Pixsy is reportedly threatening copyright lawsuits against people who used creative commons images. The company may have sent you a threatening form letter with screenshots of the allegedly infringing image. Typically, the form letter does not give you the option to simply take the image down. The letter generally demands $500 to $750 per image.

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Why is Pixsy sending me this demand email?

Pixsy is a service that photographers can use to help them monetize their photos by threatening copyright lawsuits, and collecting “licensing fees” in exchange for not suing.

As one person who received a Pixsy “legal escalation notice” said:

I decided to do some digging, and long story short, Pixsy is a scam of sorts. They use legal-speak to intimidate people and extort money from them. Maybe SOME of their copyright claims are legitimate, but their entire business model is to run bots that send form letters to website owners demanding hundreds (or thousands) of dollars “on behalf of” artists/photographers. And Pixsy keeps half of the cut.

Many people who receive Pixsy’s demand letter are website owners who used Google Images or another service to try to find public domain images for their websites. Google Images has an advanced feature where users can search based on an image’s licensing status. Google will generally say that an image can be reused for free when it is uploaded under a “Creative Commons” license.

Many Creative Commons images are free to use, but some require attribution to the artist or photographer. If you use such an image and don’t provide attribution, Pixsy may send you a demand letter. Some people have reported that Pixsy sent a threatening letter even though they did provide attribution.

Is Pixsy legitimate?

Pixsy appears to be a real company, which partnered with Flickr in 2019. According to Digital Trends, “While Pixsy has only been around since 2014, the company says the platform has led to 70,000 copyright infringement cases.”

And there’s nothing inherently illegal about a company threatening you with copyright litigation if you used an image without providing the proper attribution. Fast Company says that services like Pixsy raise ” questions about how copyright law’s often steep penalties for unauthorized use, devised in the age of television and the printing press, coexist with the modern internet, where amateurs or small organizations sometimes unwittingly incur big liability for reusing a viral or catchy image without permission.”

But it may be illegal for Pixsy to send a threatening letter that claims, without a reasonable basis, that they represent someone who has a registered copyright on the image. In the United States, the image must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to sue for damages. Some people threatened by Pixsy have said that the company failed, after repeated requests, to produce the supposed copyright for the image. One person said that Pixsy provided them with a “[b]atch copyright registration of 750 images,” but the “image in question” was “neither listed or shown.”

At least one of Pixsy’s clients has been kicked off of Wikimedia Commons for violating the spirit of the creative common’s license by using Pixsy to threaten litigation. Wikimedia Commons says its goal is to create a site “that makes available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content to all.” The same client has filed at least two copyright infringement lawsuits in the United States.

There are other companies that offer similar services to Pixsy’s. According to Fast Company, Copypants and Higbee law firm offer similar services.

How to deal with Pixsy

This website is not offering you legal advice. If you ignore the copyright demand letter, you might get sued. There’s no guarantees. Some people say that Pixsy has gone away after they demanded proof that the image was subject to a registered copyright.

While you may be liable for up to $150,000 if you knowingly used a copyrighted image in an unauthorized manner, the damages can be as low as $200 if you are an innocent infringer, who “was not aware and had no reason to believe that his or her acts constituted an infringement of copyright.”

Copyright law is complicated. Before making a major decision, you may want to consult an attorney.

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