Artist Melinda Copyright Scam: Do Not fall for it

Where do these bell-ends get off? I confess, this scam got me….

A lesson learned not to check emails before I head off to work in the wee hours of the morning this week, as I fell hook, line and sinker for a shrewd little scam. That time in the morning, I’m even more gullible than usual! Thought I’d mention it here, so if you blog or work in the media, you don’t get fooled if it should head your way.

After the umpteen times explaining to my mum on the phone how to be mindful and wary of emails and social media posts with links, I confess, emotion got the better of me with this one. I feel like such an idiot for falling for it. My entire day was ruined by Melinda, the illustrator, the very angry illustrator, if she exists at all, which I doubt, so I’ll call them nasty pricks; for want of a more offensive term.

Note, I endeavour to check my sources of all the images we use on Devizine, I’ve been a victim of intellectual property theft myself and it’s a horrible feeling, like you’ve been psychically burgled. I’d welcome if anyone spots an image of theirs, they get in touch immediately, and we can credit you appropriately, link it to your website, or if you prefer, remove it. Note also, we are a non-profit-making website; this is a hobby but, in turn, I take copyright issues personally and seriously. Copyright infringement is a bitch, a red tape minefield in this digital era, and the last thing I want is to upset a creator. Imagine my surprise then when a message arrives via the feedback form on the website, claiming I had used their images without permission.

The message was thus: “This is Melinda and I am a licensed illustrator. I was confused, to put it nicely, when I came across my images at your web-site. If you use a copyrighted image without my approval, you should be aware that you could be sued by the owner. It’s illegal to use stolen images and it’s so nasty! Take a look at this document with the links to my images you used at devizine.com and my earlier publications to obtain evidence of my legal copyrights.”

It ends by requesting I “delete the images mentioned in the document above within the next several days, I’ll write a complaint against you to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property.” Then it ends abruptly with a threat, “And if it doesn’t work, you may be pretty damn sure I am going to report and sue you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.” Looking at it now I see the holes, but rather than a formal notice, it is just the sort of knee-jerk reaction you might expect from an angry artist upon finding their work stolen, and I fully sympathise with those who do.

My heart leapt into my mouth and the immediate response is to resolve the issue as fast as possible. The catch is Melinda, the imaginary illustrator, hasn’t named the images she has an issue with; you have to click on a link to see her “case file,” and reveal what images of hers you’ve blatantly nicked. I did click, it took me to a Google Drive page which didn’t load immediately, so quickly closed it down. I’d have to contact her via the email address she left or her website. The emails returned unsent; the website didn’t exist.

Yeah, I know, this should’ve been evidence enough to tell me it was a trick, but my mind was still wound up with what-ifs, and worries I’d offended someone. I had to speculate as to what images they could be, and came up with two on an article which I deleted post-haste. Then, throughout my work day I’m contemplating, what if they weren’t the right pictures, and I wracked my brain to think of others they might be.

When I got home, I tried the email again, to be sure, changing the capital letter for lower case. I messaged the person who was the subject of the article, as I lifted the suspected images from his Facebook page, though he is in Argentina, I’d have to allow for the time difference. Then I Google searched illustrators called Melinda as contacted them too, asking them if they’d messaged our website. It was only thanks to Ida of InDevizes who messaged me after seeing my Facebook post, I found out others had the same message, and it was confirmed a scam.

Virus scan today picked up no threat. No harm done, just an upsetting day, a pointless waste of my time and the notion I will be cautious of anyone calling up copyright issues in future, which in turn could affect our ability to work with creators to ensure we get it right. As if copyright isn’t complicated enough, these absolute bell-ends have to meddle with your emotions, and ruin your day. I’m just posting so you’re aware, as I’m surprised that I fell for it, is all. Onwards as ever….

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