April 18, 2021

Copyright Trolling/SEO Scam, Changing The Photo Credits On Wikimedia Commons

By Mike Masnick

Want to know yet another reason why the CASE Act is so dangerous? It will inspire ever more new attempts at fraud in the copyright trolling space. Giving people the ability to shake down others leads to… lots of attempts to shake down or scam others. The latest scam we’ve heard of comes to us from photographer Kyle Cassidy, who posted this wonderful photo of NPR host Peter Sagal running to Wikimedia Commons under a CC BY-SA 3.0 (attribution, sharealike) license:

A writer named Eric San Juan used the image, properly attributed on his blog. Last month, Eric received an email from “Aldwin Sturdivant” from a company called “Green Cap Marketing” which claims to be one of the many companies that will scan the web on behalf of photographers and shake down anyone who used those images for money. The site claims “Your Images. Your Revenue.” Also, somewhat ironically, it claims: “Nothing is more frustrating than knowing your work is being stolen and used for someone else’s gain.” It’s ironic, because it appears that it’s actually “Green Cap Marketing” that is trying to gain from pretending to hold the copyright on someone else’s images. Here’s the email that Sturdivant sent to San Juan:

It says:

Hi I hope you are the right person on this.,

I hope you’re doing well.

I am very pleased to see that my creative work in https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Running_Man_Kyle_Cassidy.jpg is being used on this article found on your site: .http://ericsanjuan.com/get-more-exercise-day-to-day-with-these-stunning-hacks/.

It means a lot to me that you selected my work. I prefer that you keep the image on as I can see it provides value to your followers.

Simple image credit to my site is all I ask. It motivates me to continue uploading images that contribute to informative content like yours.

Can you support my humble work? Stay safe. 🙂

Cheers,
Aldwin Sturdivant
Content Editor
Green Cap Marketing

Just looking at this should raise some alarm bells. I mean, photograph’s file name actually has the name of the actual photographer, Kyle Cassidy, in the file name. San Juan originally assumed that Sturdivant was sincere, and noticed that the Wikimedia Commons page did say that he was the photographer:

But, if you look in the Wikipedia edit history, you’ll see that the “photo taken by” credits have changed over time, with a bunch of name changes in the past few months:

Basically, on August 13th, someone changed the photographer to be “Natasha Spencer” of a sketchy health site I will not name. That was reverted. On August 17th, the same thing happened. It was reverted. On November 23rd, the same day “Sturdivant” emailed San Juan, it was changed again to say the photo was taken by Sturdivant, again in association with the sketchy health site.

Indeed, this appears to not be so much a copyright trolling scam, but a search engine optimization scam. “Sturdivant” and Green Cap Marketing didn’t ask San Juan for payment… but to link to an affiliate site. According to San Juan:

In no time, they send a reply with the link info for me, but what he sent back was a website that had nothing to do with him or the photo, and the photo attribution they asked for was for a BUSINESS, not the photographer. It was a link affiliate site, a commercial site that earns money through clicks. What the hell?

San Juan has blacked out the URL, but I’ll take a wild guess that it’s likely to be the same one that “Sturdivant” and “Spencer” named when they claimed credit for the Wikimedia photos.

So what originally looked like a copyright trolling scam, may be more of an SEO scam. Either way, it’s a scam.

Cassidy himself went snooping and found that there were a bunch of other files attributed to A. Sturdivant, but honestly, many of those appear to be legit, as they appear to be old documents that have some connection to an actual “Sturdivant” from very far in the past.

However, others have pointed out that this is a common problem, with people vandalizing photo credits, and that “A. Sturdivant” was a name used for this in the past as well. Some Wikipedia editors have been reporting and banning users for engaging in this kind of scam.

However, what does seem clear is that Green Cap Marketing (since the “Sturdivant” emails came from there) is not just engaged in typical copyright trolling, but has expanded its business into the truly scammy SEO game, by faking credits on photos and then asking sites to link to their affiliate fee links instead of the actual photographer’s images and sites.

Source:: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20201216/10092745901/copyright-trolling-seo-scam-changing-photo-credits-wikimedia-commons.shtml