This is not a blog post about science, at least not directly. It is a blog post about blogging and how certain questionable characters try to trap bloggers in order to “immorally” make money with Wikipedia pictures.
In my 3-year-old book review about Chernobyl, I embedded for illustration a photograph of the Reactor Block Nr 4, for which the picture’s owner Arne Müseler (or Mueseler) now demanded via his lawyer that I pay him almost €6000. TL:DR: I didn’t.
Kate Brown’s “Manual for Survival”, a Chernobyl book review
This is what I learned from the new book by the historian Kate Brown, “Manual for Survival- A Chernobyl Guide to the Future”, a book which I strongly recommend.
A picture which was licenced with creative commons, specifically, CC-BY-SA 3.0, by which Müseler himself invites everyone to use this photograph freely without any payment, but with a (metaphorically) small-print demand for an unusually complex acknowledgement. Since I merely embedded the image’s hyperlink, I just credited Wikipedia.
But I got a good lawyer who explained to Müseler that his demands to be paid almost €6k for a Wikipedia-hosted image licenced in CC-BY are “immoral” (“sittenwiidrig” in German legalese) and that I won’t pay him a cent. As I understood, eventually Müseler’s lawyer concurred. My lawyer expenses were just a fraction of what Müseler demanded, but still quite hefty, lawyers aren’t cheap. Nobody won here, only lawyers, both Müseler and I lost money.
But then again, how many other bloggers who used this Wikipedia picture of the Chernobyl reactor naively and without the deeper knowledge of copyright law, got intimidated by the threat of a costly court trial, and simply paid to Müseler the thousands of euros, like his lawyer wanted from me? And how ethical is such business model of posting CC-BY pictures on Wikipedia of all places, only to demand huge money for what is legally free by definition?
Now the details. The picture I used was very similar to this one:
The Müseler picture of Reactor Nr 4 was taken in 2013 and looks very similar, same angle, basically just the clouds are different. It is presently part of the German-language Wikipedia article about the Chernobyl disaster.
Now, until May 2016, a different picture was used in that place, the one I show above. It has a very relaxed CC-BY 2.0 licence, bluntly put: nobody would care which way you used it. Yet on 3 May 2016, a Wikipedia user named SKDMac (who must have acted with Müseler’s approval, right?) decided to replace that perfectly free 2006 picture in the Chernobyl article with Müseler’s 2013 picture. The reason of this exchange is not immediately clear, because the photos are extremely similar, and the old photo is still available on Wikipedia. But the 2013 Müseler photo has what the 2006 photo doesn’t have: a licensing catch. The catch goes like this:
I did not see this catch when I embedded the image and credited Wikipedia. Legally, Müseler could have asked me to instead credit his name (and I would have gladly obliged), but by law he could never demand a financial compensation for the CC-BY image use. Financially, it would be not worth it to get lawyers involved.
Still, Müseler recruited Marcin Zelinski, a Berlin-based media lawyer, who on 16 September 2022 sent me by email a cease-and-desist letter coupled with a demand for financial compensation.
I’m not sure Zelinski is a good lawyer, because he got many very important things badly wrong. First of all, he never mentioned that the image was already in the public domain, in fact even on Wikipedia under a CC-BY licence. Not even indirectly. Then, the lawyer accused me of having stored and distributed the image, but in reality I merely embedded it, i.e. linked to it. Which under EU law is in most cases even legal for properly copyrighted images, never mind creative commons.
But Müseler’s lawyer never seemed to bother about facts and reality. His goal was not fixing the attribution, there isn’t really any money in that. He went straight to demanding financial compensation, €5839.48 specifically.
I can merely speculate why Müseler and his lawyer arrived only now. My book review article is 3 years old, published in October 2019 (which didn’t prevent the lawyer Zelinskii from requesting copyright infringement payment from 23.05.2014 on). Maybe the sudden attention has to do with the russian war on Ukraine, where in early 2022 the rascist invaders occupied the Chernobyl power plant and tried to cause another nuclear disaster there by destroying power supply lines to the fuel rod cooling facilities. Luckily the Ukrainians restored power and saved Europe, and have been doing the same at the still occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant repeatedly and under enemy artillery fire ever since. Thus, for the first half of 2022, Chernobyl was once again back in the global main news and everyone talked about the imminent danger of it exploding once again. Müseler’s CC-BY picture of the reactor Nr 4 on Wikipedia must have looked to bloggers and journalists as perfectly safe to use as illustration. But it was not safe to use.
Zombie Nation – Thoughts on Russia’s War on Ukraine
Our experts failed to predict the horrors which happen and what may still happen in Ukraine. Maybe they should stop following Russian Zombie TV.
When the russian occupiers used Chernobyl to threaten Ukraine and the world, someone must have started searching the internet for Chernobyl reporting to catch the perceived copyright infringers. I won’t comment on the ethics of this.
In fact, I don’t know anything about any other possible recipients of Müseler’s claims, whether there were any others or not. In my own case, I got a good lawyer. My lawyer advised me to remove Müseler’s image (which I did) and then informed his lawyer (translated):
- “Our client has discovered your client’s photo on the website at URL wikipedia.org and embedded in his website via a link. The image was only stored on the website under the URL wikipedia.org. Another storage in the access sphere of our client did not take place. Since our client currently does not have a copy of the photo on his website stored, a copyright-relevant reproduction is ruled out (BGH, judgment of July 9, 2015 – I ZR 46/12, GRUR 2016, 171 para. 33, beck-online). […]
- Furthermore, your client has not suffered any damage. He released his photo for use under a CC License. Even if there was an infringement of the law in the present case, the amount of damage would be zero (OLG Cologne, decision of June 29, 2016, Az. 6 W 72/16).
- Furthermore, we reserve the right to assert further claims from immoral intentional damage acc. § 826 BGB to assert against your client. We consider it immoral that your client publishes his photo under a CC license and at the same time admonishes the users of his photo with demands of excessive payments. For this reason, our client will report your client’s actions to Wikipedia. Furthermore, our client reserves the right to report publicly on your client’s actions.“
I did no sue Müseler, even thought he does owe me a lot of money I did lose because of his “immoral” claims. But I do report about his behaviour here and will inform Wikipedia. I haven’t heard from him or his expert lawyer Zelinski ever since. For all I know, maybe they are busy writing €6k-heavy cease-and-desist letters to other bloggers, pretending there never was any Wikipedia or creative commons licences or laws on embedding.
If you are also a blogger: be careful with every image you use, even those with a CC-BY licence. The right may be on your side, but to get your rights against “immoral” claims needs a good lawyer and is expensive.
But also: now you know how one can make lots of money with Wikipedia. Just replace the pictures published there with yours, add a complex licencing catch, and your “immoral” trap is set.
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„It has a very relaxed CC-BY 2.0 licence, bluntly put: nobody would care which way you used it.“ – That is pretty much nonsense. Ultimately, the difference between the CC BY and CC BY-SA license models is not big. Almost the same conditions apply to the usage. The old image doesn’t really have a “freer” license than the other image.
I think you totally missed the point of this article
I think you totally missed any basics of copyright law. Müseler’s action is highly disgusting, but your are totally wrong about the legal situation regarding copyrighted works.
Hey, even lawyers are confused about the details of copyright law. The article is not about that
CC was supposed to make everything simple but now some people found a surprising new way to extort money with false damage compensation claims.
Yet another interesting saga and caution. The Creative Commons BY term: “Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.” So sounds like this photographer has a business plan to use Google image search or the like to finds other usages of his photos he put out under CC licenses. If these reuses were not credited exactly correctly, his attorney adds a new addressee to his template letter and someone will just pay. He’s certainly within his right to demand correct attribution, although his financial injury is less clear.
Exactly. As my lawyer explained, the financial injury is just zero, and to demand otherwise is immoral and invalidates everything else. But as long as even every tenth victim pays up, you earn good money.
Congratulations on winning this issue and warning bloggers.. Legal threats can be very intimidating and potentially expensive. I recently dealt with a relative threatening a suit after they stole from us!!
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I am SDKmac and replaced the image because it was more recent. I have not had any contact with Müseler.
So why is he not suing you for uploading and distributing the photo without his permission?
Because he (= SDKmac) didn’t upload the photo anywhere? Wikimedia Commons is the image repository of the Wikimedia projects, using qualitatively suitable, recent images from Wikimedia Commons in Wikipedia articles is one of the essential activities of volunteers who contribute to Wikipedia and Co. Suing Wikimedia project volunteers for the use of images that Müseler has uploaded there (= Wikimedia Commons) himself (!) would be even greater nonsense than the fantasy claim here. It seems that you have no idea about the structures of Wikimedia projects and copyright in general. Be a bit more careful with all these accusations.
Ok how did SDKmac learn of the amazing new important artwork uploaded by Mueseler which was so much better than the previous picture? Genuinely interested to learn of internal process here.
The general practice for finding better pictures would be to go through the related categories at Wikimedia Commons, where all images representing the topic are supposed to be collected: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Chornobyl_Nuclear_Power_Plant
The older picture is not just less up-to-date, but also has a poorer resolution since it dates from the earlier days of digital photography. Therefore it shows less detail, all the more because it was shot into the light, and parts of the reactor housing are hidden by another building in the foreground. Replacing such files from the early 2000s is a good idea.
Your assessment that both images are “very similar” doesn’t really hold water from a Wikipedian’s standpoint.
Hey, you know everything about Wikipedia and why there never can be anything malicious going on there.
Can you explain why For Better Science is blacklisted? Seriously, what are the actual reasons?
Since I do know a few things about Wikipedia, I also know that there are malicious things going on all the time, and that’s why there need to protective measures like spam blacklists and strict rules for biographies of living persons. What brought your site on the list is this paragraph of the guidelines:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Biographies_of_living_persons#Avoid_self-published_sources
“Never use self-published sources—including but not limited to books, zines, websites, blogs, and tweets—as sources of material about a living person, unless written or published by the subject of the article.”
You could have found out yourself by following the links on the page you linked above, where the listing was added and discussed. The discussions weren’t unanimous.https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=MediaWiki_talk:Spam-blacklist&diff=prev&oldid=909781401https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MediaWiki_talk:Spam-whitelist/Archives/2020/01#forbetterscience.com/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MediaWiki_talk:Spam-blacklist/archives/September_2021#forbetterscience.com
“Never use self-published sources?”.Huh? So because one of my readers linked in a Wiki article about, say, Paolo Macchiarini, to For Better Science (because nobody else has this information, imagine this!), my site get blacklisted? But self-published Retraction Watch is an authoritative source?
Hullo? Now I am afraid your explanation makes zero sense.
I deleted a reply by Kainel Rock because he just started to insult me. If my site is banned from Wikipedia, then it’s only fair that wiki editors can’t come here to insult me (and spread misinformation).
Hi Leonid, I have no intention of sending 6000 euro bills to private bloggers. Can you email me the conversation with my lawyer? Also, please provide your attorney’s bill. Thanks. email@example.com
I am confused why you seem to insist to be unaware of the letters by your lawyer, Mr Zielinski.
He even provided me with the power of attorney you personally signed on 23.09.2022.
In any case, I forwarded you the communication by Mr Zielinski, plus the reply by my lawyer which contains a bill of my legal expenses which you chose not to pay.
So far nothing has arrived, please try again with firstname.lastname@example.org, thanks.
You just openly admitted here that you personally instructed your lawyer to send me a €6000 bill, and you admit to be doing this constantly to people, without even trying to contact them peacefully:
And, a German Wiki administrator informs me:
“The photographer who made the high claim against you has been blocked in the German-language Wikipedia after the discussion on your case. ”
Happy now, Mr Müseler?
“”Hallo, ich habe mir jetzt sowohl den Artikel als auch die Diskussion hier durchgelesen und würde gerne ein paar Dinge in aller Kürze (bin aktuell unterwegs und schreibe unter widrigen Bedingungen) erläutern: Ich bin seit Jahren Berufsfotograf und stelle manche meiner Fotos auch bei Commons ein. Mittlerweile schaue ich, wenn ich beruflich unterwegs bin, ob es in der Wikipedia Bedarf an Fotos gibt und fotografiere dann teilweise sogar extra auf diesen Bedarf hin. Ich bin sehr an Stadien und Olympischen Spielen interessiert, daher gibt es hier sicher einen Schwerpunkt. Aber ich schaue, dass ich nicht nur Cherry-Picking betreibe, sondern auch Artikel bebildere, die wirklich nur special interest sind. Naturgemäß bebildere ich natürlich viel mehr, als das ich Artikel schreibe. Ich schau aber auch wirklich darauf, dass ich nur dort austausche, wo das neue Bild objektiv besser ist. Klar, manchmal wird das subjektiv sein, aber da lasse ich mich dann auch korrigieren.Vor Jahren habe ich festgestellt, dass viele meine Bilder ohne Kennzeichnung genutzt werden, nicht nur aus Commons, sondern auch aus anderen Datenbanken, wo ich Fotos anbiete. Ich habe darauf hin angefangen Mails mit freundlichen Bitten zu verschicken, habe zum allergrößten Teil aber keine oder höchst unbefriedigende Antworten bekommen.Seitdem schaue mir alle Foto-Fundstellen an und beauftrage in ca. 10% der Fälle einen Anwalt tätig zu werden. Ich habe nicht die Absicht kleinen Bloggern 6000-Euro-Abmahnungen zu schicken, mir geht es um große Firmen, die unrechtmäßig meine Fotos nutzen. Wie der aktuelle Fall gelagert ist, kann ich noch nicht sagen. Ich habe meinen Anwalt geben, mich umfassend zu informieren und stehe auch mit dem Blogger im Austausch. Vielleicht ist mir da was durchgerutscht, das weiß ich noch nicht. Ich werde das aber aufklären, ich bin natürlich selbst nicht glücklich mit dieser Situation. Vielleicht muss ich auch an meinem Prozedere was ändern.Zwei Dinge, weil es hier angesprochen wurde: Ich war bis jetzt davon überzeugt, dass meine Lizenzbedingungen recht transparent sind und eben nicht kompliziert. Ich lasse mich gerne belehren, wie es besser geht. Ich möchte nur sicherstellen, dass mein Name und idealerweise meine Homepage genannt werden muss.Zweitens: Ich versuche eigentlich immer ordentlich zu kategorisieren und auch die Geo-Koordinaten hinzuzufügen. Letzteres hat bei den letzten Uploads nicht geklappt, aber ich arbeite das eigentlich immer nach”Ich schaue alle Fälle durch und sortiere private, nicht-kommerzielle Anbieter aus. Wie geschrieben kann es sein, dass mir in diesem Fall jemand durchgerutscht ist, das kläre ich grad” –Arne (Diskussion)
Wikipedia should already know about people like Mr. CC-Chernobyl:
And see also Pingback No 4 there. These people seem to have something in common: they may be greedy, they may intimidate you, but they are very, very kind… (“Hi Leonid”).
Im sure he is deeply hurt you didn’t call him “Arne”.
Well, Mueseler was too greedy. Yes, lawyers are expensive and often it’s cheaper just to pay the demand than go for a court trial. But Mueseler wanted almost €6k.almost 10 fold of what Verch demanded from his victims.