PicRights Copyright Email
Copyright

Copyright Infringement Notice Letter from PicRights

Is It Legit or a Scam?

I have observed that some of our clients have received copyright infringement letters from a company called PicRights International Inc, alleging the use of unlicensed images. These letters include a link where a license fee must be paid, presumably to avoid further legal action.

After carefully examining these letters, I have discovered several important details.

Please note my disclaimer first: I hold a PhD in Information Sciences and have expertise in International Copyright Law, but I am not a lawyer. Only an attorney can provide you with proper legal advice. Everything I write here is merely my opinion, based on a journalistic and not a scientific approach.

Below is an example of the first a letter received by one of our clients from PicRights. FYI: Personalized details have been replaced with […] for confidentiality.

Subject: Unlicensed Use of Reuters News & Media Inc Imagery – Reference Number: […]

PicRights International Inc. on behalf of Reuters News & Media Inc
Hudson Bay Centre
2 Bloor St. East , Suite 3500
Toronto ON M4W 1A8 Canada
Telephone: +1 437 887 2294, https://www.picrights.com/

[Date]

[U.S. Address of our client w/ email]

Unlicensed Use of Reuters News & Media Inc Imagery – Reference Number: […] – [Name of our client]

If this matter has already been resolved, please disregard this communication.

PicRights provides licensing compliance services to third party content owners, including Reuters News & Media Inc. We recently sent you a notice that Reuters News & Media Inc’s imagery was being used on your company’s website.

According to Reuters News & Media Inc’s records, neither Reuters News & Media Inc nor any of its partners has issued a valid license to your company for the use of that imagery.

Copies of our prior correspondence are viewable at the following links for your reference:

[Date]    https://history.picrights.com/render/HistoryTemplate/[…]
[Date]    https://history.picrights.com/render/HistoryTemplate/[…]

A copy of the imagery, as well as a screen capture of the usage found on your company’s website are included at the end of this correspondence or can be viewed at: https://resolve.picrights.com/[…] / Password: […]

To Resolve This Matter – Reference Number […]:

We kindly ask you to take one of the following actions within 14 days of this correspondence:

  • If your company holds a valid license or other authorization for the use of the imagery, please provide the corresponding documentation by visiting https://resolve.picrights.com/[…]/ Password: […] and clicking the “I have a license…” link. If such documentation is confirmed by Reuters News & Media Inc, the matter will be closed.
  • If your company does not hold a valid license or other authorization for the use of the imagery, regardless of whether or not you were aware of the licensing requirements, please remove such imagery from your company’s website and remit the payment of $800.00 for your past usage by contacting us directly at +1 437 887 2292 or resolve@picrights.com, or through https://resolve.picrights.com/[…] / Password: […].

If you would like to continue to use the imagery in question with a valid license, if you have other requests in relation to this email or if you believe you have received this email in error, please contact us with your reference number […] at +1 437 887 2292, or resolve@picrights.com.

On behalf of PicRights and Reuters News & Media Inc, thank you for your cooperation and we look forward to assisting you in resolving this matter.

Sincerely,

Geoff Beal
Compliance Officer
PicRights International Inc.
+1 437 887 2292
resolve@picrights.com

DISCLAIMER:  PicRights International Inc. is not a law firm and the compliance officer named above is not a lawyer.  You are encouraged to seek independent legal advice with respect to this claim.

To learn more about PicRights and this specific matter please visit: https://resolve.picrights.com/[…] / Password: […].

This correspondence is without prejudice to PicRights’s and Reuters News & Media Inc’s, rights and remedies, all of which are expressly reserved.

WARNING: This e-mail message is intended only for the named recipient(s) above and may contain information that is privileged, confidential, subject to copyright and/or exempt from disclosure under applicable law. You are hereby notified that any unauthorized use of this transmission is strictly prohibited. If you are not the named recipient(s), please immediately notify the sender and delete this e-mail message.

PicRights has also attached the images in a exhibitory legal letter manner with displaying the image itself and a screenshot of it from a browser, therefore the email continues like so:

DETAILS
________________________________________

Catalog Image No. […]   Proof of use

Page URL:[…]

PAYMENT FOR PAST USAGE: $800.00

________________________________________

Please remit payment by using one of the following payment options:

  • Online payment
    You may remit your payment via credit card or PayPal online at:
    https://resolve.picrights.com/[…] / Password: […]
  • Bank Transfer payment to:
    Bank name:        UBS Switzerland AG
    Bank Address:   Bahnhofstrasse 45, Zurich, 8098, Switzerland
    Account name:  PicRights Europe GmbH
    Address:              Unterdorfstrasse 12, 8808 Pfäffikon SZ, Switzerland
    IBAN  (Account Number):             CH23 0021 6216 5210 9161 Z
    SWIFT BIC:          UBSWCHZH80A

Please include reference […] with wire transfer.

U.S. Postal Money Orders are not accepted

 

IMPORTANT NOTES

________________________________________

  • Please be aware that removal of the imagery alone will not resolve this issue; we want to ensure that the creators of the imagery are compensated for the use of their work on your website.
  • Even if you were unaware of licensing requirements for the use of the imagery, you need to pay a license fee for your past use of the work regardless of your knowledge or intent.
  • You may find further information in the FAQ section at https://resolve.picrights.com/[…] / Password: […].

Who is PicRights?

The URL provided by PicRights leads to a payment system where fees can be processed.

Our investigation has uncovered several key points:

  • On the website https://www.picrights.com/, PicRights claims to be a Swiss company called “PicRights Europe GmbH.” In these countries, “GmbH” is a form of organization similar to an LLC in the U.S.
  • The U.S. address provided for PicRights International Inc. is linked to the company called “Intelligent Office” — a company that offers rentable office space. This suggests the address is likely a mail forwarding service, with no actual PicRights personnel present.
  • Further research indicates that PicRights has registered numerous mail forwarding addresses worldwide, including in South Africa, Brazil, Australia, and many other countries. It is reasonable to assume they are sending similar letters to companies in these regions.
  • The Terms of Use page on https://picrights.com/en-gb/terms-and-conditions/ claims they are called PicRights Europe GmbH, a company registered in Switzerland. According to https://www.zefix.ch/de/search/entity/list/firm/870266, this entity is headquartered at Unterdorfstrasse 12, 8808 Pfäffikon SZ, Switzerland.
  • The website footer refers to “PicRights GmbH”, but I have found no corresponding entries. For example, I have been unable to find any entries for PicRights in the German database bundesanzeiger.de, which typically lists all GmbH entities, but instead “PicRights Europe GmbH” as mentioned above.
  • The message from PicRights appears to be a standard legal disclaimer commonly included in their emails:

WARNING: This e-mail message is intended only for the named recipient(s) above and may contain information that is privileged, confidential, subject to copyright and/or exempt from disclosure under applicable law. You are hereby notified that any unauthorized use of this transmission is strictly prohibited. If you are not the named recipient(s), please immediately notify the sender and delete this e-mail message.

However, such disclaimers cannot override your constitutional rights, including your First Amendment right to freedom of speech. If no NDA or any contract was signed with PicRights, nobody to my personal knowledge is legally bound by the terms they are trying to impose through this email disclaimer. Our First Amendment rights allow us to share and discuss information, especially if it pertains to public interest. Companies cannot legally force us to relinquish these rights through an unsolicited email. Looking at forums in the internet, PicRights seems to be sending similar letters en masse, therefore the public has a right to be informed about potentially questionable practices. The language in their disclaimer may be an attempt to intimidate recipients to share their experience.

Is it legit?

From a legal standpoint, one thing is certain: without representation from a state-accredited U.S. lawyer with a bar license in your state, PicRights cannot enforce any legal claims via email. This means that if your company is located in a U.S. state, PicRights would need to hire an attorney from that state to pursue their claims. Since their emails come from non-lawyers, these communications hold no legal weight unless they succeed in intimidating you.

Fear appears to be PicRights’ primary tactic in my opinion. Based on this understanding, our client was advised by their department to ignore PicRights’ claims unless they came from an authorized lawyer. PicRights continued to send emails but refrained from making legal threats, likely to avoid the risk of Unauthorized Practice of Law. To date, no legal actions have been taken. Instead, PicRights has even offered discounts on the initial $800.00 fee. Discounts on copyright infringement? I find this comical.

In a follow-up email, PicRights then threatened like so:

Unless you contact us within 14 days, we may withdraw the proposed fee and refer this matter to a copyright attorney, which will result in an increased monetary demand to account for the additional attorneys’ fees and costs incurred.

This approach makes no sense in the U.S., where a claimant’s attorney fees cannot be transferred to you unless a judge specifically orders it. In the U.S., each party typically pays for their own legal fees, a fact that PicRights seems unaware of — or they are deliberately trying to sound intimidating. In German-speaking countries, the prevailing party usually bears all legal costs. This might explain why PicRights is making similar claims to U.S. entities: they might not know how U.S. law works.

It also makes no sense to increase the monetary demand after initially setting the damages at $800. Any competent lawyer would easily challenge PicRights’ claims. This indicates that PicRights operates within its own legal bubble and has likely never engaged in a legal battle in the United States.

It would be prudent to assume that PicRights is avoiding any sort of legal battles in the United States after sending such a letter. If the defendant can demonstrate in their counterclaim that PicRights is using fraudulent tactics to exploit recipients, PicRights could face punitive damages amounting to millions of dollars. The intimidating legal jargon they use does not resemble standard U.S. legal practices, suggesting that PicRights has not legally covered all their bases, leaving significant leverage for the defendant.

Let’s Analyze This Further:

PicRights is possibly a Swiss company, likely with Swiss lawyers. If any Swiss lawyer without a proper U.S. Bar license writes to a U.S. entity, it would constitute Unauthorized Practice of Law, which is punishable by up to a year in jail. This explains why PicRights in my opinion includes the following disclaimer in their emails:

DISCLAIMER: PicRights International Inc. is not a law firm and the compliance officer named above is not a lawyer.

The first question is why this company is sending out letters on behalf of Reuters instead of Reuters or their lawyers, given that Reuters is a large international company. In the DACH region, it’s common for lawyers to send something called an “Abmahnung” (a cease-and-desist letter) from a real lawyer. However, PicRights sends emails from someone who calls himself a “Compliance Officer.” I have not been able to verify if PicRights is genuinely acting on behalf of Reuters. If they were, pursuing legal action might not be practical for them. They claim the damage caused by the use of one or several images is $800. Assuming this amount could be proved in court, would a company spend tens of thousands of dollars to enforce a claim of $800? Given the high cost of legal services in any state in the U.S., I find this unlikely.

To claim fees for an image in the United States, one must quantify the exact amount of damages caused by the infringement. This typically involves a forensic expert measuring the number of clicks and downloads from your website during the eDiscovery phase of a legal battle. Determining the exact amount of damage is a lengthy and costly process. Simply providing a random figure of $800 without any proof of damages seems vague. This suggests that the tactic is designed to quickly scare recipients into paying a fee without proper investigation.

How Likely is a Lawsuit?

Engagement through a lawyer or a lawsuit from PicRights is highly unlikely due to significant differences between Swiss and U.S. legal systems.

  • Attorney Costs
    In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, the prevailing party in a lawsuit typically bears all legal costs, including those of the opposing party. In the U.S., even the winning party must cover their own legal expenses, including forensic costs during discovery. This discrepancy contributes to Germany being ranked as the most litigious country in the world by the European American Chamber of Commerce, with 123 lawsuits per 1000 people, while the U.S. is not even close to that figure. Despite common misconceptions, the U.S. is not the country with the most lawsuits exactly for that reason. Lawsuits in the United States are astronomically expensive, and Americans generally prefer to avoid them.
    While a simple copyright lawsuit in Switzerland might cost between $500 and $1500, the same case in the U.S. could range from $5000 to $15,000 for initial engagement and potentially reach a million dollars in total. For instance, my last lawsuit, involving only a few exchanges with a lawyer, cost around $96,000. In California, even a simple consultation can run into thousands of dollars. Therefore, pursuing legal actions in the U.S. would be financially impractical for PicRights, especially given the small amounts they seem to seek.
  • eDiscovery
    Additionally, the differences in legal procedures between Switzerland and the U.S. pose significant challenges. The U.S. legal system includes eDiscovery, where forensic experts access and analyze data from the plaintiff’s and defendant’s devices. This includes computers, cloud databases, and emails to verify the authenticity of claims. In a lawsuit, a U.S. forensic expert would need to travel to Switzerland to examine the copyright holder’s data, proving the creation and ownership of the image in question. If any data has been deleted or manipulated, the plaintiff would immediately lose the case. Switzerland lacks a comparable process, creating potential issues for Swiss entities unfamiliar with such procedures.
  • Counterclaim
    In the U.S., a countersuit is almost automatically filed against the plaintiff in any lawsuit. The defendant typically seeks leverage and may claim damages. Ultimately, a jury would decide whether the evidence and damages support or refute the plaintiff’s claims. If the defendant can demonstrate that PicRights’ copyright infringement claims are merely a business model with no real damage, they could demand punitive damages up to several million dollars. Key witnesses, such as the CEO, could be required to testify, and any fraudulent activity could lead to criminal charges, potentially resulting in the CEO’s arrest before returning to Switzerland.
  • Dirty Hands Doctrine
    Also known as the “Unclean Hands Doctrine,” this principle states that a party seeking relief must not have engaged in unethical, illegal, or bad faith conduct concerning the subject of their claim. If the plaintiff has participated in wrongful behavior, the court may deny them relief. This doctrine is not recognized in German-speaking countries, however is often used by U.S. attorneys as leverage in counterclaims.
  • Fraud and Misrepresentation
    Another critical aspect is “Fraud and Misrepresentation”. If the plaintiff has gained an advantage through fraudulent actions or misrepresentation, it can be grounds for dismissing the case or for the defendant to file a counterclaim. This is crucial for the Swiss company to be aware of if they aim to succeed in their claim.
  • In Pari Delicto
    Lastly, the doctrine of “In Pari Delicto” must be considered. This doctrine prevents a plaintiff who has engaged in wrongdoing from recovering damages for the consequences of that wrongdoing. If both parties are equally at fault, the court will leave them as they are. Given PicRights’ approach to their claim, it’s likely that their conduct could be scrutinized and used against them, potentially rendering their notifications and claims invalid.

I have received letters like this myself in the past. Without further checking their legitimacy, I simply marked their domain as spam and disregarded any further communications knowing that I always properly license my images through trustful stock photography platforms. And I never heard of them, again.

My standpoint always has been that legal or legal-sounding letters from abroad are not concern me unless they come from a bar-licensed lawyer in my state.

Please leave comments below, and I will give my best to respond. Thank you.

About the Author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. William Sen CEO and founder of Blue Media

Dr. William Sen has been an SEO since 2001 and is a Software Engineer since 1996, and has been teaching as an Associate Professor for some of the world's biggest universities. William has studied International Business at the University of California, Berkeley and among others holds a PhD in Information Sciences. He has worked for brands such as Expedia, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Bayer, Ford, T-Mobile and many more.

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