Sunrise over Kennesaw
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Don’t You Dare Try to Extort Me: An Open Letter

I  am furious because I wasted my time working through the night in response to a demand letter you sent to me in an attempt to extort me out of thousands of dollars for an image used in an article at The Gate almost six years ago.

Attached to that demand letter which you sent is a screen shot of the article in question — and along with the article was an image which I did not recognize. Although I immediately removed the image from the article in question, I personally did not include the image with that article; and I am absolutely certain of that fact — so I conducted my own investigation pertaining to this issue to find out what happened…

What Led Up to This Issue?!?

…but first, I need to engage in a little history in order for you to understand what actually happened.

On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, The Gate moved from BoardingArea to FlyerTalk, which is owned by Internet Brands; and the template of The Gate — which was chosen by management at Internet Brands — incorporated a design which was intensive on including photographs. At that time, I was not the sole writer for The Gate; and a notice was sent by an employee of Internet Brands encouraging writers of The Gate to add photographs to every article which was written. I am in possession of the complete e-mail message exchange.

In order to get The Gate off to a successful launch on FlyerTalk, that employee of Internet Brands in 2011 — who is no longer employed there — added images to articles written during the prior few months of the move of The Gate from BoardingArea to FlyerTalk. This was to “seed” the articles already written so that when The Gate debuted for the second time on FlyerTalk with its new template, the design would be rich with images for any reader to instantly see.

One article was amongst the ones which had an image added to it later; and the image — for which I received the demand letter — was the one in question. It was at best a mediocre image that not only would I have not personally chosen; but I already had my own library of photographs which I have personally taken with my camera of similar images. I certainly did not need one from you or your company to enhance the article — a purpose which your image absolutely did not serve.

I initially felt as though I had been betrayed by Internet Brands — or perhaps the former employee in question may have unknowingly engaged in an activity which can be considered questionable — until I quickly reminded myself that Internet Brands has its own legal team; and while the company is not perfect, it would never undertake a practice of purposefully engaging in willful copyright violation infringements. My years of experience of dealing with Internet Brands on a professional business level is all the proof I need to be confident of that fact — and I am absolutely certain that no one at Internet Brands would do anything to intentionally hurt me in any way.

The problem when The Gate was at FlyerTalk for the second time was that I did not always have a photograph or an image which best suited an article which I had written. When the former employee in question was aware of my concern, I was given the access code to a company which supplies stock photographs; and Internet Brands had been a customer of that company for years. Internet Brands gave me free rein to choose whatever stock photographs I wanted to use for articles for The Gate; and they paid for them on a subscription basis.

The photographs used to initially “seed” The Gate — including the one in question — were clearly stock photographs.

Once all of the hundreds of articles posted at The Gate between August 18, 2006 and May 3, 2011 were transferred back to BoardingArea on Friday, August 1, 2014, the “seeded” images were included with them — and you somehow found it almost six years after it was purchased and used.

Returning to the Present

Fast forward to 2016, where you suddenly decided to “conduct a routine audit” of your licensed images and found the image almost six years after it was purchased and used in a proper manner; and as judge, jury and executioner, you put me on notice of your intent to pursue legal action if a monetary settlement is not reached because you unilaterally concluded that — as clearly stated on the “invoice” which was attached to your demand letter — I engaged in “willful photography copyright infringement” and that I should pay thousands of dollars to you due upon receipt.

How dare you blatantly accuse me of such activity, you low-life piece of garbage who has to significantly raise yourself just to be able to see the underside of a buried coffin? I do not owe you thousands of dollars — in fact, you will not see a single penny from me — but rather, you owe me an apology at the very least. You also owe me for the money I lost as a result of all of the time and effort I needlessly spent on this matter — not to mention the time that the staff behind the operations at BoardingArea has wasted because of your baseless accusation. I should send you an invoice for thousands of dollars.

Further into my investigation, it seems that you at one time supplied your photographs to the stock photography service used by Internet Brands; it seems that one of the images legitimately purchased by Internet Brands was one which you claim to be yours; and at one point, it seems that you removed your photographs from that service for whatever reason. Now that there is no record of your photographs being associated with that stock photography service, you decided to engage in a campaign of extortion upon people who have legitimately paid for the “privilege” of using your photographs from years ago — attempting to take full advantage of all of those years which have passed, as memories become fuzzier and as records are either more difficult or impossible to find as proof of the legitimate use of your photographs.

Who do you think you are to skirt the limits of the law and engage in such sorry scare tactics to waste the valuable time of innocent people — including myself — by outright threatening them? How do you have the unmitigated audacity to embark on a campaign to harass the very customers from whom you have already legitimately profited — only to attempt to extract substantially more money from them through what can be considered as extortion?

Intimidation Tactics

Companies and attorneys have used the law — known as Title 17 U.S. Code § 504 – Remedies for infringement: Damages and profits — in their favor over the years to perpetuate an arguably legal way of extorting people for money by applying fear and intimidation to accuse unsuspecting people of illegally using the protective copyrighted work of others. They craft a standard template of a demand letter; and then use variations of it which are customized just enough to send to a blanket list of intended recipients. The letter usually includes a blatant accusation of wrongdoing — followed by the legal definitions associated with copyright law; citations of the aforementioned law and threats of legal action if a monetary settlement is not reached.

If even only a few of those recipients succumb to the pressure of intimidation and send either the full amount of money or the result of a negotiated settlement, the sender of the demand letter is already ahead of the game.

This dubious practice is potentially substantially more profitable than the legendary legal tactic known as ambulance chasing — in which attorneys go to disaster sites and solicit clients for whom they want to represent in the hopes of scoring as a winner in a substantial monetary judgment as the result of litigation — as an entity in the willful copyright infringement arena need not leave his or her home; expend much time or effort; or incur any significant expense to execute the shady tactics which could land them an undeserved windfall from unsuspecting targets of their schemes.


As a business owner, writer, artist, designer, photographer, actor and videographer — I have even dabbled in writing and composing my own music and lyrics over the years — no one is more adamant about protecting the rights of people who produce creative content than me; and I will vehemently defend the rights of the owners of those works to ensure that they are properly compensated for the use of their work…

…but to use this protection in a way which is legally questionable at best is deplorable, inexcusable and unacceptable — and that is exactly what you are doing.

I am not exposing or revealing the name of you or your company — yet, anyway, for reasons pertaining to protecting myself legally — but it is under consideration…

…and if you attempt to take this matter further with me, you will be so incredibly sorry that you even tried. Still want to pursue this? Just try me. Go ahead. I dare you. You will not win. That is not a threat from me. That is a promise; and I will keep it.

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Take a deep breath.

    Put the other guy’s hat on for a minute.

    Your position is that your website has a photo that came from a different website with which you are no longer affiliated (FT) and that this other website (FT) purchased the rights to this image through an exchange that the purported creator of the work is also no longer participating in.

    They found their creative work on your website, an website that they hadn’t directly had as a client before. They sent you a demand letter. They were not “judge, jury and executioner,” but rather someone seeking to protect their rights.

    I seriously doubt FT’s license to those images included the rights to use them on websites away from FT. Maybe you do owe the artist?

    In any event, it would seem like a direct conversation could have cleared this up. Not an over-reacting blog post.

    1. I intentionally left out details in this article which proves that the entity has been purposely applying this tactic upon others, NYBanker — as well as details of the wording of the actual demand letter.

      I was rather restrained when I wrote this article, frankly…

      …and no, I do not owe the artist for the reasons I imparted in the article.

      1. Demand letters typically are not meant to make the recipient feel good. They are demands for payment.

        So far, you stablished that you are not part of IB and neither your or Randy/BA bought the rights, yet their image appears on your commercial website.

        What theory gives you the right to use their artistic work in your business without you paying due compensation?

        1. I had already said that I removed the image from the article once I became aware that it existed, NYBanker.

          I also had said that I did not know the image was even included in the article in question; that I was not involved in the process of choosing or using the image; and that I would have had no intention to use that image for any purpose whatsoever even if I had the opportunity to procure it myself.

          I also already imparted that my work has been used without my permission or authorization; so I have been in the situation of my artistic work being used without my being paid due compensation — but I did not immediately start sending blasts of demand letters to the parties responsible. Cease and desist letters were used instead. Should I have sent a demand letter without at least finding out what they had to say first?

          In reference to your question, I designed a logo for a company years ago. The company was eventually sold to another company, which continued the use of the logo I designed. Should I have sent a demand letter to them because they used my artistic work in their business without them paying me due compensation?

  2. I find the blogosphere ripe with this sort of stuff lately. I think that either there are con artists that do google searches of images they know are copyrighted and then blackmail the blog owner into paying them some random fee or these are legit 3rd party firms that operate at the same level of after market auto warranty or collection agencies in trying to strong arm bloggers into paying them.

    Good on you for fighting this.

  3. NYBanker +1

    This is part of any business. Demand letters are nothing more than a notice to start a conversation about a perceived violation and potential remedies.

      1. Few demand letters suggest meeting for tea to discuss.

        If you think the letter is truly from someone who is not the artist (or owner of the rights to the artistic work), just ignore the letter. You say you took the image down upon receipt. That is good enough.

        Demand letters are just that…demands. They have no force in law. The wording isn’t going to be nice…it is going to have all kinds of threats. Regardless of it is from a law firm, in house attorney or just a random sender. Unless you feel they have any remote merit (the facts that you lay out do paint a picture of reasonable merit), Let the alleged victim file a complaint in a court with jurisdiction and deal with it then. Getting your nickers in a knot over a letter which you feel to be frivolous is ridiculous.

        Frankly, however, if I were your attorney (which I am not), I would advise that you remove this entire post as you acknowledge using this artists material without you or BA having purchased it. Unless IB transferred their rights to you when you bought this website from them (doubtful), perhaps you should have been laying royalties?

        1. I think you are missing the entire point of this. A cease and desist or a demand for removal/payment is not a threat like you just described. No entity can legally threaten another party. That’s just plain illegal.

  4. Brian, I’ve been on more than a few goon squads in my life. So just let me know if you need some Big Boston Beef to back you up.

    You can watch while I crack a few heads.


  5. Good for you, Brian. Lawyers, the law all used to rake in untold billions from innocents every year without doing an honest days work, contributing nothing of good to society, building nothing, adding nothing of value. They are, in short, thieves in suits, crooks, grifters, scammers, cons, criminals, robbers, poltroons, frauds, and the most ignoble in the line of the ancient human race. And as re: your reply to NYBanker, you quickly cut that to size by correctly substituting ‘demand’ with ‘threat’. That’s what it is. The planet is inhabited by some evil and dangerous hombres. Never forget that.

    1. I appreciate the support, Mark R.

      For the record, the demand letter was not from an attorney; but rather from a company which claims ownership for licensing the image in question…

      …and not only was there absolutely no proof pertaining to ownership of the image; but the coward who wrote the demand letter did not even sign it…

      …but after conducting part of my extensive research, I now know the name of this individual — as well as his nefarious recent history with others who were targeted with a similar demand letter from this person’s company.

  6. I am not a lawyer but six years is a long time. What is the statute of limitations for a copyright infringement? Anyone know?

    1. That is a very good question, Dan — one about which I do not have the answer and yet have mixed feelings.

      Finding unauthorized use of images elsewhere on the vast reaches of the Internet can potentially be a difficult and daunting task; so six years may seem like nothing in that regard — but then, should an entity which intentionally and willfully infringed upon the copyright of a photograph be allowed to get away with having the use of that image for six years?

      In many cases, the Internet is still the equivalent of the wild wild west.

      I would also be interested in a definitive answer to your question, Dan — if one actually exists…

      1. Not exactly relevant to the case and I’m not a lawyer so this is just an educated guess but if the image is still up then I would argue the copyright infringement is still being done as of right now and not 6 years ago so statute of limitations is still ok. Not saying you did, I’m just commenting in the abstract.

        1. I actually initially agree with you, Mike.

          As I indicated in the article, when I found out about the image, I immediately searched for it and removed it. Had I left it up, then I could possibly be committing copyright infringement because I became aware of the use of that image…

          …but when Internet Brands purchased that image for use in that article — without my authorization or knowledge — it was purchased specifically for use in that article and for no other purpose or reason. Does that mean that I am not entitled to use that image? I do not know, as NYBanker did raise a good point pertaining to that aspect; and what I might do is call the stock photography company and ask someone there for official clarification…

          …but one thing I do know is that I had absolutely no use for that image anyway; so for me, it is a moot point. In fact, I preferred to take it down rather than leave it in the article, because as I stated, the photograph did not serve its purpose to enhance the article in any way whatsoever — and as demonstrated over the years, I would rather use my own photographs.

      2. What low lives in this situation usually rely on is the inability or unwillingness of people to contest an action in court. If they were to say demand $2000 some people would weigh paying them off vs the cost of hiring a lawyer with probably the dim possibility of recovering legal fees even if they prevail. Of course there seems to be a third party, Internet Brands, involved as well. They should have deeper pockets and I doubt they want people like this coming after them for frivolous claims.

        By the way, I wonder if your business insurance covers such claims?

  7. Hi Brian,

    Really enjoy your blog. Extremely down to Earth and very witty. Completely agree with you here – don’t let yourself be extorted or convinced that this is “just a regular business practice.” People frequently send cease desist orders but if this person thought or knew you were 100% wrong, then I think you would have heard from his/her lawyer first and not a handwritten email/letter. Good for you for taking a hard stance and making it publicly known you will not cave to his malicious demands.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts and support, Mike S.

      One fact which I have not imparted is that I cannot tell you how many times work which I have created was copied without my permission or authorization. I have had entire articles copied word for word — along with photographs which I created — and pasted elsewhere with no attribution and no link to my original work.

      A cease and desist letter is typically the first communication to the violator; and that usually works in having the unauthorized content removed. I do not threaten legal action or demand payment of a ridiculous sum of money as my opening communication. If the subject of my request is ignored or denied, then I can see the use of a demand letter written in stronger lexicon.

      I am convinced that this case is more about threats and intimidation to extract unreasonable amounts of money from unsuspecting people than a genuine attempt to catch people who intentionally and willfully engage in copyright infringement — and that is the issue of which I am adamantly against.

  8. ” Internet Brands gave me free reign to choose whatever stock photographs I wanted to use.”

    This law/license issue is too far above my pay grade to have an opinion, much less comment on it.

    But if I can add anything, it’s that “reign” should be “rein”, the horse term. It has to do with letting the horse run – with loose reins – freely. Not royalty. 🙂

    A tiny comment on an entertaining and interesting blog.

    1. You had to rain on my reign versus rein parade, didn’t you, colleen?

      That was the result of the auto-correct function; but thank you for pointing out the error — I appreciate it.

      I would turn off auto-correct on my laptop computer; but as long as it is more useful than not, I will keep on using it…

      …so instead of my trying to stirrup some trouble, I will quit horsing around and saddle up to the responsibility of correcting that error.

  9. “The usual spelling of the phrase meaning freedom to do as one pleases is ‘free rein,” not ‘free reign.’ The latter is a common misspelling, and it almost makes sense given reign‘s meaning (i.e., the exercise of sovereign power). But free rein, an allusion to horseback riding, is the original form, and it is much more common in published texts.”

    1. Thank you, Dayone.

      I had already corrected the error in the article initially pointed out by colleen; and explained the circumstances behind it.

  10. While I understand your frustration and the feeling of vulnerability that tends to be natural in this kind of situation, I think there are a few points here. For starters, whether you like it or not, plenty of “conversations” indeed begin with either the threat of legal action or an actual suit. As a business owner, I have been shocked by seemingly out of left field legal situations that could have been avoided by a phone call That said, it’s a strategy that I find repugnant but it can be effective.

    The other question is the specific nature of your contractual relationship with Internet Brands. Did they pay you as an employee? Did they buy your blog (assets, liabilities and all)? Was it a revenue share of some sort? When they exited, what were the terms? Did they own the liabilities or did they transfer back to you? What contracts do you have about what they were responsible for what they were.

    While you might own the moral high road, the legal position is less clear. And from experience, going on a self-serving cheerleading support-seeking Trump-like blog rant is rarely beneficial in the event that it actually takes a more serious legal turn. I suspect that you have no idea what you don’t know.

  11. If you are a business man don’t bother your customers with your problems. Post this in a legal Blog and don’t waste my time. Crying out with anger…. Come on you are not a teenager. Totally unprofessional.

    1. It’s his blog. He can write whatever he damn well chooses. Just saying. You don’t have to read it. I, for one, am interested.

  12. Good on you to put your foot down Brian. Those copyright trolls are just trying to scare you with that “strongly worded letter” and are betting you don’t have the knowledge, courage, or legal standing to fight them. Don’t be scared! You’ve got my full support.

    1. Thank you, Phoenix. I appreciate your support.

      I think this is an important issue to discuss. While I will repeat that I am adamant about protecting the rights of the owner or licensee of copyrighted work, I am equally adamant about opposing entities which attempt to bully their targets by scaring them into doing something which they do not have to do — and I will fight scourges like that if they dare try to pick a battle with me.

  13. I’m in the camp that thinks this is an inappropriate rant. Sure you can use your blog however you want but it will make me – and others – read it less in future. The length and tone of it seem unprofessional and the judgement underpinning it is questionable.

    Also, you can’t extort someone. You extort something – money usually- FROM someone. Saying “don’t extort me” is like saying “don’t steal me”, don’t “take me” etc.

    1. Good point about the use of the word extort, Oh Dear. That was definitely a poor use of grammar on my part.

      Thank you.

  14. I feel like you may be at more risk than you think you are. They may have a case to look at negligence.

    If a surgeon, leaves a tool in a patient’s body and then claims, “well, I didn’t know I left it, it was an accident” he will still likely face legal consequences.

    As the operator if your blog, if you accidentally left a copy righted image on your blog when you left FT, that you longer have the right to use on Boarding Area, I’m not sure saying “I didn’t know about it” is a legitimate defense. You are likely to be held responsible for all the content on your blog. Extreme comparison, but just food for thought.

    1. I disagree with the analogy, Kevin.

      Had I procured the image in question — chose it and placed it myself — and then accidentally left it in the article, that might be a closer analogy.

      However, I had no input as to the selection of the image; no input pertaining to the inclusion of the image in the article; and no knowledge that the image even existed here at The Gate.

      Furthermore — when I was aware that it indeed was there — I immediately removed it from the article. I would have done so even if it was an image I wanted to be included in the article; but there was no way I personally would have ever used that image for any reason.

      In other words, when I found the image there, I wanted to remove it — and did.

      I am not an attorney; but leaving a tool in the body of a patient is clearly negligence and can potentially cause significantly detrimental effects in the future — including the possible death of the patient as a result of it.

      Leaving an image in an article — even willfully, which I absolutely did not do — is not the same, in my opinion; but I will leave that to an attorney to address.

  15. I had a similar situation with my web site and a picture of a picture in the background.

    got a similar letter, I ( via email) told them to come here and collect in person.

    thats the last I heard of them

  16. “There are two distinct statutes of limitations listed under modern copyright law—criminal proceedings and civil actions. Under Title 17 Section 507:

    (a) Criminal Proceedings.—Except as expressly provided otherwise in this title, no criminal proceeding shall be maintained under the provisions of this title unless it is commenced within 5 years after the cause of action arose.

    (b) Civil Actions.—No civil action shall be maintained under the provisions of this title unless it is commenced within three years after the claim accrued.

    In other words, criminal prosecution for copyright infringement extends to five years, civil prosecution is limited to three.

    Read more:
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution
    Follow us: @FreeAdviceNews on Twitter | freeadvice on Facebook”

  17. Hi Brian,

    I was immediately struck by the title of your post and your subsequent letter. I am in a completely different situation but with a lot of parallels, i.e. someone contacting me “officially” on a certain matter, at first seeming very convincing, then quickly revealing they are trying to intimidate me into giving them money. So I know how you feel. You’re horribly frightened that what they say might be true, and by the possible consequences for you… then you realize you did absolutely nothing wrong, and are outraged you were forced to waste any time or thoughts on the matter. You’re dismayed that there are people out there that do this all day, every day, twisting the truth and even outright lying in the hopes that enough of the people they harass will get scared and pay up, making their despicable practices worthwhile… which they must, because they continue.

    I understand why some people are criticizing your post, but thanks to my own situation I truly understand how hard these things are to deal with, and how you have to do something, SAY something. My partner and family have been wonderful and very patient at my venting, and if it also helps you to write everything out on your blog as you have, that is your right. And now, try to let it go. It sounds like you’ve done all you can to make sure you are, in fact, in the clear. Just hold on to that, and don’t respond to any further demands; file them away, stay calm, and go on with your life. Like stalkers, they can’t touch you unless you let them.

    1. This article was more cathartic than anything, Debra — and it is becoming a learning experience which I hope will be helpful to others. I was never horribly frightened — although I can understand how someone can feel that way — because I never did anything wrong.

      I have not revealed the “treasure trove” of information which I have discovered about this particular company who sent to me the demand letter. Suffice to say, I am not worried at all — especially as I have concrete evidence that I absolutely did not willfully commit copyright infringement…

      …but I do appreciate you taking the time to craft your thoughts for anyone who gets hit with something similar.

      Thank you, Debra.

      1. I am glad you’re not worried! In my own situation, I was only frightened until I, too, was certain that the company harassing me with fraudulent demands had no leg to stand on. But the absurd unfairness of it all still makes my blood pressure shoot up. So I really personally connected with all the emotion in your post.

        Catharsis is good. I have been sure myself whether it’s better for me to try to forget everything, or write a bunch of reports on the FTC, BBB, which wouldn’t be catharsis so much as simply articulating one company’s illegal and unethical behavior… hmm… perhaps a nice rant on social media is really what I need. 😉

        1. I think the point which I am attempting to make is that neither you nor anyone else should have been frightened and harassed in the first place, Debra; and I am willing to fight entities who engage in unnecessary and questionable practices — just on the border of being legal — which could lead to extortion and other unwanted results for the targeted person.

          As I have previously said, I have had my work blatantly copied and pasted elsewhere numerous times with no attribution or link. I never once engaged in demand letters and bullying the entity which committed plagiarism and willful copyright infringement. A simple cease and desist notice usually resolved the issue.

  18. Meanwhile, in Syria, children starving and being blown to pieces because of you know who….. get a grip America…. who cares about greed because that is all this is, pure unadulterated bloody greed…..

  19. So, you published someone else’s image, licenced for a different site, on your own site for a period of six years without paying for it. That is a fact, however you angrily bluster.

    You didn’t like the picture? Irrelevant. You didn’t put it there initially? Irrelevant – you have published it on a site for which it was not licenced, fact. You failed to check, upon importing that data, whether or not it came with images. You’ve deleted it? Good – but you’ve still been using it for six years, unlicensed.

    This blog post is a moaning, threatening open letter from someone who has been caught out for using a picture that wasn’t licenced and doesn’t want to pay. It’s an angry tirade instead of a quiet admission that you didn’t take enough care when importing your data.

    You are in the wrong here. And now you are making it much worse. Wind your neck in, explain how you messed up, offer a fraction of what they are asking for as a good faith payment, and go and check every single post.

    Finally – have you not heard of Creative Commons?

    1. I should have consulted with you first, James Cridland, since you know all of the facts and have already reached a conclusion.

      Thank you for your support.

  20. Almost two years later; and I have not heard from them — nor have I had to pay a single penny to them.

    The lesson here is to stand your ground if you find yourself in a similar situation…

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