back to article Hacker mag 2600 laughs off Getty Images inkspots copyright claim

Venerable hacker publication 2600 is fighting off what looks like an early candidate for the most egregious copyright infringement accusation of 2015. On a 2012 cover, 2600 used an ink-splatter effect. A group naming itself the Trunk Archive – ultimately owned by Getty Images – is now playing the pay-up game because it's got …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Do the hipsters of today even get the reference to an ink splash?

    'You had quills and fountain pens?'

    'You used bottles of ink?'

    'And it wasn't steam-punk?'

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: inkspots

      Man don't mess with India ink as that shit will still be on a shirt even after you burn it.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: inkspots

      Of course hipsters do. Real hipsters make their own ink from naturally-sourced dyes, or at least purchase artisanal inks from small local vendors.

      It's the digital natives who have never seen a pen.

      We must keep our feeble stereotypes straight.

  2. Mark 85

    Not quite enough ink to be a Rorschach Test. Maybe it just needs to be blotted a bit and then everyone will see something copyrightable in it.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      It's not quite that simple. Copyright owners are pretty much obliged in law to actively defend their copyright. If they don't do that then their lack of action can be taken in a court case as meaning that they are happy for the work to be copied. Thus lack of action means risking losing the rights to the work.

      So it leads to mad situations like this. It may well be that Getty in this specific case do not actually care at all, but the wider ramifications for their business if they do not act are in general bad for their commercial future.

      As usual it's the lawyers who will win, and of course it's lawyers who create the legal problem in the first place. Thanks guys.

      1. BinkyTheHorse


        Are you sure you aren't confusing copyright with trademarks?

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: @bazza

          Are you sure you aren't confusing copyright with trademarks?

          Sorry, yes I was. Too early in the morning. I've had a cup of tea now.

          However, not defending one's copyright for a sustained period of time is certainly bad for business. Try asking for judge for large damages when one has ignored many other instances of copying.

          In this particular case it will be interesting to see who does end up owning the picture. Unless there some sort of deal between Getty and DeviantArt it seems hard for Getty to sustain this claim.

      2. Lyle Dietz

        You're thinking of trademarks. You don't lose copyright because you don't pursue violations.

      3. Cari

        @bazza - But it's not even their ink blot, they've nicked it from a deviantartist.

      4. Richard 12 Silver badge

        No. There is no requirement to chase copyright

        There is a requirement to chase after trademarks, as a registered trademark can be lost if not "protected".

        This is because trademarks are intended to be held perpetually, while copyright is intended to expire and thus requires lobbying of government to extend.

        1. asdf

          Re: No. There is no requirement to chase copyright

          and thus requires Disney lobbying of government to extend eternally.

          FIFY. I am actually surprised copyright also doesn't require active defense because after all the law is about one thing, increasing billable hours.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Copyright is just a holder's right to make or allow copies of it. If they want to allow anyone ot make a copy, or if they don't care that someone has made a copy that is their right. If they choose to restrict or sue someone for copying their work within the terms of the law of the country then they can also do that.

        There is no requirement to pursue, you can't lose your copyright.

        These people didn't have a right to pursue in the first place though.

    2. TitterYeNot

      "Not quite enough ink to be a Rorschach Test"

      I don't know about that, if I turn it on its side and focus on the centre I can quite clearly see the image of a Troll...

  3. Cincinnataroo

    If these guys don't own this, what are the legal repercussions for them?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      legal repercussions?

      Unless you have very, very, very deep pockets and an awful lot of time to waste. Otherwise don't bother.

      Why do I say this?

      Well, I had a photo ripped off by someone in the USA. This was back in the days of flim. I'd scanned it and had it on a website.

      A year later I found my picture in a magazine. I proved to the magazine [1] that I was the copyright owner so they paid me for the images but going after the [redacted] who stole it? Just to engage a lawyer I would have needed to put up around $10K and that was for starters.

      Since this incident I do not put any of my photos on the internet unless they are very low resolution and watermarked.

      [1] I took the negatives into their London Office. They soon realised that they'd goofed.

  4. Cari

    Well this is disgusting, and bloody stupid of Trunk considering the target.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    Probably an automated process. That's what comes of letting software do your thinking for you. Surely a human being would have thought to check the actual source of the image?

    The offending software needs to be punished hard - disassembled and the bits scattered to where they can do no more harm.

    1. Blane Bramble

      Re: Bonkers


      Shows the complete idiocy of any automated process. To summarise:

      Party A uses a "free for commercial/non-commercial" use image as part of their image A1

      Party B uses the same image as part of their image B1

      Party B uses an automated process that notices that B1 is similar to A1 and decides this is copyright infringement. It has no knowledge that the matching section of the images is free for use.

      Obviously, party B is at fault for not vetting infringement claims before they are sent out, but this is going to be a growing problem.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ JustaKOS

    The offending areswipe who decided to pursue this needs to be punished hard - disassembled and their bits scattered to where they can do no more harm.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: @ JustaKOS

      OK, I accept your correction. The software didn't have a choice in the matter, so should be seen as blameless.

      The human who let it loose, on the other hand ...

  7. The Vociferous Time Waster

    Legal precedent

    I would refer them to the response given in Arkell v. Pressdram (1971)

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: Legal precedent

      Thanks for making me look that up.

      Very amusing story.

  8. MacroRodent

    Is a random ink splatter

    ... even copyrightable in the first place?

    And what if two people splatter ink and get a very similar result? Who is plagiarising whom? As usual with copyright corner cases, the mind boggles...

    1. VinceH

      Re: Is a random ink splatter

      Wikipedia needs to publish it, and declare it copyright free if anyone complains. That would solve that problem.

    2. Cari

      Re: Is a random ink splatter

      In this instance it appears to be a texture designed for use in backgrounds for images, and was put up on DA for others to use too. It's not so much the look of the ink splatter, but the creation of it for use in digital works I guess? And with this it's obvious to see this specific texture was used for the 2600 cover and the Trunk Archive photo.

    3. bitmap animal

      Re: Is a random ink splatter

      If you look at the images they have not made their own which looks similar to the 'original' but have just cropped a section off. Anyone can, I expect, make their own but they chose to use someone elses image without attribution to the source.

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Won't somebody think of the poor lawyers?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Oh I think of them . . . being slowly lowered into the shark tank.

      1. tony2heads

        Sharks don't eat lawyers

        out of professional courtesy.

        1. earl grey

          Re: Sharks don't eat lawyers

          courtesy nothing. sharks don't eat shite.

    2. dotdavid

      "Won't somebody think of the poor lawyers?"

      Are there any poor lawyers?

      1. Jagged

        "Are there any poor lawyers?"

        Yes. They are the ones going out of business trying to providing legal aid.

        Are there any poor corporate lawyers? Now that's a different question.

      2. Gary Bickford

        Lots of poor lawyers

        Actually yes, there are a lot of poor lawyers. Like rock bands, a few make the headlines, most of them toil away in the legal equivalent of neighborhood bars. I read several years ago that at that time the average pay of sysadmins was about $65K, and of lawyers about $61K. I think this is because a large fraction of lawyers spend their days doing legal research for big enterprises, another large fraction work defending (or prosecuting) low level defendants. These latter don't get paid to sit around and wait for clients. I've been to the offices of independent lawyers defending DUI clients (not me) - they tend to have offices near the courthouse in very cheap office space with very used furniture.

  10. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

    Looks like Getty Imgaes have a problem

    Since their image seems to use the DeviantArt ink splash as well.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Looks like Getty Imgaes have a problem

      Exactly. The Deviant Artist should submit an immediate DCMA and get the lawyers on the case for a share in the revenue from that image (which must be titled something like Twerp with Splat)

  11. magickmark
    Black Helicopters


    Did anyone else notice the El Reg logo in the ink splatter, admittedly in reverse:

    Some kind of conspiracy? Inquiring Minds need to know!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Vulture?

      For those who value their privacy, you can just close the login box and you'll get to the image. No need to register.

      1. magickmark

        Re: Vulture?

        Thanks for that AC and a good point. I would have put the image in the post but as far as i can see you can't do that, so putting it on Dropbox was the quick and easy way to highlight it.

        Have a beer on me!

        1. Captain DaFt

          Re: Vulture?

          I'd recommend using for this type of thing.

  12. casaloco


    Just sue "Trunk Archive" for defamation/slander/etc.

    Request $100m. Agree to take a lower figure in exchange for a cease and desist agreement. Then if they contact anyone else they'll be in contempt of court.... jail time.

    If they refuse the deal they'll lose the case.... they can't say "we know it's defamatory but we reserve the right to do it again". Blaming their software isn't a defence.

  13. dc_m

    Silly question. Someone always has a fountain pen at places like that.

    Why not make your own ink blot, scan it in and then use that?

    Too easy

  14. PhilipN Silver badge

    Be easy everybody

    In many many cases like this the IP owner does necessarily even know about it. The party making the demand is just a spiv / wide boy / carpetbagger trying it on. They probably send out hundreds even thousands of such letters. Even a small percentage of the addressees may just pay up meekly so the spiv wins.

    There are lots of similar such scams. It used to be in Blighty in the days of paper-based accounting you could send an invoice to a big company and in some cases they would just pay it - the overhead required to check every payment of 30 bob not being worth it.

    Or so I am told.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Be easy everybody

      Yes then once they had paid the first one send further invoices on a regular basis, this fraud wasn't unique to paper based systems though.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a load of Jackson Pollocks

  16. earl grey

    " aren't seem to be "

    i think you meant besn't.

  17. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    "If you look at the images they have not made their own which looks similar to the 'original' but have just cropped a section off. Anyone can, I expect, make their own but they chose to use someone elses image without attribution to the source."

    I was unclear about this at first too. But if you look fully, 2600 licenses an ENTIRE inkblot (for whatever reason), but used just the corner. Whoever made this Getty photo also used the whole thing (did they license it or just rip it off?) Getty then copyright trolled 2600 by claiming this corner of the inkblot, which was not original to the photo, is copyright infringement.

    What do *I* think should happen? I think, in a general sense, companies that use automated systems to detect "infringements", then automatically sends out demands (instead of having a human review them), should owe damages when they make clearly false copyright infringement claims. I do hope 2600 takes action against Getty over this.

  18. J. R. Hartley

    The Grammar

    aren't seem to be getting any better.

  19. John Savard

    Be Sorry for the Victim

    While 2600 is indeed innocent of copyright infringement here, we should also pity poor Getty Images. They're also an innocent victim. How could they know that one of the artists who hired them to protect his work had pirated part of it from a DeviantArt artist... oh, wait a moment.

    If 2600 can use the ink spots, so can somebody doing a fashion ad - but yes, somehow he should have told Getty Images that he used freely available ink spots in his image, so hits should only be registered on the man in the image. And, of course, the web crawling image recognition software might not be sophisticated enough to allow that sort of thing to be specified to it...

    But then, just as it is felt that drones with lethal weapons should have a human finger on the trigger, sending out legal notices should involve human intervention. So the image could have been annotated for that human.

    1. Cari

      Re: Be Sorry for the Victim

      Feel sorry for Getty/Trunk because at no point in time when they sent several letters demanding payment, did they involve a human being in the process or consult the original photographer?

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