Insect Photographer Seeks $2.7 Million for Copyright Violations from Pest Control Company

Insect Photographer Seeks $2.7 Million for Copyright Violations from Pest Control Company

If you've wondered why registering your image copyrights is a good thing, here's a case for you. Insect photographer Alex Wild is seeking $2.7 million in an image-use case in which a pest control company used 18 of his images without permission and refused to take them down.

In order to complete my undergraduate degree in biology about eight years ago, I was working on an honors thesis studying the mutualistic relationship of a neo-tropical ant, Azteca spp., and its host plant, Cecropia spp. For the project, under the guidance of my advisor, I brought back some ants and some leaves from the trees that I had collected while studying in Costa Rica. To double-check my ant identifications I had made in the field, we sent off my samples to a guy she knew in Illinois, who also ended up doing some DNA sequencing work on them.

That guy’s name? Alex Wild. In addition to being a biologist, he also happened to be an insect photographer, which I thought was really cool, since I was just starting to solidify my plans to enter the photography world myself.

Fast-forward eight years, and learn about this copyright infringement case involving an insect photographer. His name? Alex Wild.

Wild has a stunning portfolio of insect images, so I’m not surprised he has image use issues and copyright violations regularly. He even tries to make it easy on people by having a licensing page on his website detailing different types of use and fees. Apparently, this case got to be a little much, and he’s taken action on it. A pest control company, Solutions Pest and Lawn, was caught using 18 images out of Wild’s portfolio without permission or licensing, so he is seeking statutory damages of $150,000 per infringement, which is the maximum allowed for images registered with the copyright office under U.S. federal law.

Due to the number of infringements involved, instead of sending his typical cease-and-desist letters, he had his lawyers go ahead and send settlement letters, which were initially ignored. He did eventually get a response from the company stating that it was a mistake and they were working on getting them removed; but months later, he noticed another eight images were used without permission, and the original infringed images were still up, hence the formal legal action.

One of the infringed images of a Technomyrmex difficilis ant, carrying a pupa. Image by Alex Wild.

In a brief statement from Wild, he says that this isn’t all that uncommon:

I cannot comment publicly about this particular infringement case, but I will say this is the largest of several lawsuits I've filed recently. These typically do not proceed to filing unless the infringing company repeatedly fails to respond after being made aware of the problem. In some of the more incredible cases, including this one, the infringer not only does not respond but continues to upload new infringing copies. It's maddening how often this happens.

As previously reported on Fstoppers, the methods for registering copyrights in the U.S. will be changing on February 20th. If you haven’t registered images by then, it’s about to get a lot more expensive, but by registering them, you can get larger settlements in court if your images’ rights are infringed upon. It’s something worth looking into.

Images are copyrighted and used with permission of Alex Wild.

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Seems pretty cut and dry. The company should be begging to settle the case before it goes to court if they know what's good for them.

When the pest control controllers become the pests.