Another Scam Warning: Copyrighted images

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Joe Borders, MFT

By Joe Borders, MFT

Therapist in Sacramento and Roseville

June 20, 2020

-Updated March 13, 2022-

Another Scam Warning:
Copyrighted Images

Hello again! I say hello again because we’ve been here before and will likely meet each other this way again in the future :-(. As a therapist in the greater Sacramento area, part of my goal for SacWellness is to serve the local mental health community that I am a member of. This partially means sharing scams like this any time I become aware of them. Please share this article with your colleagues! They may be more susceptible to falling victim to this scam because it may be new to them.

Click to read about other scams targeting therapists that I’ve written about

Image Copyrights

If you have a website, you’re likely familiar with and/or have spent some time worrying about the possibility of getting sued for using copyrighted images. It is illegal to use other peoples’ images on your website without permission. The one caveat to this is if you are using the image(s) under fair use laws which say that you can do so if the use is for educational purposes or in many cases for the purpose of critique, parody, or other “transformative use”.

What About Memes?

The big one I’ve been unsure about for years has been the use of copyrighted images for the creation of memes or for pasting motivational quotes on top of. I’ve spent dozens of hours researching this issue and have talked with a couple of lawyers, and the overall consent seems to be that any copyright holder can sue you for using their images without permission….but it’s statistically unlikely in this case. This is partially because we are relatively small businesses compared to large corporations that would have a lot of money to be garnered from a lawsuit. Also, because it is pretty common practice to create memes out of other peoples’ images, which they may be likely to see as desirable because this practice potentially spreads awareness of their brand.

Don’t Do It!

Despite this, I strongly advise against using any images that you do not have explicit permission to use! I have known of at least 2 therapists (one in the area) who have been threatened with legal action for using copyrighted images without permission. One such well known therapist is Allison Salmon at Abundance Practice Building. She accounted her experience in the following article:

From what I’ve read, It is relatively common practice for copyright holders to attempt to settle issues outside of court by identifying the images in question and requesting a payment be made to them by a certain date. Often in these correspondences the copyright holder will threaten legal action if they do not receive the money by the end of the allotted time. Depending on the situation, it may be wise to take this offer so that you can avoid a lawsuit. You should contact a lawyer if you find yourself in a situation like this. However, its clear that this practice really resembles some methods that are common among scammers. Basically: say something scary and demand money to avoid the scary thing. So it’s important to be calm and evaluate the situation if you ever receive a copyright claim like this. It may be a scam.

The Scam

So here’s what happened:

Someone emailed me and claimed that I had used their copyrighted images without permission. They threatened to take legal action if I did not remove the images from my site.

Here’s what tipped me off to the possibility that this might be a scam:

  1. The letter was written with really terrible grammar – If you ever get anything that’s written really badly, you should be considering the possibility that its a scam.
  2. Rather than providing links to the images in question or identifying them in any way, this person provided a link to a page on another website that they said contained all of the images in question. – Never click on links from people you do not know! If you’re unsure about the sender you can click the reply button (but not send) to see the email address of the sender. It has become common practice for scam emails to come through with the sender being something legitimate sounding like Apple support. But if you click reply and take a look at the sender’s address you will likely see that its something random that isn’t under the domain.

After I became suspicious about this email, I copied a section of it and pasted it into google. The numerous results had me 99.9% convinced that this was a scam. What really got me 100% convinced was the fact that I tried to write back to the person but their email address was invalid.

The following is a copy of the email I received with the sender’s name and the unsafe link redacted:

*****updated text from 5/14/21 at bottom of page****

Title: Why do you use my images for without my consent! This is a violation of my rights! You must delete them immediately!

Hi, This is *****and I am a licensed photographer and illustrator. I was baffled, to put it nicely, when I came across my images at your website. If you use a copyrighted image without my approval, you must be aware that you could be sued by the owner. It’s illicitly to use stolen images and it’s so filthy! Check out this document with the links to my images you used at and my earlier publications to get evidence of my copyrights. Download it now and check this out for yourself: *****Link you should never click on!*****If you don’t delete the images mentioned in the document above within the next several days, I’ll write a complaint on you to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property. And if it doesn’t work, you may be pretty damn sure I am going to report and sue you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.

******update 5/14/21******

This one is making the rounds again but has some new wording. I’ve gotten several of these in the past 10 days. It sounds more official and is generally better worded. Don’t be scared!:

Message title: Attn: DMCA Copyright Infringement Notice

Hi! My name is ****. Your website or a website that your company hosts is infringing on a copyright-protected images owned by myself. Take a look at this document with the links to my images you used at and my earlier publications to obtain the evidence of my copyrights. Download it now and check this out for yourself: – A link you should never click on -. I believe you have willfully infringed my rights under 17 U.S.C. Section 101 et seq. and could be liable for statutory damages as high as $150,000 as set forth in Section 504(c)(2) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (”DMCA”) therein. This letter is official notification. I seek the removal of the infringing material referenced above. Please take note as a service provider, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires you, to remove or disable access to the infringing materials upon receipt of this notice. If you do not cease the use of the aforementioned copyrighted material a lawsuit will be commenced against you. I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law. I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed. Best regards, ******** 05/13/2021

*****Important update 3/13/22*****

I don’t yet know how they’re doing this, but last week I got a couple of these emails in the same day but they both appeared to be from seemingly legitimate sources. The return address was at the right domain and appeared to have come from an actual legitimate source. BUT! They still included a link to a remotely hosted file rather than directing me to the image(s) where they exist on my site. Because of this, I am 99.9% sure this is an illegitimate email.
I really don’t yet know how they got these emails to register as coming from legitimate seeming addresses, but it appears to be the case that they have some way to mask an email as coming from an address its not actually coming from. I wrote back to the addresses these emails were alleged to have come from and have not heard back from them. I also wrote to the companies they purported to represent and have not heard back from them either.
In general, after having dealt with several of these emails, I would just advise being careful with them if they contain a file hosted remotely rather than just giving you a link to the image in question on your site…which any legitimate copyright request should be able to do.

About the Author

Joe Borders, MFTJoe Borders is a marriage and family therapist located in Roseville and Sacramento. He is primarily a sex positive gender therapist, but also specializes in working with couples, teens, addiction, and the LGBTQ community. Joe is also the owner and founder of SacWellness. You can find out more about him by visiting his sacwellness listing or by visiting his website: therapy and counseling in Roseville and Sacramento

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