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Photographs Linked in Chat Forums Do Not Violate Copyright Laws

Public Citizen Defends Owner of Web Forum Against Baseless Claims of Copyright Infringement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The owner of a chat forum should not be liable for copyright infringement based on the posting of hyperlink to a photograph by a member of the forum, Public Citizen told the U.S. District Court of Northern California in a complaint for declaratory relief filed Wednesday.

In 2007, a member of BladeForums, a discussion site for knife makers and enthusiasts, hyperlinked to a photograph of a redwood tree burl in a thread about knife handles made from the wood of redwood trees. Using a lawyer named Matthew Higbee, the photographer and the owner of the website linked to in the forum, sent a demand letter to the forum’s owner, Kevin Schlossberg, accusing him of copyright infringement and demanding $2,500 to avoid having a lawsuit filed. After receiving the letter, Schlossberg removed the image from the forum but explained through counsel to Luong that he was not violating copyright laws because linking to copyrighted images does not constitute infringement and because Schlossberg did not post the image himself, among other reasons.

Despite the explanation, Luong persisted with his threats to file a lawsuit. Public Citizen, representing Schlossberg, is asking the court to declare that he is not liable for copyright infringement. “Although photographers deserve to get paid for the copying of their creative work, the hosts of online discussion forums do not commit copyright infringement when a forum member links to a web site where a photographer has chosen to display his works, enabling the photos to be seen by way of the forum,” said Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy. “Allowing such claims would pose a serious risk to operators of discussion sites.

A copyright holder who wants to block deep linking should configure its web site to do so, not threaten lawsuits.” Phillip R Malone and the Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic, which he directs at Stanford Law School, are co-counsel on the case.

Read the complaint here.