Pornography, lawyers and me

This morning I had an email concerning some pictures of the Brewer Twins I had posted up in my gallery.
I won’t post the emails here, but essentially the first one was from a company in Germany called net n net ordering that I remove the pictures by Sunday, the or else… was left dangling. It was short and to the point.
Being an intelligent and sane sort of person, I wrote back to query:
1) Is this person from an unknown company, using a dialup account from a Sony Laptop in Germany really the copyright holder (or representative) for a pair of model brothers from California?
2) I had collected the pictures from the public domain on the internet and that given these pictures have been freely available for some time, I questioned whether they had the right (legal or moral) to exert their copyright, so long after the horse had bolted.
The reply from a different person this time was rude, angry and threatening – large sums of money as penalties/damages were mentioned. They still didn’t demonstrate that they represented the copyright holder, however they did send from the domain this time. To be honest, I don’t really give a flying fuck about hosting the pictures – they’re available without much effort on the internet (how about here, sorry Mr. Webmaster, but I have to make my point) – so I’ve removed them.
Now, I’d like to come back with a few points and answers to all those questions I’m sure you’d love to pose:
Q: The images are copyright aren’t they?
A: Yes, of course they are. UK Copyright Law applies to things on the internet as well as in print.
Q: Does copyright expire then if the owner doesn’t enforce it?
A: Well, no, not legally. The images of the Brewer Twins have been circulating for nearly a decade – I remember seeing them when I first started using the internet for its true purpose.
I’m also sure that at some point, you would have to decide that the work had been in the public domain for long enough that it was nigh on impossible to enforce copyright on it. Oh, and Mr. Lawyer at net n net, you cannot copyright a name as you seemed to suggest (they ordered me to stop using “Brewer Twins” in order to improve search engine results – like I was doing that!) – that’s called a trademark.
Q: So, why do you feel so hard done by in being asked to remove illegal material?
A: I don’t object to removing illegal material. It’s just the manner in which it’s been done in this case. A lot of the good will towards the Brewer Twins comes from their fan base. A simple email from the webmaster at the Brewer Twins’ website requesting the removal in a polite way without threats of legal force would have achieved exactly the same result without annoying the very people you’re trying to entice to spend money with you.
Q: Yes, ok, but do you morally feel it’s right to rip off other people’s photographs? I mean, that’s how the models and photographers make their living.
A: Absolutely not. Having worked both behind and occasionally in front of the camera, I’m fairly sure I’d be just as angry if I found my work exhibited elsewhere. In that case, I’d either send a polite request asking the site to remove the images, or at the very least, put up some acknowledgement.
Q:Don’t you think you’re being a bit hypocritical?
A:Well, maybe. All I saw myself as doing was putting some freely available images together into one place, because I wanted to actually support the people in them, in much the same way as you might do any other celebrity. If the copyright owners take issue, then so be it, but let’s be pleasant and civilised about it rather than resorting to bullying tactics.
Anyway, hopefully this torrid event in a torrid week is sorted out now. I rather hope this isn’t the start of a concerted attack on Brewer Twins fans; as the MPAA and RIAA have found out to their cost it really doesn’t pay to sue your customers.
Edit: Forgot to say, if you pose any questions in the comments, I’ll do my very best to answer them.