Bloggers Sued for Copyright Infringement, PP Membership Evidence of Guilt

Bloggers Sued for Copyright Infringement, PP Membership Evidence of Guilt

Bildombudsmannen is well known in Swedish Pirate circles for contacting websites concerning copyright infringment, and threatening to sue them if they don’t pay a cease and desist letter. Recently they targeted a blog editor, but this time with a tactic not previously known – using the editor’s membership in the Swedish Pirate Party as evidence of guilt.

Bildombudsmannen has previously been criticised for portraying itself as a governmentally sanctioned institution or agency. It’s name translates to “Ombudsman of Images”, playing off on the term “ombudsman” as used by several state agencies including Diskrimineringsombudsmannen, “Ombudsman of Discrimination”, responsible for making sure discrimination laws are being followed. Likewise, many have reported that they assumed Bildombudsmannen was a state agency responsible for copyright law. In reality, it is a one-man company run by jurist Staffan Teste, who is hired by copyright owners to persecute websites, blogs and other pages which – willingly or not – infringe on others’ copyrights by republishing images, text or video.

Rockfashion later released an alternative flag image, free to use without restrictions as long as one doesn’t claim to be the photographer. Photo by Joachim Persson.

Non-Commercial Mistake Warrants € 1 100 Payment

One website recently targeted by Teste and his company is Rockfashion, a non-commercial blog covering rock and tattoo fashion and music. After writing a post in which they used a photo of the Swedish flag, which they had found on Google, they were sent a cease and desist letter, requesting almost € 1 100. Without so much as a warning ahead of time, Bildombudsmannen charged them for using the image without permission and without acknowledging the copyright owner, even though the use was non-commercial and even though they had – mistakenly – thought that the image was free to use:

At that moment we sadly assumed that the image was okay to use. It appeared on multiple government websites, in newspapers, on blogs, et cetera. No source was given, so we assumed (wrong in doing so) that the image came from some gallery of free images.

Rockfashion, as many before them, first assumed that Bildombudsmannen was a government agency, and only after doing some research found it to be a privately owned company. They then contacted Teste, arguing that they had acted unknowingly, and that Rockfashion was a non-commercial website. Teste continued arguing his case, and so the Rockfashion editors chose to refuse to pay the requested money.

Pirate Party Membership is Evidence of Guilt

Soon thereafter, Teste sued the Rockfashion editors in court over the matter. While unable to afford hiring a lawyer, Rockfashion took the help of a photography and copyright law enthusiast, K-G Stolt, who helped them make their case. They argued in court for the website’s non-commercial status, as well as the relatively few hits – just over 100 unique visitors in over a year online.

In response, Teste put forth additional factors as evidence of guilt, one of which is the fact that one editor, Joachim Persson, openly supports and is a member of the Swedish Pirate Party. According to Persson, however, while he sympathises with the party’s view on privacy, he is against its views on copyright issues, something he has clarified previously in public blog posts which Teste had chosen to ignore.

Whether or not Persson is for or against copyright is less relevant, however, as this should not influence a trial, nor be used in an attempt to influence a trial. Young Pirates Sweden’s president Gustav Nipe commented on the case, and put out the question – “Are there more people out there receiving invoices with reference to their Pirate Party membership, and who are therefore breaking copyright law?”

€ 300 000 Requested for a Single Picture

With or without the membership argument, Teste is indeed active – it seems that this one picture has generated 300 separate letters, a total of over € 300 000. Among the targets are many non-commercial bloggers, commercial news sites, and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

In the Rockfashion trial, the court agreed that the sum was unreasonable for a non-commercial website, and advised the parties to make a settlement out of court, which landed on approximately € 450. While this was obviously much more doable than the originally sought € 1 100, the Rockfashion editors still had to hold a fundraiser on their website to pay it off. As their story quickly went viral, they reached their goal in less than a day.

This one case ended relatively well, but it still took all too much time and money, and there are many cases of bloggers who would rather just give up and pay the invoice immediately and without protest. There are literally hundreds of cases left to go, and there’s no seeing a stop to the business model any time soon.

Featured image by Anton Nordenfur, in the public domain.