So You Thought You Had A Bad Day

Posted: April 7th, 2009

Through the twitter grapevine, I ran into an horror story of a freelance graphic designer, Jon Engle, being sued for $18,000 for copyright infringement. The worst part… it was his own work in question! From Jon’s own blog:

I was first contacted by a stock art site in July of last year. They hit me with a bill for a whopping $18,000! I had an account with the site. Years ago I purchased an illustration of a chef’s hat for a client’s project. So, I thought this was some accounting mistake. Nope. This was a bill for new images. Very familiar images. They were images from several of my logos; 65 of them in fact. That breaks down to about $275 per image. They actually wanted me to pay them $275 for each one of MY images!

Once the sticker shock wore off the obvious question came to mind. Where the hell did they get these from? It seems as if most or all of them were lifted from my LogoPond showcase. They especially seemed to favor the ones that made it to the gallery.

My theory is that someone copied my artwork, separated them from any typography and then posted them for sale on the stock site. Someone working for the site either saw my LP showcase or was alerted to the similarities. They then prepared the bill and sent it to me. The good thing is that the bill gives me a record of every single image they took from me. That helps me gather dates, sketches, emails, etc to help me prove my case. The bad thing is that despite my explanations and proof, they will not let this go.

When I refused to pay the bill they hired a law firm specializing in copyright infringement. The attorney called and offered a settlement of $18,000. How is that any different than the bill? I refuse to pay THEM for work I created. That is the epitomy of ridiculous. The attorney didn’t like my response. He threatened to sue. I say BRING IT ON! I have no doubt I can win in court.

Now this isn’t an everyday occurrence, but how many freelance graphic designers out there have the proof that every piece of work they created is their own? I mean we’re talking proof that work was created on a certain date which is difficult to provide.

I seriously hope we haven’t come to an era where freelancers have to really cover their ass to prevent major BS like this. The freelancer community has always been about the honor system and helping one another out. I will, however, reserve judgment in this case since I’ve only heard one side of the argument (Jon’s). If this turns out to be a scheme by a single greedy website owner and a shady lawyer friend, though, then my whole belief in freelancing goes out the door with Jon’s career.

Nevermind that I am not a freelance graphic designer (a programmer instead), we’re all in the same boat and you never know if something like this can happen in other fields. I’ll keep posted on the outcome for sure.


Comments on Jon’s story on Reddit

Here’s something you can use to put a digital watermark on your images