Until November last year, John Janzen had no idea what Getty Images was. The awakening came in a letter sent from Getty’s Seattle headquarters to Maplewood Software’s Spokane office.
Getty licenses images or videos to companies for use on websites or in publications. The company contacted Maplewood’s owners, John and Nancy Janzen, saying they owed $1,000 for a Getty picture used on their corporate website.
The Janzens have hired a lawyer and insist the generic image of several people around a conference table was properly paid for in 2002 and hasn’t been on the Maplewood site for a number of years. They say the contractor they hired to design the website bought rights to use the photo in question, although they don’t have a receipt for it.
But Getty officials say they continue to seek $1,000, and John Janzen says the ordeal has him concerned about future liability if the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act were to become law.
SOPA and a companion bill in Congress, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, would give federal authorities the ability to block access to overseas sites that contain pirated movies, music or video. But the bill would also give officials fewer hurdles in closing domestic sites that contain material deemed to violate copyright law.
Even if Maplewood wasn’t profiting from a possible copyright violation, the SOPA provisions would open the door to court orders restricting access to or shutting down his website, Janzen said. The current system requires the owner of a copyright to notify a website owner and give the owner a chance to remove the material.
“At least in the current (legal) system, I’d be able to say my piece” in response to copyright allegations, Janzen said.
Under SOPA provisions, the owner would bear the ongoing job of policing a site to make sure no pirated content is published in the first place.
Opponents of SOPA and PIPA on Wednesday took several symbolic steps to voice their concern. Wikipedia shut down its site for most of the day; Google’s home page contained a black bar over its logo, suggesting the world’s most popular search site could be hamstrung if copyright protections forced it to monitor every link it provided to Web searchers.
Maplewood Software isn’t the only area firm that has had to deal with an out-of-the blue copyright accusation. Great House Design, owned by Glen and Donna Hyman, received a copyright violation notice three years ago from BigStock.com, another web service that licenses pictures, images and renderings to other companies.
The Hymans’ company sells a variety of home designs and architectural drawings, and BigStock alleged that several renderings used a background image that the Hymans hadn’t paid for.
The couple’s attorney learned that BigStock had never itself filed a copyright for the background it said was protected. “Once we did that, they went totally away,” Glen Hyman said.
But if SOPA goes forward, the next question for Hyman is whether his company site will be hurt or hampered if some of the renderings or images turned out to violate a copyright.
“We have about 8,000 renderings on the site. I would need a team of lawyers working 24/7 to go out and determine if those are all free of problems,” he said.
Hyman agrees with critics of the proposed law who suggest that Google and other Web leaders will come up with solutions to deal with online piracy.
“The last thing I think we need is the government controlling the Web,” he said.