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Liability from pictures of an abandoned house?

Discussion in 'Copyright, Trademark, Patent Law' started by therealciviczc, Sep 23, 2008.

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  1. therealciviczc

    therealciviczc Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I run a website where I photograph pictures of old abandoned houses, warehouses, etc. I post short accounts of my trips to these places along with pictures of the places, etc.

    I live in Ohio and the home in question is also in another county in Ohio.

    About 1 year ago, I went through a high profile abandoned home. The house was wide open, with broken windows, tall grass, etc... clearly not in use in any way. The inside of the home was damaged somewhat, void of any signs of being inhabited. I'm 100% certain the home was not lived in. I took pictures of the home (very interesting) and posted them to my site.

    Recently I received a threatening letter from the son of the home's owner (he now claims to be the owner as his father is in jail). He said that his team of lawyers was dying to go after me, but he'll call off the dogs if I take the pictures down and issue an apology to him. His reasoning is that there have been numerous break ins since I posted the pictures and it has cost him significant money ($100,000).

    Of course my questions are... Do I have any real legal risks in leaving the pictures up from a criminal stand point... like can the police try to get me for trespassing, B&E, etc? Again, the home is and was wide open... door standing open, windows broken, etc. More importantly, regarding his claims that I cost him money. Would he have any case trying to show that my posting of the pictures caused others to go there and destroy property? He claims that they all said they saw it on my site... and of course there is absolutely nothing on my site that encourages anyone to go there in any way... in fact, typically I make it clear that one should not go to the locations I feature.

    I personally think the guy is just trying to be a bully and bluff me, which I won't fall for. Its important to me to have some artistic integrity, and I won't let someone bully me, but, if I really am legally in the wrong, I'd have no choice.

    Sorry for the long question. I'd really appreciate anyone's time on this. I have a very detailed site with tons of pictures of abandoned buildings, homes, military bases, etc, and this info would be useful for other places as well. In 10 years or so of running the site, this is the first legal issue I've run in to, so I guess it is about time I find out the law.
     
  2. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    Did you trespass onto the property in order to take the pictures? Just because a house appears to be abandoned doesn't mean that you have any legal rights to trespass onto private property. I won't get into "adverse" possession here but, IMHO, I would take down the pictures of the site that couldn't have been taken from standing on public property.

    Does he have any argument as to additional damages being caused? Probably not and, if so, it's minimal. To begin, he'd have to show a nexus between the break ins and your pictures as well as proving that the damages were significant to an already ramshackle home that probably requires razing.

    Let me ask you this - are these specific pictures really worth all the trouble?
     
  3. therealciviczc

    therealciviczc Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Without a doubt the pictures show trespassing... Of course there were not any 'no trespassing signs' or anything of that nature, and the home was wide open, but I understand that still isn't an invitation and doesn't give anyone a right. I'd be more concerned with a breaking and entering charge or something more serious. I would think either a B&E charge or trespassing would be tough without proof that I took the pictures, and of course, I'm not in the pictures and really, who knows who may have taken them. I just posted the pictures on a website and wrote a story as far as anyone is concerned.

    How difficult would it be to show a link between my pictures and the people going in to the location? I hate to post exact context of his email here, but to paraphrase, he claims that all of the people caught in the home recently have cited my website as 'how they found out about the place', which again, I'm not sure I believe. Many of the claims in the email don't really add up. The only thing that I can really confirm is that this person is who he claims to be. All of his other claims don't really make much sense... for example, why didn't his team of lawyers contact me, how would he know what the people arrested had told the police, what repairs costs him so much money, etc.. (more recent pictures of the home by others show no real change and it is still sitting wide open... infact, I actually called the police to see if they could lock it up because there is a full indoor pool and I was concerned about someone falling in).

    I understand that this probably seems to be something that isn't worth it, but it is in fact important to me. If I am absolutely in the wrong here, and really putting myself at risk for major legal issues, I'd take them down. If this is something that most lawyers and law enforcement would sort of scoff at and say 'forget about it' as far as his argument is concerned, then I'd really like to leave them up. I'm very passionate about this as a hobby.

    I absolutely would admit that the pictures were taken by trespassing, but aside from a trespassing charge, I guess I'm ultimately asking if there is a realistic potential for further legal troubles or if its more than likely safe to assume this is someone that is just angry and trying to scare me.

    Thanks so much for you time on this. I think the contributions you're making here in general are much more valuable than you know, and I really appreciate it.
     
  4. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    IMHO... take them down!!!! This alone is enough to nail you for something and the lack of a "no trespassing" sign doesn't mean anything. There is no sign on the front door of my friend's sloppy home but that doesn't mean that he's welcoming everyone to simply traipse all over and through his property! ;) As an FYI, there is a term in "torts" called "res ipsa loquitor" which means essentially that the facts speak for themselves. You see where I'm going with this? ;)

    Honestly... do you really care? What I'm trying to do is help you with perspective. By having pictures that prove you were trespassing and then alerting the world of an abandoned property, you're just asking for trouble. Can you imagine how much sympathy you'd get from a judge and jury if this land owner ever decided to go through with his threats? You're powerless here - he'll do what he decides to do and the chances are MUCH greater something is going to happen if you keep aggravating him!

    Again, who cares if 90% of this claims are hogwash? The bottom line is that he has you between the crosshairs should he pick up the phone and start to take action by calling the police. You've practically admitted that you trespassed on his private property with those photos and SOMEBODY must have informed him of your site since he found out! While it's nice that you called the police about the dangers on his property you're still getting yourself into hot water... and for what?

    Some people are EXTREMELY passionate about recreational drug use. That doesn't mean pushing the envelope is a good idea. I'm not telling you to quit your hobby but it does mean that if you've got someone who is calling you out for a legal wrong, then just revel in the pictures of your other escapades. Let's call this a "cost of doing business" that some of your ILLEGAL efforts, no matter how harmless you think they are (e.g. pot smoking), will result in a total loss of time as they will here and consider yourself fortunate that this is all it is.

    You're welcome and, in the spirit of priding myself/ourselves on having a very high caliber of individuals who lurk here, suffice it to say that you NEED to take a step back and read what you are writing with an open mind, pretending that you're talking about your 15 year old son doing this. You are breaking the law every time you trespass. It is a risk you are taking that someone will prosecute you. I can tell you that there is a 90% chance that most of what the landowner is saying is rubbish but it does NOT change the fact that it's simple for any prosecutor to toss you right into the slammer. If this person gets angry enough, what's to stop him from going to the DA? What if the DA needs a good high profile case to hang his hat on for the next election? How about stopping a notorious trespasser who compromises the safety of every landowner in the county? You might think it's spin but it's accurate enough and surely makes a good headline. ;)

    My thoughts - which I think are from having pretty good instincts - are to take down this particular set of pictures and call it a cost of doing dangerous business. You've still got plenty to enjoy but just understand the quid pro quo here... and make sure that any pictures of my home is taken from the street. ;) Good luck.
     

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