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Archive 2008 · SmugMug warning about mass uploads
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · SmugMug warning about mass uploads

I am about to transfer my web site from my current host to a professional SmugMug account. In reading the description of that SmugMug service, I came across the following statement:

Notice for Professional Account holders:
Uploading more than 500 photographs of participants in a single
sporting event may require a License from PhotoCrazy, Inc.
To avoid patent infringement, please contact:

PhotoCrazy, Inc.
Attn: Peter Wolf
509 Raindance Street
Thousand Oaks, California 91360-1219
Email: [email protected]

This is very cryptic to me, so I contacted PhotoCrazy. While I am not patent lawyer, it appears they claim to own a patent of the very process of taking a picture, uploading it to a website, and selling that image to a customer. What the hell? Here is PhotoCrazy's actual response:

Hi Nathan,

Thank you for your inquiry.

PhotoCrazy, Inc. owns several U.S. Patents (U.S. Patent 6,985,875 and U.S. Patent 7,047,214) that cover the process of providing event photographs for inspection, selection and distribution via a computer network.

Anyone who uses the methods described in the patents could be liable for direct, contributory or induced infringement.

Patent infringement is governed by federal law 35 U.S.C. 271 and the patent owner is entitled to at least reasonable royalties and other damages or losses since the issue date of the patent. The 875 patent issued on January 10, 2006 and the 214 patent issued on May 16, 2006. Being unaware or uninformed about the patents or the applicable laws is generally not a defense against the liabilities.

On June 8, 2007 a law suit was filed against 8 infringers. Seven of the 8 defendants (after careful evaluation of the patents with their attorneys) have settled this matter by executing an agreement with us. The 8th defendant is close to settling as well. In addition there are numerous other event photography companies that have licensed with us on their own accord. Most notably is MarathonFoto, the largest event photography company in the US and Athlinks the largest social network for endurance athletes.

You may want to consult with a registered patent attorney about this matter.

Generally we will execute a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) between us and then we would prepare a simple two page license agreement for your review.

Our intentions are honorable and ethical. We are simply trying to resolve some issues and minimize the costs especially legal cost for both of us.

There are many benefits to licensing with us if you are engaged in sports photography that may infringe on our patents. We would discuss those benefits with you in more detail after we execute an NDA.

These matters will not just go away by ignoring them and could get very costly. We would encourage you to respond at your earliest convenience if you have been or plan on using any of the processes described in the patents.



Here are links to the patents they own.

I am writing to PPA to see if they can shed any light on this. What do you guys think.

Mar 03, 2008 at 12:58 AM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · SmugMug warning about mass uploads

If I am reading the patents corectly, this guy claims to have patented the use of almost any identifying data that can be used to match a person to a photograph. This includes bib numbers as well as the date/time the photograph was taken.

Accoding to a thread on SportsShooter, this is going to trial some time next year.

Edited on Mar 03, 2008 at 02:42 AM

Mar 03, 2008 at 02:40 AM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · SmugMug warning about mass uploads

Reading a number of web sites on this issue, my interpretation appears to be correct. PhotoCrazy claims to hold a patent on almost any use of data (such as bib numbers) for identifying and searching for photos in a database.


Mar 03, 2008 at 02:47 AM
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · SmugMug warning about mass uploads

I got a similar idea from reading (skimming) the patents.

I think this is one of those almost baseless patents or patents of common practice...that is, it's such common sense that no one thinks to patent it. Just like the company suing Apple for using hierarchical menus on the iPod, Amazon one-click buying, and RIM (Blackberry) for delivering e-mail to a mobile device - they haven't figured anything out that's particularly technical, just patented what everyone else does.

Mar 03, 2008 at 03:10 AM

Search in Used Dept. 


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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · SmugMug warning about mass uploads

There is lots of prior art for using bib numbers and dates for identifying and matching picture subjects, so I'm dubious about the merit of this pre-emptive strike, and it would seem to not have been tested in court. I haven't looked at the patents, and am unlikely to do so, since this is not my scene, but there might be some minor technical issue that makes big sites want to knuckle under rather than pay the big bucks it would take to fight this, since patent law is highly technical. Seems almost like extortion.

nathanlake wrote:
This is very cryptic to me

Not as cryptic and hard to read as mis-using the marker tag for producing the ugly low contrast gray on red mess. Please use the [ quote ] tag instead.

Mar 03, 2008 at 09:27 AM
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · SmugMug warning about mass uploads

There's been a lot of discussion and debate regarding this patent. If you run a search at SM's support forum (dgrin.com) you should find plenty. The general opinion is it's a ridiculous patent that is way too broad & shouldn't have made it through. As aggressive as Mr. Wolf is in applying this patent, sooner or later someone's going to figure a way to kill the stupid thing & fight back. Anyway, SM's warning is their way of getting out from under the lawsuit (they are one of the named defendants).

My personal opinion is his intent is not ethical & honorable, it's to use a patent office mistake to cash in on a generally-used method to distribute photos. Basically he won the lottery & is now trying to collect.

Mar 03, 2008 at 06:55 PM

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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · SmugMug warning about mass uploads

"sooner or later someone's going to figure a way to kill the stupid thing & fight back."

Hey, you're talking about me! Through the legal process, we successfully defended against a ridiculous lawsuit and had three of his key patents invalidated. It took 15 years from the first patent application to overturning them. It's crazy that these patents were able to wreak havoc and victimize photographers for almost a decade!

Our US legal systems offer little protection for small businesses who are threatened with a lawsuit. And when a law firm takes on a case like this on a contingency basis, then it's a field day for a patent troll. No legal expenses, basically free representation. Our business ground to a halt to defend this lawsuit. In the end, the court vindicated us: the patents were invalid and we had done nothing wrong. But we were out $100,000 and a wasted year. This victory is a victory for the ENTIRE photography community.

We're still reeling from the financial impact. Please support our successful efforts by visiting www.endpatentabuse.com. Read the blogs. They're better than fiction. Check out some of the resources we've assembled there.

I have joined forced with "Application Developer Alliance" and "United For Patent Reform", and I will be testifying in Washington DC before the Senate Judiciary Committee which is working on legislation to fix the problems with our legal system.

Again, consider supporting us at www.endpatentabuse.com

Michael Skelps

Mar 21, 2015 at 04:44 PM

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