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Is PicRights A Scam? Are Higbee & Associates Emails a Scam?

LAST UPDATED May 10, 2024 after Warner Chappell v. Nealy decision.

Note: Due to the sharp increase in demand letters from PicRights, AP, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and their law firm Higbee and Associates, we have created a streamlined, flat rate consultation for evaluation of their claims/ demand letters. These consultations are $179 and last 30 mins, and we will provide (i) an evaluation of your circumstances, and (ii) next steps. This is our attempt to assist those who feel trapped by this stressful issue.

To book a consultation call and to discuss your particular circumstances, please fill out this form and select “Yes” to the question “Are you inquiring due to a letter regarding copyright infringement demanding money for unauthorized use? (Ex: Picrights, AFP, Higbee, AP)“.

It’s a day like any other. You’re working on your business. You’re in the zone. You’ve never even heard of a company called “PicRights.”

And then, you get a letter.

In this letter, it says that you’ve infringed on a copyright by posting some photo to your website back in 2016. And that letter is demanding $2500 in licensing fees.

What on Earth?

You laugh off the initial shock. This has got to be a scam, right?

Wrong.

While it’s [in my opinion] a predatory practice, it’s not* a scam. I include that asterisk because it’s not always entirely accurate, either (more on that below).

Alarmingly enough, I’ve seen a BIG spike in the number of claims and demand letters sent by groups like PicRights, FoodPhotos, Agence France Presse, and law firm Higbee & Associates.

Let’s talk about what you should do if you receive one.

[Note: You can also hear my thoughts on PicRights notices at the Lead Balloon Podcast, available at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts. As of May 9, 2024, some of this information is out of date. Please consult an attorney regarding potential damages.]

Is PicRights Legitimate?

In its entirety, they aren’t a scam.

But, in my opinion and experience, they aren’t always truthful and forthcoming, either.

PicRights is a “copyright enforcement and claims resolution” organization. They use 🤖 bots to crawl the internet and reverse-image search for images belonging to their “clients” or individuals who they represent— or allege they represent. They do represent numerous photographers, including some AP and Reuters groups.

However, it seems that sometimes the individual or company who owns the copyright is not involved. Allegedly, PicRights collects fees on behalf of the photographer without explicit engagement (note: this is based on anecdotal evidence and my own personal experience).

These bots comb through the annals of the internet, akin to Google’s search indexer. It finds everything, even images taken off the website and stored in files.

Then, once PicRights finds the image on your server, they send a demand letter for thousands of dollars claiming unauthorized “use” of the images. If you don’t pay them, they threaten to sue for $30k, $150k, or more. These numbers are based on the damages (read: money) set forth in the copyright act.

They provide a claim number and invoice, and ask for “prompt payment” to settle the claim. Otherwise, they say they will escalate the matter to their legal counsel.

Enter Higbee and Associates.

Is Higbee and Associates a Scam?

Higbee and Associates is the law firm representing/ working with PicRights and other various organizations like Agence France-Presse.

Once PicRights escalates the issue— typically because you’ve ignored their notice or told them to leave you alone— they send it to Higbee & Associates.

Higbee & Associates then sends you a demand letter via email and/ or snail mail. They demand more money and threaten to file suit for “up to $150,000 in damages.”

And they aren’t lying. They will file. They have done it in the past. And they aren’t totally bluffing.

BUT….they also might not have the rights they claim they do. Their letters aren’t always telling the entire story, and they often — in my experience— overstate their rights and the remedies available to their clients. They may not have the right to claim those “big money” damages.

[In my opinion] Picrights and its representatives at Higbee and Associates can be very nasty and threatening. And [In my opinion] they are deceptive. [In my opinion] they are misleading. And [in my opinion] it’s a predatory practice that exploits small business owners using outdated copyright laws that haven’t quite kept up with the internet.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a scam. In fact, many times, they do have the legal right to demand some sort of compensation.

But I’ve also seen instances where they don’t have that right. And in my opinion, that’s not forthcoming behavior from Picrights or its representatives at Higbee and Associates.

Should I Pay PicRights?

You wouldn’t just pay a bill that shows up in your inbox without figuring out what it’s for, would you? In the same vain, before evaluating the veracity of their claim, do not pay anyone for anything– including PicRights.

In the year 2023, when internet scams run amok, we’re not going to simply pay people without doing our due diligence on those demands.

Additionally, in my professional experience, I’ve had instances where PicRights and/ or its representatives at Higbee and Associates do not possess the rights they allege.

With the permission of the client, I will share that recently, that client was hit with a PicRights (and Higbee) demand letter. We, in return, demanded to see the deposit copy (the documents that go to the copyright office to show what you’ve claimed rights over).

They refused to send us that information. Instead, they wanted us to blindly pay them for a license for a property their client allegedly owned.

We refused, and pulled the deposit copy ourselves.

Now, this was expensive. To pull a deposit copy is $400-600 average, and sometimes, the deposit copies are not available. That cost is not lost on me. However, that cost can be worth it– and it was in this case.

The deposit copy came back and guess what? The photograph over which Picrights was asserting rights? Nowhere to be found. It was not part of the claimed copyrighted work. The photo they were demanding over $2000 for was nowhere to be found in the copyright registration they were touting (And remember, a registration is required for a lawsuit in the US).

After this experience, I became extremely skeptical of their claims, and will always require a deposit copy pull before moving forward with settlement. I always ask for a deposit copy.

What should I do if I get a letter from PicRights? Or Higbee and Associates?

Cut back to scene one, where you’re sitting with that demand letter in your hands. You’re sweaty and stressed. I get it. What now?

  • If you’re contacted by Picrights, Higbee, or any other of these organizations OR receive communications from them, DO NOT ENGAGE in a back and forth with them.
    • Don’t sign anything without having a lawyer look at it.
    • Don’t pay anything without having a lawyer look at it.
    • Don’t admit, deny, or put any dates, uses, or other admissions in writing. This includes saying “this is fair use!” or “I got it off of Wikipedia!” Remember: “everything you say, Picrights can and will use against you!”
  • DO NOT think they will just go away. These are automated and/ or high-volume letters that are part of a very well oiled machine, and Picrights or Higbee & Associates will more than likely follow up.
  • DO ask for their copyright registration certificate.
  • DO sit down and write out the following information:
    • Where you found that image (if possible)
    • The first date it appeared on your website, blog, or social media
    • The last date it appeared on your website, blog, or social media
    • The context in which it appeared on your website, blog, or social media
    • If it is still available on your website, blog, or social media.
    • If the image is displayed via an RSS feed or an embedded feed of any kind.
  • DO Get a lawyer. Make an appointment with one who practices copyright law. They will want to know those dates that I posted above, because copyright is a very fact specific practice.
  • DO NOT panic.

IN THE FUTURE…..

  • Always use properly licensed images. Don’t just grab screenshots off of Google images.
  • Audit your website. If you don’t know where every single image on your website, blog, and social media came from, take it down. Then, delete it from your server. Crawler bots can find past use and locate those old files. Instruct all of your social media managers, web designers, and content creators to use only approved sources for images.
  • Consider indemnity clauses in agreements with third party designers + creators. Remember: not knowing something was infringing isn’t considered an excuse! If your web designer uses a non-licensed photo, you’re still on the hook for infringement. Indemnity clauses can help make sure they repay you for that loss.

Have you received a PicRights demand letter or a communication from Higbee and Associates? Contact us for a non judgmental evaluation of your situation. We’ve all made mistakes– let us help you!

  1. […] we have witnessed a significant increase in copyright infringement claims made by groups such as PicRights, FoodPhotos, Agence France Presse, and other groups. These entities employ automated bots to scour […]

  2. Philip White says:

    I just copied by this company and are being asked to take down pictures from some of my own exercises. others were taken from the internet and not indicated they were copyrighted they want $650.00 for past usage.

    Philip White
    7007333-3577

  3. Fenny says:

    yes, we received a letter from them to asking $500 or they will report us to the attorney. we dont know what picture as pictures were available everywhere in Google for public to view. Web site builder use that, Not for our advantage. What are the next steps? please advise

  4. A. Neri says:

    Isn’t there a 3 yr statute of limitation? They claim I used a picture 5 years ago, can they still sue?

  5. Philip Miller says:

    This is a scam. Or a shakedown. Since AI now allows these bots to track down images that have been up forever.

    As a photographer we are paid a pittance. So how can these companies claim such high rental rates?

    It’s ransonware as far as I am concerned. Images from 2009?

    • Mb says:

      In the US, isn’t there a 3 year statute of limitations? I would think they can’t go after anyone for anything published more than 3 years ago… but they seem to do it regularly. I’m guessing you’d need to consult a lawyer about that and have them respond accordingly.

      • Caroline Fox says:

        There is a 3 year statute of limitations, but there is a circuit court split on it right now. The Supreme Court is determining right now whether that start date is the actual alleged act of infringement OR when the copyright holder “knew or should have known” the copyright infringement occured.

  6. Kevin says:

    The Higbee firm asks for $500, undoubtedly aware that it will cost close to that to engage a copyright lawyer. What do you typically charge to send a response?

  7. I’m in the UK and in december 2023 I received a demand for £1492.00. on behalf of AP.
    I used a designer for my site about 14 years ago ( they are no longer operating.)
    Pic rights have given a swiss bank account and a UK bank account to pay the money into.

    I took the website down. Sunday evening 21st January 2024 They sent another demand

    any help is appreciated

    • H D says:

      I’m based in Australia. I got legal advice and was told to ignore the letters as the cost of filing and going to court would not warrant escalation. It was bad advice. It has now been escalated to a major local law firm and the amount has increased. The letter from the law firm also states if it went to court & there was a judgement in favour of the plaintiff, i might be liable for legal costs. That is potentially a significant amount. So I’ll probably end up paying the PicRights amount, plus the cost of the legal advice i got.
      I would recommend you get a quote from a lawyer to review your situation and then go from there.

  8. L. H. says:

    I received an initial demand letter in August 1923. This letter stated a picture was used on our website that was in violation of copyright laws. The time this graphic went onto our website, I did not own the business. The website designers have no history of this picture being used since we have now deleted it from the website and our server. I have found the picture, it is on master file as Higby associates has stated. They are demanding $7000 for this picture. Any advice is appreciated.

  9. Jamie says:

    We have had demand from Picright for over £500 for a small image used on a news article we wrote back in 2019. I have been advised that here in the UK, this can go to court and if we lose, we are likely to be told to pay a reasonable cost for the image use, some court fees, and that’s about it. The total will be a lot lower than the £500 being demanded by Picright. It seems that UK law in a matter like this, does not allow legal costs to be claimed back by Picright. We have decided to see if they escalate this crazy demand for money and if they do, we will go to court prepared to lose. But would rather do that as it will cost less than paying their extortionate demand.

    • Caroline Fox says:

      I am not familiar with UK IP law, so my recommendation is to take the counsel of your UK IP Attorney. Best of luck with this!

    • Tom says:

      It’s now one month later since you have posted your comment. Was there any development since?

  10. AMI ADINI says:

    I received a demand from PicRight. They picked up the image from a historic website of a corporation that does not exist anymore, a corporation where I was a partner. Can you help me resolve this claim?

    • Caroline Fox says:

      I’m sorry that you’re having this issue. The best way to obtain our assistance is by filling out our consultation form, linked at the top of this page.

  11. Elle says:

    I used an image in a report for a school project years ago. Forgot all about it. Then, I received a notice from Pics Rights about it, and now Highbee. This was essentially a school report assignment. They want thousands now. Is this legit?

    • Caroline Fox says:

      This sounds quite stressful. Because these are so fact- and date-specific, the best way to determine any legal rights or defenses is by filling out our consultation form, linked at the top of this page.

  12. Adam S says:

    I received a email from Higby Law Firm stating that I used a copyrighted image on our church website without permission and immediately ordered to pay over 1k to settle the matter with their client AFP. The image was removed immediately from the servers.
    I responded to the matter by stating that we are a local church(non profit) and believe we received this letter in error and asked for more info.
    When asked about a copyright cert or deposit copy, they responded by saying the client has not registered the image as of yet. I would like some advice on next steps since we are a non profit org and believe we used the image as fair use (commentary on the image) and did not intend to make an y sort of monetary or donation gain from this use.

    • Caroline Fox says:

      Adam,
      Good job in knowing to ask for that certificate! For next steps, the only way we can provide legal guidance on your particular circumstances is through a consultation. We provide flat rate 30-minute consultations, and you can start the process by following this link.

  13. Adam S says:

    We received a letter from higbie law firm stating that we used an image on our website without permission and order to pay over $1,000 to resolve the matter. We are a local non-profit church and are use of the image we felt fell under the fair use act because we only provided a commentary of the image and it was not used to gain any financial gain or donation gain from said use.

    I responded to them by letting them know that we are a local non-profit church and believe we received this letter in error. I then asked for the title, the registration certificate, and the deposit copy, as well as any further additional documentation that could help us in our internal investigation.

    They responded by saying that their client has not registered this image but can and I can still be liable even in late registration for damages.

    I would like some advice on next steps moving forward since we are a non-profit and did not use this for any financial gain, I’m not sure what damages can really be held here on an unregistered copyright.

  14. chuck says:

    Yes, I received three letters representing picrights. Two small photos each from AFP, AP, Reuters for $3750, 3450, 6550. These were in PDF format on my site (newsletter).

    Been couple weeks and they sent emails. Can not find a lawyer here (all too busy and none know copyright?!). What to do? Getty had a company call me on two small images and we did settle for 50%. Desperate in Idaho

    • CJFox Law PLLC says:

      Chuck,
      The only way we can provide legal guidance on your particular circumstances is through a consultation. We provide flat rate 30-minute consultations, and you can start the process by following this link.

  15. Josh says:

    This is spot on. They discuss how it’s cheaper to settle than to pay an attorney. They are counting on you paying them out of fear.

  16. Eugene says:

    Hi there, I used some pic on my website that i’ve got it somewhere from internet. This pic was combined (collage) from 2 pics with some text over (funny pic). So, one ot those 2 pics, according to the Pics Rights is copyrighted.
    My question is, if i used modified pic (collage) that was created by someone, that contains copyrighted (according to Pics Rights”) part, if they have a case?

    • Caroline Fox says:

      Hello there, please click on the link at the start of the page to schedule a consultation call. We are unable to provide substantive legal analysis via this blog.

  17. felix says:

    If you have any issues of withdrawing your money kindly contact a cyber investigation to assist you via the mail [victimsrecoveryeducation AT cyberservices.com]

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