When SEO services go bad, the internet cannot erase it. That is what photographer Kai Eselein is basing his 3.6 million dollar lawsuit on. He saw his image included, without proper attribution, in one of Buzzfeeds content curation articles that was subsequently picked up across the internet.
While a reliable SEO company would not grab unattributed or unlicensed content, the suit states that Buzzfeed uses SEO strategies to increase readership and distribution. And through, simple SEO marketing they have put Mr. Eseleins image in the public domain without proper compensation.
For some background, Buzzfeed published an article (or list?) of the 30 Funniest Header Faces to highlight that awkward moment when soccer players hit the ball with their head. Eselein saw one of his photographs included and immediately sent a cease and desist letter. The article was changed to reflect it only contained 29 pictures, but what of the viral nature of the article? Once something is published on the internet, it has legs of its own.
So in one sense, Buzzfeed uses the appropriate tools to keep their search engine ranking and viral articles fresh. They are publishing new content that hooks readers with a good headline. We should all have this kind of content that we publish frequently, but the problem is that their content aggregation caused Eseleins photo to further be published across the internet without attribution. And, without proper credit, there are no royalties or publishing guidelines in place.
SEO services typically would love this kind of distribution. You have a timely, easily consumed list (or images in this case) that everyone wants to share. This potentially means more site visitors for Buzzfeed, and increased earnings from advertising. It is a proven model for search engine optimization in other businesses, but we generally are not talking about photo rights and royalties.
There is an industry built on the buying and selling of images for use in advertising, print and online collateral that compensates photographers for their work. Buzzfeed has potentially thrown a wrench in the works by using images they have rights to and further distributing them online.