Intellectual Property Rights are a ‘thing’ in the Internet. Everything that is published is owned by the original owner and carries copyright protection. It is illegal to copy articles wholesale off of another website and publish the content on your own as your content. You may copy snippets of content and use it in a quote for editorial purposes – using the information to enhance the point you are trying to make or as an example to discuss.
The same is true of images you find on the Internet. Just because an image is available in a Google search does not mean you can copy it, paste it into your content and use it without permission. All of those images are the property of the original photographer.
There are several services which buy images and then sell licenses which permit you to use the images on your website (Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, etc.) and others have images available under the Creative Commons license, which very basically allows you to use the image if you attribute it to the owner and provide a link back to the owner’s site or account on an image storage service.
If you steal images from the Internet (and that is what you are doing if you download them without permission) the image owner does have the right to call you out on it and demand that you take it off of your site. If you ignore the warning they haf the right to request from your hosting provider a ‘DMCA Takedown’. DMCA is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Your hosting provider will give you an official notice and if that is ignored they have the ability to remove yoru site from the Internet.
This particular scam
This individual and group is sending contact form submissions to random (or maybe not random) websites saying that they are a photographer and have found that the website is using one of their images without permission. Here is the text of the form submission:
Hi there! This is Melitta and I am a professional photographer and illustrator. I was surprised, mildly speaking, when I saw my images at your web-site. If you use a copyrighted image without an owner’s consent, you must be aware that you could be sued by the creator. It’s against the law to use stolen images and it’s so selfish! See this document with the links to my images you used at xxxxxxxxxxxx.com and my earlier publications to get the evidence of my ownership. Download it right now and check this out for yourself: https://sites.google.com/view/d1skhv93ghvn7g/drive/storage/a/files/download?h=625947633855978142 If you don’t get rid of the images mentioned in the document above within the next several days, I’ll file a to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been severely infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property. And if it is not enough, trust me I am going to report and sue you! And you won’t receive the second notice from me.
Now, the message sounds like it could be valid and one might be concerned about it. But in this case:
- This particular website that I manage had all of the images on the site taken by a professional photographer in the website owner’s location.
- The identical message has been received on 4 other sites I manage. The only changes to the message are the sending email address and occasionally the person’s name.
These form submissions have been received on and off for about 6 months, are always ignored and have had no effect. So, no, that is not true about not getting a second notice, we get a couple a month. My guess, though I’m not about to test it out, is that clicking on the link will download a malware package onto your site that will give the scammers access in some way.
Be careful out there!
May 13, 2021: Two more form submissions almost identical to that shown above – and word-for word identical to each other. Both received on the same site on the same day. Here are the fake senders: