January 8, 2021

How to Tell if a Copyright Infringement Claim Is Real

From humble beginnings, you’ve built your small business and your website to be everything you hoped for. 2020 may have even forced you to rely on this website as your sole storefront, but here you are. The sleepless nights and hours of work have paid off. Then bam, you receive an email with the subject line, “Image Copyright Infringement Notification” in your contact form. Your heart skips a beat, but before you lawyer up, how can you assess whether or not this is a legitimate threat?

Language Used

Before panicking, read through the infringement claim a couple of times. Not only will this help to reduce your emotional response, but it also helps you read between the lines of the message! While every copyright infringement notification is different, there are a couple of recurring themes that we’ve seen among small-medium sized businesses websites that help signal that these are a scam.

  1. Grammar and Typos – In formal legal outreach, you’d think you want to sound as professional as possible, right? That often doesn’t seem to be the case with these as we’ve seen misspelled words like “copyrigh,” grammar variations like “web-site,” and more.
  2. Paragraph Structure – Artificial generation of these types of messages has become more and more common. One of the easiest ways to get their content out quickly is to break it up into one sentence paragraphs and simply swap out the website it’s claiming is in the wrong.
  3. Legal Process – Numerous times we’ve seen these scams close with a mention of “I am going to report and sue you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.” While we are not to be considered legal counsel, the legal system affords businesses and individuals alike multiple mitigation options prior to suing. When all such steps for resolution fail, then and only then does suing come to light. Before formally suing, the defendant must be “served” with a summons or complaint. This makes their claim of no notification inaccurate.

Back to the Basics (of Online Security)

Phishing is an ever-evolving malicious strategy. What once were strategies such as what the beloved Michael Scott of The Office fell for where “the son of the deposed king of Nigeria emails you directly asking for help, you help!” has forever changed. Now, subtle tactics with links that contain malware can be hard to recognize. Whether it’s a file like a PDF or a webpage, all it takes is one click. If a copyright infringement claim seeks to point you to an unknown website or file citing it, do not click it.

The link that such a claim provides is red flag number one. As we want to handle every claim as legitimately as possible, in your response, you can ask for them to provide a screenshot of the image in the body of the email they are claiming as wrongdoing.

More than Malware

You may discover that while it isn’t a phishing scam, it is still a shady tactic. Known as blackhat SEO in the digital marketing world, some digital marketers attempt to use the copyright claim to increase the backlinks–other links referring to their site–without having merit behind the claim. With numerous copyright and royalty-free stock photography platforms like Unsplash or Pexels out there, there are seemingly endless picture options. All without having to take away from others.

Depending on your website, you may have also used your own photography. When you create your website, you have a good sense of the sourcing of any and all elements, especially photography. So if you have every image of your website as your own and someone reaches out claiming an image is copyrighted, you’re in good shape but should still handle it appropriately.

Get an Extra Set of Eyes

One of the advantages of working with a variety of clients on their ongoing digital marketing efforts is that we’re plugged into knowing what matters for small and medium-sized businesses. We’re here to help our clients navigate these ominous threats and risks as we can help step back and analyze all of the facts behind such a copyright threat. 

While every potential risk should be treated equally, these are some helpful methods to help assess growing phishing/spammy copyright threats. If you need more tips and help to navigate this kind of situation, reach out to our team of digital marketers.

Caleb Knight

Caleb Knight

Caleb focuses on providing clients with exceptional results through strategy, content, and data. With a vast skill set and experience across digital marketing and public relations, he focuses on developing and implementing strategies to bring our client’s efforts to life while simultaneously building relationships with them.

Outside of PHOS, Caleb can be found exploring all of the great outdoors that Florida has to offer, admiring the night sky, curating his assortment of Spotify playlists, and playing/following a variety of sports.