Photos –
ViVo Zoom –
Westend 61 –
Wide Stock Photo – Looks to be defunct at this time.