If I have admin access to a server, can I be accused of computer misuse?
March 2, 2007 6:53 PM   Subscribe

I am a photographer. My photographs are currently on a website that I used to work with but have since had a disagreement. I own the copyright to my images and would like the website to remove them. They are being very slow in their response as removing the images will create very negative publicity for them. I have maintained their website for the last 4 years and have full admin access to their dedicated server. If I log in and remove my images, could I be accused of misuse of computers?

The website is that of an extreme sports organisation whose (uncontracted) athletes I have photographed on and off for the last 4 years. I have never been paid by this organisation, nor has there been any discussion or agreement, formal or informal with regards to the copyright. I regard myself as owning the copyright of the images 100%.

I manage their dedicated server and I have had no requests from them to stop. I have full admin access. As they seem to be reluctant to remove my images, I am trying to find out whether I can reasonably log in to their server and remove my images.

The internet can be a small place, hence my need for anonymity. Follow up questions can be directed to goudray (a) hotmail.com. All thoughts are very much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
I suppose you could send yourself a DMCA takedown notice and claim you had no choice but to obey it...

Are you really willing to take the fallout over doing this? I think you can be pretty certain that if they're reluctant to take the images down that they're going to be unhappy if you force their hand - you may no longer be their admin after you do this.
posted by phearlez at 7:05 PM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think the more prudent course would be to send them an email/call them and tell them that unless they remove them you'll do it for them. Doing it without notifying them will likely just roil the waters further.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:15 PM on March 2, 2007

If you can indeed prove that these photos are yours, you would be giving up substantial moral high ground by using your administrative access to remove them.

Formally serve them notice that they have a fixed amount of time to remove the images. Do so in a way that makes it easy for you to leverage the courts later on if need be.

By taking them down now, an argument could be made that you were vandalizing their site.
posted by popechunk at 7:16 PM on March 2, 2007

I would give notice, in writing and politely and explaining why you are unhappy, that in X days these photos will be removed unless the issue surrounding your unhappiness with their use is resolved. Perhaps, and this is just thinking off the top of my head, offer to sell them a licence to use for a specific period of time?

No matter what you will run the risk of losing the admin job, it sucks, but that is what happens when you wear more than one hat at a company.
posted by edgeways at 7:35 PM on March 2, 2007

Do you have legitimate access, or is this access from back when you used to work for them, and they haven't deleted the account or whatever? If the latter, then I think it is pretty clearly inappropriate, if not illegal. If they are aware of your access to the server, then just do as wemayfreeze suggests -- give them formal notice that you are planning to remove your content from their server on March 15 (or whatever) unless they do so sooner.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:38 PM on March 2, 2007

jumping off what phearlez said, even if you're technically right, you could be dragged through the mud over removing the images. there's a lot that could be attached to you as a photographer who deals with publications. have fun explaining the circumstances to your future dealings.

unless it's an actual intellectual property issue surrounding the photos that has caused your falling out, it's probably worth it to just move on and let them take care of their own house (with some prodding here and there from you).

since you informally agreed to allow them to run your photographs at some point in the past, i think the precedent is probably on their side for keeping them. of course, if they are producing new content or repackaging your work, things teeter to your side.

still, tampering is tampering, and it's best avoided especially in a field that is as heavily based on schmoozing as photography is.
posted by pokermonk at 8:15 PM on March 2, 2007

DMCA takedown seems like the best option in this case, but don't take the photos down yourself. Send the notice and wait for a response. If they have any sense about them, the pictures will come down ASAP.
posted by dantekgeek at 8:28 PM on March 2, 2007

It is not clear from your post whether you care about loosing these admin rights and responsibilities. If you don't care about your relationship with this org, then it seems reasonable for you to remove your content, especially since they have refused to do so.

IANAL, and I have not the foggiest idea of the law in this area. It would seem reasonable that, if you remove your photos, you would also have to remove links to them. This prevents the appearence of vandalism, it would seem to me. While the photos would no longer be there, their abscence would not make the site look tottally stupid (except to the extent that it may lack content).

However, this does sound rather like a juvenile hissy fit over interpersonal relationships. It is one thing to decide to terminate a relationship. It is another thing to take back that which was freely given. I think if you behave in such a fashion you loose some cred as a 'reliable person'.

Your photos have been in 'the wild' already. They are history. You have the rights, the Internet has the images. Walk away and find a new gig, and maintain a professional demeanor.
posted by Goofyy at 10:47 PM on March 2, 2007

I wonder if you can legally prevent them from continuing to use your photos. Since you gave them permission to use the photos without specifying an expiration date, you might be barred by estoppel from demanding that they remove them now. I'm not a lawyer, but perhaps one would care to comment on this.

Regardless of the law, I agree with Goofyy. Unless they are starting to re-use your photos in new works (such as printed brochures or something), you should just move on.
posted by grouse at 6:17 AM on March 3, 2007

I can't speak to the legality, but one way to serve them notice about the images and give them a hard deadline without having to worry about them revoking your admin access after you warn them:

- copy the photos to another domain
- change the code of the web pages to use the copied images
- remove your images from their server
- inform them that in X days pictures will be removed from your temporary picture serving domain.

Also consider if they have a backup copy of their website anywhere else, or on CD, etc. If so, removing them from the public server in anyway is not really going to help you.
posted by mikepop at 9:14 AM on March 5, 2007

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