What do you see when you look at the ink blotches below?
Don’t worry; this isn’t part of a psychological evaluation to determine your personality characteristics, emotional functioning or potential thought disorders. However if it were part of an ink blot test (Rorschach Test), then Trunk Archive, a subsidiary of Getty Images, looks at the image and sees dollar signs…$714 to be specific. Trunk Archive, claiming the ink splatter is one of its images, cried, “Copyright infringement!” It is demanding a $714 payment from the hacker magazine 2600. No, this is not a joke; 2600 has been “accused of using unauthorized ink splotches.”
Before we get to the ludicrous copyright trolling "splotch-gate" case, in case you didn’t know, 2600 was named for the 2600 hertz tone used by phreakers such as Captain Crunch in the 1960s to gain control of AT&T telephone land lines. 2600: The Hacker Quarterly published its first magazine in 1984. 2600 also established the H.O.P.E (Hackers on Planet Earth) conferences. In other words, it is highly respected in the hacker community. 2600’s editor is a hacker who goes by the pseudonym of Emmanuel Goldstein – an enemy of the state opposing Big Brother in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
This is the cover of 2600’s Spring 2012 issue:
On the 2600 website, Goldstein announced that Trunk Archive used PicScout to identify the image as “theirs” and claimed copyright infringement over 2600’s Spring 2012 issue. PicScout, which was acquired by Getty Images in 2011, is an information tech company that “manages the world’s largest index of fingerprinted and owner-identified images;” it advertises, “Track your images and receive recovered fees for your work.”
Goldstein said Trunk Archive, using License Compliance Services, sent along its image below as “evidence” of copyright infringement.
“It's indeed impressive that Trunk Archive managed to match these little ink splotches,” wrote Goldstein. “That's where the coolness factor ends.” By taking a quick look at “Exhibit A,” it’s easy to see why 2600 might think the “unauthorized use” accusation was a joke.
The 2600 team wrote:
That's right, they're coming after us literally for a few splotches of ink. What companies like this do is broker works of art on behalf of actual photographers, but then engage in copyright trolling by threatening anyone who uses even a small piece of them. Increased computing power and more sophisticated algorithms allow them to do this with improved speed and "efficiency." The original artists see next to nothing for their efforts and companies like Trunk Archive make out like bandits with their intimidation tactics. Needless to say, we're not big fans of this.
But it gets even better. You see, not only are they trying to get us to pay them for using a few ink splotches, but as it turns out, the ink splotches don't belong to them in the first place! Our cover artist happened to keep meticulous records (probably not something they anticipated) and traced the source of the ink splotches to a Finnish artist at this page.
On DeviantArt, Loadus licensed the “ink splatter” image used at the top of this article as “free for non-commercial/commercial use,” adding that it would be nice to be credited but doing so is not required. In “Exhibit B,” 2600 puts it in perspective, trolling the copyright trolls, as the image by Loadus “is a background to both our Spring 2012 cover and ‘Harry Potter in a Vest’ or whatever Trunk Archive is calling their image.”
So not only is Trunk Archive trying to scare people into paying them for images, but they're apparently doing this for images they have absolutely no connection to. This insanity needs to end. In the first place, our use of such an image easily qualifies as a transformative work under the fair use doctrine. The absurdly minimal amount of the image used also would qualify it for protection. And then there's the little fact that they have no right to be telling anyone what to do with this image in the first place since they don't even own it. By their own rules, they ought to be cutting a sizable check to Loadus for what are undoubtedly countless uses of his art.
Plenty of people will defend 2600; after all, Trunk Archive’s threatening letter is an egregious copyright infringement accusation. The company is known for such cases; it recently demanded almost $1,000 from the German blog GetDigital “for one year's use of an image of a penguin that is actually part of a semi-popular meme, better known as the Socially Awkward Penguin.” It’s outrageous to need an attorney for using the Socially Awkward Penguin meme generator.
Many people who deal with Trunk Archive’s copyright trolling don’t have the same resources as 2600. Instead “they are forced to either pay up, be hounded, or hire an attorney that will wind up costing more than the settlement being demanded.” 2600 said, “If we allow that to happen, creative expression will suffer across the board.”
So on behalf of all the “little people” who must fight copyright extortion cases brought against them, thank you ever so kindly, Trunk Archive. You opened the eyes of 2600 to such copyright trolling abuses and from here on out the elite hackers plan to be “actively involved.”