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December 3, 2023

In praise of rights licensing bots

By Russ Lewis. Published online December 3, 2023

I was at the digital transformation summit in Berlin last week when I got a scary "unlicensed use" email from a rights licensing lawyer.

The rights licensing bot service sent me a screenshot of the page and the cartoon I was alleged to have used. I say alleged because I didn't recognise the cartoon or the link text. And no, I'm not going to use the cartoon again here - I take rights licensing seriously!

Then I started to read the text.

I didn't recognise it. We are management IT consultants, not matchmakers for Russian brides!

For someone to create a post they must have cracked the password to this author's account, so all I needed to do was change that account's password. But how many more posts had they added?

A quick look showed more than 500 posts - all written by AI - and all in business-like terms, so at least no bad language had appeared.

Suddenly, I was very grateful to the rights licensing bot that had crawled my site. £30 seemed like a very reasonable amount to pay for the information that I had been hacked months earlier!

Here are a few of the hacker's posts - hilariously, filed as Agile:

Know your platform

In the email about the alleged rights licensing offense, the screenshot showed the cartoon had its copyright notice across it. I reasoned it may have been something I had drafted and abandoned. I'd made mistakes before about what was, and was not, visible on the website. I was worried the contents of my bin and drafts were visible, and even contacted support, only to be reminded I was signed in as the site's administrator, so of course I could see everything. A very patient support person pointed this out by suggesting I check what I could see using an InPrivate browser - much like "Is it plugged in?" or "Have you tried restarting it?". Doh!

Beware phishing emails

At least I did not click on the link to the alleged post from the email. I consider myself to be digitally savvy enough to be very suspicious of links in emails, but in reality, I'm scared of the consequences. Hovering over the link with my mouse showed a very different address from the text, so I copied it and pasted it into Notepad. Notepad only recognises text, so that's what it pasted, leaving me with the alleged address to the alleged post without tracking cookies or dodgy destinations. I then re-copied that text, then pasted it into the browser bar. Imagine my disappointment when it went straight to the post on my website, with their cartoon.

Pay your way for rights licensing

I'll pay the requested amount for the usage but I'll not mention the company - they can make themselves known if they wish.

That's exactly what WayHomeStudio on Freepik asked me to do for using their image.

I'm grateful to both of you.

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