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Copyright infringement claim for previous owner

Posted: Sun Feb 14, 2010 3:32 pm
by zelda
Hi everyone,

We have bought a website few months ago. We have redesigned it, but yesterday we have received an invoice for an unauthorised use of images during April-August last year, which is very annoying as at the time we didn’t own this domain. There were no images when we bought this website, so we can’t say what they are talking about. Claimant says in his letter that now we are responsible for payment and threatened us with court and debt collectors, as they have a screenshot. We have checked all the files we have acquired and there is no such image.

What should I do? :roll:
Many thanks in advance.

Posted: Sun Feb 14, 2010 8:27 pm
by AndyJ
Assuming that all you did was to takeover the URL, and there was no associated business involved, I would say you are cannot be liable for the activities of the previous owners of the URL. I also asume that you have, or can easily get, the registration details for your URL which would prove when you first took it over. If so, the law is pretty much the same as for anything else you buy secondhand, namely that you are not liable for the actions of the previous owner, as for instance if you bought a car you would not be liable for the speeding tickets of the previous owner, or if you moved into a flat you would not be responsible for the arrears of rent, council tax, gas bills etc of the previous tenant. The onus will be on you to prove that you were not the owner at the time of the alleged infringement.
If however you bought up an existing business and the URL came as part of the assets of the business, then there may be a liability for previous actions, depending on the legal status of the business. This involves the concept of Sucessor in Title, ie a clear legal connection between you and the previous business. If this is the case, I suggest you discuss the issue with the lawyer who handled the sale of the business.
If the owner of the copyright who is claiming infringement wishes to take the matter further, he would need to go to court where, firstly he has to prove that he owns the copyright, secondly that there was infringement, and thirdly that you were responsible. The remedies available to him would generally be that the infringememt stops and damages relating to the amount of income he has lost by the alleged infringement may be awarded against the infringer. If the alleged infringer can demonstrate to the court that he did not know the images were in copyright, the appellant can generally only expect the court to order that the infringement ceases. From this you can see that as the mostly likely outcome of any suit would be an order to cease infringement - which has already occurred some time ago - it probably won't be in the copyright owner's interest financially to take the matter to court. However, make sure that if the copyright owner starts a case in the small claims court - the most likely route - that you return any court papers rebutting the claim. You should simply state the facts and provide any paperwork to support your case. If you fail to do this, judgement could go against you by default and that is much more difficult to get rectified. Do not enter into any agreements with either debt collectors or bailiffs unless they have a court order (which means that judgement has already gone against you). If you are persistently chased by debt collectors, get further advice from Citizen's Advice or a solicitor.

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2010 8:17 pm
by zelda
Thank you very much Andy for your reply. We didn't acquire the business, but only the domain, however the text on the pages is still temporararily there whilst we redesign, as it is important for page ranking, etc; but there definately were no images when we got it.

Posted: Fri Apr 09, 2010 5:41 pm
by zelda
What do you class a forum as? We have kept the forum that had already been established before we bought it, so will it make out that we bought a business rather than just a URL?

Posted: Sun Apr 18, 2010 11:28 pm
by AndyJ
I'm not sure how to class a forum. It could be a business, or just a hobby, or some sort of public service, possibly even a registerable charity. But certain things are clear. Firstly a forum administrator is a 'publisher' and therefore has certain responsibilities in law about what is published on the forum, for example defamatory material, or items likely to incite, reacial hatred etc, as well as copyright infringing items. In general terms, the law (the EU e_Commerce Directive in the most cases) allows a forum administrator a certain amount of immunity from prosecution if they had no knowledge that something, which either infringed or was potentially libelous or illegal, had been posted. But once they become aware then they became legally liable. In a recent case in the High Court (details here: it was ruled that merely changing the spelling in a post constituted editing and therefore an awareness of a post, which could thus render the administrator liable.

However, to get back to your particular problem, since you were not administering the forum at the time of the alleged infringement, I don't really see how you can be held legally liable, as it would seem from what you have said there is no business with a separate legal identity here, and so the chain of legal responsibility would appear to have been broken at the time the URL changed hands.

Posted: Tue Apr 20, 2010 9:00 pm
by zelda
Hi Andy,
Thank you very much Andy for your reply.