How to Deal With a Letter from PicRights Alleging Copyright Infringement

How to Deal With a Letter from PicRights Alleging Copyright Infringement

Zeinab Farhat WebsitePK WebsiteAuthors: Zeinab Farhat & Petro Kaloterakis, Progressive Legal


Have you recently found a rather official-looking letter in your mailbox or inbox from an entity called “PicRights”? You’re not alone. Many journalists, bloggers, and website owners have been on the receiving end of these letters, coming from big names like Reuters or Agence France Presse through PicRights.

These letters almost follow a template but are slightly tweaked to address you directly, claiming you’ve stepped on the copyright toes of their clients by posting an image online without the proper license, and now they want you to pay up.

So, what does this mean? Is PicRights the copyright police or is something else at play? How should you respond if you get one of these letters? Here are the essentials.

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Is PicRights a legitimate business?

First things first: PicRights isn’t a law firm, and the person sending the letter isn’t a lawyer. They’re pretty upfront about it, actually. The letter itself will tell you, “PicRights is not a law firm and I am not a lawyer.”

So, what are they? Think of PicRights as the debt collectors of the copyright world. They’re in the business of tracking down instances where their clients’ copyrighted works have been used without permission and asking – nicely or not so nicely – for a licence fee to be paid accordingly.

They do this by scouring the internet with what we imagine are highly sophisticated bots, looking for images belonging to their clients that have been posted without authorisation. It’s not uncommon for people to receive multiple letters from PicRights for various images in one go, whether on behalf of one copyright owner, or multiple.

But here’s the million-dollar question: Is PicRights legitimate? While the internet is a wild west of claims and accusations, it is best to proceed on the basis that Picrights is in fact a legitimate agency.

In assisting in the assessment of legitimacy, it should be noted that we have even recently seen a matter escalated to a top tier law firm which began with correspondence sent by Picrights. 

What rights do copyright owners have?

The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (“the Act”) provides copyright owners with a range of exclusive rights. An image is classified as an “artistic work” under the Act, and s 31(b)(i)-(iii) of the Act provides that the exclusive rights attached to an artistic work are to: 

  1. reproduce the work in material form;  
  2. publish the work; and  
  3. communicate the work to the public  

Put simply, the copyright owner of an image is the sole person able to do those exclusive acts, unless a licence has been granted by the copyright owner providing that another party can use those images.

What exactly is Picrights?

As mentioned above, PicRights is effectively a debt recovery agency. Copyright owners will engage PicRights to use its automated search services to reverse image search the internet and identify alleged unauthorised use(s) of images.  

Letters sent by PicRights are near identical and typically include: 

  1. identification of the copyright owner (i.e. the party who PicRights is acting as an agent for);
  2. a demand that proof of a licence is provided by the infringing party;
  3. a demand that the image(s) be removed;
  4. a demand for payment of a licence fee (“Licence Fee”), even if the image has been or is removed; and
  5. particulars of the infringement. 

How do I respond to the letter?

Received a PicRights letter? Below is an overview of some options you may consider in responding to a letter:

Obtain legal advice

The average person does not have basic knowledge in copyright law and often, may use images located online on the pretence that such images are “free to use” on the basis they are freely available. This is incorrect and consideration must be given to issues such as:

a. Whether you have a licence in place for your use of that image (whether or not that licence has been purchased); 

b. If yes, the applicability of the terms of that licence to your subsequent use of the image(s);  

c. If not, whether your use of the image actually constitutes an infringement. In Australia, there are fair dealing defences, however, these are narrow defences and their applicability to your circumstances must not be assumed, even if you believe you fall within a defence. An intellectual property lawyer is better versed to advise you on this, including undertaking further research, where necessary.

Ignore the letter

You may choose to just ignore the letter. It is important to note, that ignoring the letter will not necessarily put an end to the matter. Given the increased amount of correspondence coming from PicRights to individuals and businesses within Australia, it appears as though more and more people will be receiving these letters in the foreseeable future.

Will I get sued?

No guarantees can be made that you will, or, will not get sued.  

The commencement of legal proceedings is a very expensive and time-consuming endeavour. Copyright infringement matters are initiated in the Federal Court or the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.  

A copyright owner could elect to commence proceedings in the Local Court for recovery of the licence fee alone (i.e. no injunctive relief), but this again appears unlikely in many cases.

Key takeaways

If you’re looking at a letter from PicRights or a similar agency, breathe. The next step is to get in touch with an Intellectual Property Lawyer with experience in Australian copyright law, sooner rather than later.

Remember, getting advice early can save you a lot of headaches – and potentially money – by ensuring you navigate the situation correctly from the start.

At Progressive Legal, our copyright infringement lawyershave a wealth of experience in dealing with matters just like this. If you’re in need of guidance regarding a copyright issue, give us a call or make an online enquiry today. 

Need help with copyright infringement?

Contact us by giving us a call on 1800 820 083 or request our advice today.

*NB// The contents of this article are information only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Please seek specialist legal advice in relation to your particular situation.

(c) Progressive Legal Pty Ltd – All legal rights reserved (2023)

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