Another day, another rip-off

Remember that doofus who was selling USB endoscopes on eBay using a bunch of the pictures from my review of it?

This happens all the time, to me and to other review sites. Unless the people responsible are really stupid and hotlink the images, we usually never even know it's happening. I only find out about it when a reader tells me.

And that's how I know about the further unlicensed commercial popularity of my eTime endoscope pics. Two different sellers ("calalily899" and "ukelectronic-zone"), one just using some of my pics, the other using some of my pics plus a little of the text of the review, just to rub it in.

I know why this happens. It's because the pictures I take of things, especially of things that aren't often photographed by other people, look too good. If my pics looked like drunken happy-snaps, nobody'd rip 'em off. But when my picture of a product is pretty much indistinguishable from a manufacturers' hand-out press-release shot, there it'll be at the top of a Google Images search - though the copy of it Google finds won't necessarily even be the one I put on my own server.

(If you'd like to read about what I would, if I were something of a tosser, call my "photographic workflow", I've got a tutorial about it here.)

I don't really care about people using my pics on their MySpace page or school report or something. I'll give pretty much anybody permission to use my pics for non-profit purposes for free, if they ask. And if they don't, I still don't really mind - but I'll send the full-resolution originals to people who ask for permission, while people who just pinch 'em without asking have to settle for the versions I put on the Web.

Commercial image-pinching is different, though. If you're making money with stuff I made, I'd like to get paid my share.

A couple of days ago, a reader spotted yet another eBay image-pincher, this time selling tiny R/C cars with some images and text taken from my old review of one.

So I whipped up a complaint letter for eBay's VeRO system, and within a day all of the listings had been zapped. The VeRO system takes a bit of effort to get into, but it works really well once you're signed up.

And now, just a couple of days later, here are more pic-copying endoscope sellers.

I have, however, had a thought.

Sending a VeRO complaint takes at least a few minutes, and all I get in return is the cruel satisfaction of having stuck a rather small spanner in the works of someone's business. The only entity that really gains anything from VeRO complaints is eBay, who I think keep the listing fees for just about every possible kind of cancelled auction.

So here's what I said to these latest sellers (with slight variations for their particular offences), instead of just VeROing them right away:


I note that in your several auctions for the eTime Home Endoscope, you use a few images from my review of that product here:

I did not give you permission to do this, and now require payment. Please forward $US250 to my PayPal account at immediately. This sum purchases you the right to use any of the images from, for eBay sales purposes only, for the next 12 months.

If you do not make this payment within 24 hours, I will use the eBay VeRO system to cancel all of your auctions which infringe my copyright.

I've actually tried this before. Back in the day, all I could threaten commercial copyright infringers with (besides never-gonna-happen legal action, which is always the first stop for Internet kooks but is actually almost always pointless) was exposure before my Army of Goons. And I told 'em to send me a cheque rather than PayPal me. But it did actually work a couple of times, out of the several times I tried it.

Let's roll the dice again!

23 Responses to “Another day, another rip-off”

  1. Bern Says:

    Well, good luck with that!

    I've always personally believed in giving credit where it's due, and that includes sharing the rewards where appropriate. And you'll only need to get a couple of bites to make it worth your while.

    On the other hand, is US$250 a bit high? I don't know what volume these guys are doing on eBay, but I'm guessing the margin on a USB endoscope isn't very large.

  2. dazzawul Says:

    I think thats the point.. they'll either pay up, or stop using Dan's images in their auctions :)

  3. Chazzozz Says:

    On the other hand, is US$250 a bit high?

    Too high for what? The willingness of said sellers to pay, or Dan valuing his time and effort to take the photos in the first place?

    It doesn't matter if Dan's asking 50 cents, $25 000, or any amount in between. He is the only one who can decide what a fair value is since he's the one who's done the work. If the sellers choose not to agree with that value, they should stop stealing his work.

  4. Daniel Rutter Says:

    It should also be noted that although it may indeed be easier to get forgiveness than to get permission, nobody ever said it'd be cheaper :-).

  5. Mister Peepers Says:

    I just sent this ebay question to one of the sellers:

    Will you be sending Dan (of the $250 for the pictures you are using?

    I'm wondering how long it will take for this ultra-legit seller to answer.

  6. Coderer Says:

    @1: I guess it depends on how many endoscopes they're shifting at a given time. I hope Dan gets his money, but I think market-wise he's more *likely* to get his money if he asks for a bit less. I think the best proposition for Dan is if he asks just enough that the sellers think it's worth less to them to have to re-do the work of taking the pictures for themselves. I mean, these are unlikely to be extremely busy professionals who value their time at 50 bucks an hour -- probably just some otherwise jobless yahoo that does effectively squat all day.

    For that same $250, he could buy a decent camera and some cheap lights from Home Depot, and take the pictures himself -- plus he'd get a camera out of the deal. Now, if Dan were only asking $75 or $100, the math might change...

  7. miahi Says:

    Dude, there's something around you. Just noticed that your beloved Leo Stroller "registered" the mark FIRE POWER in the US.

  8. zabieru Says:

    Did you send them a Paypal money request, too? After all, it's a legitimate enough invoice, and maybe they'd pay up if it was easy enough....

    (Plus, one internet almost-scam deserves another)

  9. ozzieaardvark Says:

    This is interesting. How are the actions described in this discussion different from DRM? Dan wants to get compensated for the work he's done. So do Steely Dan. If we can bypass all the stuff about evil record companies taking an unfair cut, the only difference I can see is that Dan's process is manual and Steely Dan's/Capital Records'/Apple iTunes' processes are automated. I'm just sayin' :-)

  10. Daniel Rutter Says:

    The difference is simple enough: I don't think movie and record companies deserve the vast amounts of money they make in return for lousy products and services, and typical Internet pirates don't make any money from their activities. And DRM makes legitimate customers suffer, often making perfectly legal fair-use activities impossible.

    But I do think I deserve to make a small amount of money when I produce something which someone else then uses for profit.

    As I said, I don't care if you use my pictures in your school report or other non-profit activity. I also, of course, have no problem with fair use of my work; I'm not going to kick up a stink because someone quotes a paragraph of my writing somewhere, even if they don't link back to me. And yes, that includes eBay auctions; if your auction is for something I've reviewed and you say "Dan of Dan's Data concluded that this product was great:" followed by a quote, that's fine.

    If you put yourself in the analogous position of the people who sell pirated DVDs at the flea market, though, then I think it's perfectly fair for you to get yo' ass busted.

  11. Keris Says:

    Conflating anti-DRM with pro-piracy is a rather bad argument. Just because you hate having your rights to use a legally purchased item restricted doesn't mean you're for just illegally taking it. Plenty of us find some products are worth the asking price, if only we weren't told we can only use them while hiding under a blanket in a single room apartment on the third floor downtown. ^_~

  12. ozzieaardvark Says:

    I can't buy the first two arguments. Whether movie and record companies deserve the money they make on their lousy products and services isn't germane to the discussion unless one thinks it's OK to pocket an apple from the fruit stand because the price is too high and it has a bruise on it. Internet pirates DO make money by not paying for the IP that they take. A penny saved is a penny earned after all :-) I think it all comes down to motive and method which I guess ties to your third argument, expanded upon by Keris. I'm guessing your primary motive is simply to keep eBayers from pinching your stuff. Using VeRO one way or the other is directed exactly at the individual offender and the payment solicitation note even holds the possibility that some doofus will send you money. This makes you clever. The primary motive of movie and record companies is to make as much money as possible. DRM pisses off most of the folks that contribute to their cause. This makes them stupid.

    So how is your VeRO approach different from poisoning Torrents? ...Just kidding and I'll stop rabblerousing now. It's gotten me into the precarious position of arguing with Dan :-)

  13. Daniel Rutter Says:

    unless one thinks it's OK to pocket an apple from the fruit stand

    This analogy is defective. No matter how often media companies call illicit copying "theft", it isn't. It's copyright infringement.

    If I had a magic machine that could duplicate apples and went around pointing it at fruit stands and pocketing the apples it created, the greengrocer business might be in big trouble when the magic machines went into mass production, but I would not be stealing.

    Likewise, people who copy my pictures and/or reviews and put them on their own sites or eBay listings or whatever without my permission are not stealing from me, except in the very vague sense that their pissy PageRank 0 spam-blog might theoretically slightly reduce the number of people who click the annoying ads on They are, however, engaged in illicit copying of my work, and I am perfectly justified in taking action against them as a result.

    Media companies are, similarly, perfectly justified in taking action against people who copy their movies and music. This is a separate issue from the question of whether those movie and music companies deserve to make money in the first place. It is also a separate issue from DRM, which punishes people who've never copied anything and usually seems to have little effect on actual piracy anyway.

    If it is your sincere belief that it is ethically unconscionable to give Pack Of Bastards Records money for their CDs, but you actually do want to listen to some of their artists, so you illegally download MP3s of those artists, then I do not believe you're doing anything ethically inconsistent, or even particularly bad. If you'd never consider buying anything from them anyway, they lose nothing if you rip off their products.

    You are, however, still breaking the law, and have no right to complain if you get caught. You do, however, very much have the right to complain if you get fined ten million dollars or thrown in jail for life or otherwise punished in a grossly excessive way.

    Just having someone cancel eBay auctions with un-paid-for pics in them is, I think, punishment that fits the crime pretty much perfectly.

  14. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Neither seller, by the way, paid up.

    One changed the pics in almost all of their auctions, but forgot one, so I VeRo-ed that one. The other one ignored me entirely, so I got to VeRo five auctions there. They'll probably be gone in a few hours; the VeRo people act pretty snappily.

    I think the reason why VeRo works so fast is that it's used, on a much larger scale, by major IP companies, who are not known for their patience. They're supposed to use VeRo to smack down sellers of counterfeit handbags and bootleg DVDs and so on, but some companies instead use it to try to maintain a monopoly on the sale of certain products.

    For a while there, for instance, the Church of Scientology was VeRo-ing every attempt to sell a Scientology E-Meter on eBay, even though the devices were perfectly legally owned and not counterfeit. (Useless, but not counterfeit! :-)

    I note that there are currently E-Meters and user manuals on eBay, so with any luck eBay got wise to this. But I think there are still some companies that VeRo stuff they have no business preventing. It's like the plague of unjustified DMCA takedown notices.

  15. Gizmo Says:

    I think many people don't realize that work products like excellent photographs take years of experience and practice (much of which can be unpaid) and hours in staging, capturing and editing the photo.
    It is one thing to use some picture off the net as a desktop background, it is quite another to use it without permission to make money for yourself.
    If Dan's hard work helps someone make a few dollars, God bless 'em. Dan should at the very least be credited and/or paid for that work.
    It's the fair thing to do.

  16. ozzieaardvark Says:

    Sheesh. I’m still arguing with Dan, against my better judgment :-) I just can’t agree with the notion that IP that can be reproduced with the click of a mouse is different from the apple at the fruit stand. The value recovery mechanism is several orders of magnitude more complex, but the fundamental issue of making a fair profit for a fair amount of work is still the same. Anyone’s work is worth what the market will pay for it and the ability to simply take that work without paying cuts at the incentive to perform the work in the first place. OK, so does Steven Tyler deserve to be a millionaire? I don’t think so, but apparently the market for music disagrees with me. At the risk of sounding like boffin (respects to The Reg), the ability to get fair compensation for the property you create (transport, sell at retail), intellectual or bruised apple, is the very fabric of a free market society. I don’t know about the other folks reading this blog, but I’ve personally benefitted greatly from said fabric. Just being able to take stuff for (essentially) free, even if it’s seems to be from Pack Of Bastards record company still cuts at the incentive to create things that move our society forward (or backward if you accept my assessment of Steven Tyler). The fact that current media outfits don’t seem to be clever enough to sort out a business model to deal with this is a statement of their incompetence. The wonderful thing about a free market society is that someone will show up that has figured it out :-)

  17. Daniel Rutter Says:

    And bugger me dead if "usb.etime.pencams", who seems to be the same person as "endoscopes.endoscopy" from that entertaining previous brouhaha, isn't at it again. Seven listings, all ripping off pictures into one big composite pic [NOTE - based on this guy's previous behaviour, that pic may turn into something NSFW in the near future...] with a HUGE copyright notice tacked onto on the end.

    Yeah, that'll work.

    Firing solution found, Cap'n! VeRO notice... away!

  18. Daniel Rutter Says:

    It's nice to see that people recognise that picking a fight with someone who buys pixels by the barrel is unwise :-).

    Market-based arguments are, you'll be unsurprised to hear that I believe, also dicey in this situation.

    Just because some people are willing to pay $25 for a CD doesn't mean that the CD is "worth" $25 and, by extension, that it's inherently OK for the makers of the CD to take action to collect $25 from anybody who copies it for free. This argument only works if all - or at least most - of the people who copy stuff would otherwise be willing to buy it, one way or another. In that case then you actually can argue that copying the software/music/movie directly deprives the people who sell it of the value of a sale, and that in that case copyright infringement actually is, for practical purposes, quite like stealing. Even then, it's still not the same as stealing - mainly because the infringement does not reduce the seller's stock of things to sell - but it does become quite similar, in some respects.

    But clearly, it is in many situations impossible for a pirate to buy stuff instead of ripping it off. Never mind whether they want to or not - they just can't.

    Take, for instance, the classic high-school software pirate with a vast collection of programs (...most of which he's never actually used; 14-year-olds do love their Server editions of Windows...). The retail price of that software collection is orders of magnitude higher than the kid's actual net worth.

    Software companies and their representative bodies like the BSA (and the BSAA here in Australia) are famous for making the argument that if you copy a hundred programs with an average retail price of $100 then you owe them $10,000 (actually, they often seem to argue that you owe them a lot more than that...). But they have never been able to demonstrate that the actual harm to their business is anything like that high.

    Clearly, many people believe the fair price for movies and music is zero, or close to it. Most Internet pirates don't think too hard about the subject, of course, but if you ask them whether they should have paid $20,000 for their MP3 collection which contains songs from a thousand albums, they are likely to say no. They are also likely to say that they feel a bit naughty about having ripped almost all of it off, but certainly don't believe themselves to be the perpetrator of a grand theft. There's no way they would have paid full retail price for all of that music.

    In the case of actual literal taking-a-material-object-from-someone theft, your ability to acquire the object legally is irrelevant. A billionaire who steals your TV is guilty of the same crime as a penniless hobo who does the same thing. But this is another of the areas in which copyright infringement is not like stealing, no matter how often IP companies say that it is.

    [UPDATE: Connoisseurs of the message-board flameout may find this MetaFilter thread, in which one commenter simply cannot countenance the possibility that copyright infringement might not be theft, entertaining.]

    I'm not trying to argue, however, that just because many people think copied stuff is worthless then clearly it actually is. The popularity of the iTunes store and the new Amazon MP3 downloads (woo! Got an affiliate link in there!) has demonstrated that lots of people believe something less than one US dollar is a fair price for a single song, as long as it's not encumbered with too much DRM crap.

    But there's no way to tell what an actual "fair price" is, because the market is so heterogenous. Some people believe the fair price for, for instance, a single MP3 track is literally zero in all circumstances, some people reckon one per cent of their daily wage sounds fair - which could mean five dollars or 0.8 cents, depending on where they are - some people don't even really care what it costs because they're really rich, and on it goes. If we give everyone on the planet an even vote, then I think the "market" price for a single MP3 track is likely to be only a few cents. I'd pay that :-)!

    And, as I said above, all "providers" of copyrighted data are not alike. I'm not saying "creators" there, because the creator and the provider are often completely different entities, especially in the movie and music industries. If you know for a fact that buying an album by your favourite band will definitely not make the band any money at all, because they've got a major-label contract [note: naughty words in that article] that actually takes money away from them, and if you don't buy the major labels' argument that they need the money to find and "support" other upcoming bands that you might also like (and today, it's really not hard for regular non-top-40 musicians to distribute their music directly), then I can, once again, see nothing ethically wrong with your argument for piracy. It's still unquestionably against the law, but so are various drugs that're much less harmful than the legal ones.

    And, for this reason, I believe I'm in the right when I VeRO picture-copiers on eBay, while not being concerned in any way for the poor little major-label record companies or top-40 artists who might be a bit richer if the IP companies reached their goal of making everybody pay every single time they "enjoyed" just about anything copyrighted.

    All of these arguments have, of course, been made before, and will be made again. I don't think I've presented them terribly well, either. But I do think you need to work out the details of whatever argument you want to make here.

    DRM pushers and information-wants-to-be-free-man pirates always make facile arguments about how it's axiomatically true that anything someone will pay for should be paid for by everyone, or that anything you can copy for free should be free to copy. But I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that.

  19. GeeJay Says:

    Ummm you may have thought of this before but for some reason don't want to....but why not put a DANSDATA.COM watermark on any images adorning your reviews lots of review sites do that now...mind you it can be annoying if it covers the bit of the motherboard you're particularly interested in seeing.....

  20. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Yeah, I've never liked watermarks - though it's got to be said that my mate Mark's prominently-watermarked pics have indeed not been ripped off, as far as we know. But his current watermark - highly visible, but on the edge of the pic - could often simply be cropped out by an image-stealer, leaving a usable image. Simple lightening watermarks like that can probably also be darkened into near-invisibility by a template layer that perfectly matches the watermark shape.

    The classic hardware-review-site sort of watermark is, for this reason, usually very prominent and in the middle of the image, which is just awful.

    There are also those steganographic invisible-watermark programs, like the Digimarc one that comes (as a demo version) with Photoshop. All those do is let you prove that a picture is yours, though. That's seldom in question, for typical small-scale image-nicking.

  21. GeeJay Says:

    Gee I reckon if the thief went to the actual trouble of attempting to edit a watermark out they'd probably realise it might be simpler to just take their own shots...
    Dan I think you just like playing with them....

  22. ozzieaardvark Says:

    Sorry for dropping out of this discussion for a while. Had to divert myself to what I do to make a living. I also had to contemplate whether continuing to disagree with Dan was worth the angst :-)

    I don’t sympathize with dummard media companies and I have a really hard time getting to the notion that pinching anything from them has any moral implications, against the law or not. It does however have inevitable economic (and related behavioral) implications.

    I was in KL a few weeks ago and bought a “Gucci Handbag” for the wife for $7. I was quite proud of myself because the starting price the guy showed me on the ubiquitous hand calculator was Ringgit 175. I got value for money because what I bought was a cheap imitation with a correspondingly cheap price, but I’m pretty sure that the guy that sold it to me made a reasonable profit nonetheless. The Internet is the KL Petaling Street market multiplied by millions, where the equivalent of “Gucci Handbags” have a cost of whatever you can find and take divided by the cost of your monthly broadband connection. My point is that unlike Petaling street, this is not a healthy market model.

    As I said before, the likely outcome of all of this in a free market is that someone will show up with a business model that makes them a profit (fair or otherwise). That doesn’t mean that there won’t be some unfortunate side-effects. Pirating copies of Windows Vista or Steven Tyler in China will inevitably to some degree suppress local creativity. It’ll also cause Microsoft or Aerosmith (OK, micro-examples can be argued with) to invest less in creation. You can rail all you want about how market models that depend on greedy corporations are skewed and inefficient, but after working for “one o’ the biggest companies in the world” for the last thirty years or so, I can say that at least in my experience, the sort of Macroeconomics I’m going on about truly do have a profound impact on investment decisions.

    Interesting intellectual arguments about how markets establish value are, well… Interesting, but they don’t deal with the fundamental issues of investment and incentive. If no one is paying for it, no one that doesn’t have a gun to their head is going to make it.

    So will piracy bring the developed world to its knees? Nope. It’ll just spawn some cleaver SOB to come up with a way to make money off it, maybe by bleeding off investment capital. Will it help the developing world? Surely not. Why create something when you can just take it? It’s just another form of colonialism that sucks creativity from both sides of the (unhealthy) relationship. Seems kind of Orwellian to me, but I’m guessin’ that’s just me :-)

  23. NealC Says:


    > I got value for money because what I bought was a cheap imitation with a correspondingly cheap price, but I’m pretty sure that the guy that sold it to me made a reasonable profit nonetheless.

    This comment suggests to me that, while you consider non-commercial copyright infringment to be A Bad Thing, you have no problem with commercial intellectual property (and probably copyright) infringement, because you saved a few ringits/dollars/pounds and the seller made a few. Surely you 'deprived' Gucci in exactly the same way you accuse pirates of 'depriving' record companies, et al? You suggest that this model is non-viable on the internet, but that somebody will come up with a way to 'Make It Work' - such as finding the cheapest supplier, perhaps, even if that supplier has no right to sell the imitations (copies, to most people) in the first place?

    > Pirating copies of Windows Vista or Steven Tyler in China will inevitably to some degree suppress local creativity.

    I fail to see your logic. There is only one Microsoft, and only one Steve Tyler - they have both influenced thousands of people who bought their output legally (or otherwise), and those influences may very well have led to further creatvity on the consumers part. The creative output produced by this influence may well hurt Steven and Microsoft in terms of profit if it was sufficiently more attractive than the original offerings, but surely freedom of choice for the consumer is the basis of a free market?

    > after working for “one o’ the biggest companies in the world” for the last thirty years or so, too easy ;-)

    > Why create something when you can just take it?
    Because thats what humans do. Nobody wants to re-write an exact copy of Windows. No true musician would want to be a carbon copy of Mr. Tyler (even if he do's make all that money 'without deserving' it! ;-). Creating is not taking, even if that creation relies on something that someone else has created before.

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