What to do if I recently received a letter from a company where they say I owe them $692 for use of what they claim is their image on a website I designed?

They refuse to offer proof that they do in fact own it. I took the image down as soon as I got the letter and I paid their fee but I am contemplating filing a small claims suit for fraud to recoup my money. The problem as I see it is someone else could contact me next week and say they own it. Would I have any legal standing to file such a suit? I am more concerned about getting them to change their practices which are as close to extortion as you can get without crossing the line.

Asked on October 22, 2015 under Business Law, Maryland

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

1) As a general matter, you do not have to pay any compensation to someone who does not offer proof they owned an image--and if they won't offer such proof, you can safely assume they are not the owner.
2) If the true owner comes out of the woodwork and proves ownership, you'd have to pay them a mutually agreeable fee or else they could sue you, even if you first paid a pretender.
3) You could sue this company, if they don't own the image, for theft by deception; you may be able to recover your money.


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