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An Email from National GeographicAny copyright lawyers out there willing to offer some free advice? I just received the following email from National Geographic (I'm sensing a bad trend developing here with emails like this... first the time travel mutual fund, and now Nat Geo):
One of our readers has informed us that you are featuring one of our
photographs on your website at http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/2003/10/ [note: here's a more direct link].
We would ask that you either remove the photo immediately, or forward me
details of how long the image has been posted and how long you intend to
keep it posted so that we can determine an appropriate licensing fee and
send you a formal retroactive rights release and invoice. Please let me
know if you have any questions.
I'm not quite sure how to proceed. Nat Geo, unlike the time travel mutual fund, isn't someone you want to mess with. But on the other hand, I believe (hope) that my use of the image is protected by fair use. First of all, the image had circulated widely via email before I put it on my site. All I did was add some commentary to it in order to inform the public of the image's true source. Second, my use of the image hasn't deprived Nat Geo of any income since the image was too low quality to make print copies from. In fact, my commentary probably provided them with some free advertising.
I could just buckle under and remove the image, but this question of what is and what isn't fair use with regard to images that have escaped into the wilds of email is one that I'd very much like to know the answer to. Does a site such as mine, that tries to provide some information about random images that people find in their inboxes, have to request permission from the copyright owner whenever the owner is identified? Am I going to have to request permission from Touristguy to have his image on my site, or from that guy posing with the big bear? If so, that would potentially kill off large portions of my site.