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Could You Be the Victim of a Copyright Scam?

Posted by admin on August 4, 2014


Scammers and their selfish schemes have been around for ages, but the way they operate is changing.  Their newest tricks exploit copyright law and target people who aren’t familiar with how copyright works on the internet.   

Content such as articles, blogs, images, and videos have exploded with popularity in recent years and online scammers have not been far behind the trend, taking advantage of people who aren’t familiar with online copyright licenses.

How to protect yourself from copyright scams

The first step to protecting yourself is learning the copyright laws. 

Knowing the law will allow you to take steps to avoid being targeted.  It’s easy and could save you a lot of hardship later on.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

There are different types of licenses protecting copyrighted material – some require you to ask the copyright holder for permission to use certain content, others allow anyone to use content as long as it remains unaltered, and others still allow you to do whatever you want with the content.

When using content that you didn’t create – an image for a blog post, perhaps – always check the copyright license so you exactly how you are allowed to use it

Remember that the license classification is provided by the content creator, not by the organization which is hosting the content. 

Furthermore, Google takes absolutely no responsibility for any issues arising from copyright – that means that even if you have used content which was not listed under the correct copyright license, the blame rests on you.   

Two common copyright scamming methods

There are a few ways to get caught by a scammer, so we’ll cover two common situations you should be aware of.

The schemes most often target people who do their own content marketing and website maintenance.  The scammers either:

      A) Trick victims into committing copyright infringement

                                                          - OR - 

      B) Take advantage of people who do it by accident by threatening and intimidating them.

The first type of copyright scheme involves a content creator distributing a piece of content such as an image as free-to-use and making it available for people to share, then relabeling it with a more restrictive license. 

The owner of that image then uses a program to crawl the internet and track down every copy of that image and figures out who is using it.  

Once the scammer has a list of targets, they can change the license and demand their victims pay them a licensing fee, threatening a law suit if they don’t.

This sneaky bait and switch move is one reason you should be putting out original, compelling content – it will help you garner a following, build brand authority, and protect you from copyright scams.  

Another type of scheme exploits people who inadvertently commit copyright infringement, so it’s a little easier to prevent but just as hard to deal with if you are the victim.

This type of copyright scheme often targets people who buy a web site template which comes with stock images.  Although the webmaster may replace the stock images with free-to-use images, they sometimes forget or aren’t aware that they need to delete the copyrighted images from the server which hosts the website.


Regardless of how the images are stored on the server - whether or not they are even visible to website visitors - scammers using a data crawler can find them and demand payment from you.

Not having industry knowledge like knowing how to delete images from a server is one of the many reasons hiring a professional web design and online marketing company is often wiser than trying to do-it-yourself.

Although this second method of copyright scamming is technically within the rights of the scammer, it’s not exactly ethical practice.  Instead of sending a cease and desist letter, the scammer will often demand a highly inflated settlement payment under threat of court action. 

How to tell if you have been caught in a scheme

Scammers specialize in posing as legitimately honest people, so many victims never even know they were scammed.

Being familiar with copyright law and knowing how a legitimate copyright infringement claim is handled is the only sure way to determine when you are being targeted by a scammer. 

Here are a few red flags to look out for:

  • They don’t send a cease and desist letter.  A copyright holder is required by law to send you one if they think you are committing copyright infringement.

  • If they are blackmailing you by demanding that you pay a highly inflated license fee in order to avoid being sued.

  • If they demand a license fee which seems like far more than they deserve.  

  • The language of the written notice is unprofessional or seems threatening in any way, either directly or by implication.

  • You know they are lying about something.

  • If you feel as though you are being rushed into making a decision without thinking it through – a tactic called “The Hurrah” in the world of confidence schemes.

  • Anything that seems remotely like extortion is likely to be just that. 

Don’t forget that you are innocent until proven guilty, and not the other way around.  

How to deal with a copyright scammer

Once you have determined you are dealing with scammer, you need to weigh your options. 

Unfortunately those options are limited.

It could be that you have been lured into a situation where you really are liable for paying a license fee – for example if your web server contains copyrighted material, even unbeknownst to you. 

In such cases you can either comply with the scammer or bring the case to court to prove your innocence.  Neither option is ideal, but the first puts you at risk of making the scammer think you can be pushed around, encouraging them to keep pumping you for money.

If you are certain that you are an innocent victim, or that the scammer has switched the copyright license from free-to-use to something more restrictive, your options are still limited. The best approach is to avoid stooping to the scammer’s level – never resort to threats, blackmail, slander, or saying anything that you might regret later on.  

Be diplomatic and keep a cool head

Contact the proper authorities (these authorities vary depending on where you live) and report the situation.  Provide an honest account and ask about what actions you can take.

When responding to a scammer’s demands never argue with a scammer or show weakness; Simply state your claim and be firm. 

Short of consulting a lawyer all that you can do is focus on public relations and be patient, hoping they lose interest and move on to more promising targets.   

There is little more you can do other than fighting in court.  However, beware of the high costs and commitment of getting involved in a law suit of any kind.

Sometimes waiting it out is the best option.


You may find that the scammer contacts your previous clients, associates, or people in your network, denouncing you as a thief and slandering your business. 

The scammer will probably CC you on any emails sent to your associates, hoping that you will pay to avoid being perceived negatively in your community.

In such cases it’s crucial to focus on public relations.  Send a statement to anyone who you know or suspect may have been contacted, explaining the situation concisely in a professional tone. 

Reassure anybody who has been contacted that you are dealing with the (presumably) false accusations through the proper channels and hope that the incident has not caused any inconvenience.  

Being the victim of any sort of scheme can be nasty, but dealing with an online copyright scam can be especially frustrating because of how sophisticated the traps can be. 

Once you fall in there is often little you can do to escape.

Protect yourself from online scammers by publishing only original content – it’s better for search engine optimization and building your brand.  Check out our writing and graphic design services or contact us to learn more about what the best content marketing strategy is for you.


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