S h o r t S t o r i e s

// Tales from software development

© Copywrong

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One lunchtime, a few years ago while working for another software company, I went for a walk and took several photographs of the company’s offices from a hill about half a mile away. A few days later I showed my favourite photograph, of the several I’d taken, to one of the company directors. He liked it and asked for a copy that he could use as the desktop wallpaper on his laptop.

I resigned from the company about three months later. Working there had not been a positive experience and after two years I felt that it was time to move on.

I’ve barely given the company a single thought since then but on a whim I looked at their web site recently and found that it was using my photograph on its ‘About Us’ page. Perhaps I should have let it go but it did seem wrong to me that a company that protects its copyrights so fiercely should indulge in unauthorised use and copyright theft like this. I’m sure they’d have a strong view on anyone ‘borrowing’ their software…

I sent an email to the director that I’d given the copy of the photograph to:

Subject: Photograph on web site
Date: Wed, 1 Oct 2008 19:25:06
From: seamonkey@xxxxxxxx.com
To: john@xxxxxxxx-xxxxxxxx.com

    one of my photographs is being used on your company web site. It’s the one at the top of the About Us page. Please could you remove it ?

Best regards

After a week or so I was beginning to think that my email was going to be ignored but then a response arrived:

Subject: RE: Photograph on web site
Date: Wed, 8 Oct 2008 11:18:25
From: xxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxx-xxxxxxxx.com
To: seamonkey@xxxxxxxx.com

I wasn’t aware that any photograph you took and gave me when you were working with us was subject to any copyright agreement. Can you let me know if this is in fact the case?


He was clearly implying that the photograph belonged to the company because I’d taken it while employed by it. While this might be a reasonable argument if the photograph had been taken while on company business in company time, this wasn’t the case. His logic would also mean that all my vacation photographs belonged to the company too! It’s very unlikely that a director of a software company is ignorant of the basics of copyright law.

Subject: RE: Photograph on web site
Date: 08 October 2008 13:46
From: seamonkey@xxxxxxxx.com
To: john@xxxxxxxx-xxxxxxxx.com

    it’s not my place to tell you about the ins and outs of copyright law but I’m sure that you appreciate that any material used commercially, such as on your company web site, is subject to copyright restrictions.

You asked me for a copy of the photograph for use as your desktop wallpaper on your laptop. I provided a copy of the photograph appropriately sized to 1024×768 pixels. This was for personal use, as you requested. It does not entitle you or anyone else to use it commercially.

As a director of a software company, I’m sure that you have a better understanding of UK copyright law than your response implies. I doubt that I need to say this but copyright protection in the UK is automatic and no registration of the right or the material is required. If you wish to know more then there are a number of guides to UK copyright law available online.

I have no desire to create difficulties for you and would be happy to resolve this by, for example, an agreement that the image is removed within three months.

Best regards

It might not be immediately obvious but I’d tried hard to make this email as neutral in tone as possible and to avoid antagonising the guy. Even so, I wasn’t expecting this to be easy. So, I was really surprised when this reply arrived a few  minutes later:

Subject: RE: Photograph on web site
Date: Wed, 8 Oct 2008 14:07:15
From: john@xxxxxxxx-xxxxxxxx.com
To: seamonkey@xxxxxxxx.com

I haven’t got the time to discuss the merits of copyright law in the UK at the moment, so we’ll remove it over the next couple of weeks.


I checked the web site a few weeks later and confirmed that my photograph had been removed. It had been replaced with a photograph apparently taken within the previous few days and while it was clearly not a ‘professional’ shot, it was a competent image that showed the company’s offices to much better effect that ny photograph had. It was exactly what they should have done in the first place!


Written by Sea Monkey

October 14, 2008 at 9:00 pm

Posted in General

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