Nicolas Bouliane

An Abmahnung for using a Creative Commons image Posted on

This post was previously hosted on All About Berlin. I moved it to my personal website because it’s more story than advice.

If you use an image with a Creative Commons licence, you must credit the author correctly. If you make a mistake, you might get an Abmahnung that asks you to pay hundreds of euros. Some German lawyers turned this into a business model.

Abmahnung from Kanzlei Schröder
An Abmahnung from Kanzlei Schröder

This happened to me in 2018. Here’s what happened.

What happened?

I used a stock photo from Christoph Scholz that has a Creative Commons license. I credited the author, but I did not use the correct format.

With the CC BY-SA 2.0 license, the attribution must include the Title, the Author, the Source and the Licence. I only included the author and a link to the source.

How I credited the photographer: Cover photo by Christoph Scholz

How I should have credited the photographer: Cover photo: “Kleingeld vor Taschenrechner in Buchhaltung” by Christoph Scholz, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

A few months later, I received an Abmahnung from Kanzlei Schröder in the mail. It asked me to pay 663.64€.

I removed the image from my website, and asked Google to remove the image from Google Images. Then I called a lawyer: Kanzlei Ostermaier.

The lawyer recommended that I don’t pay. They sent a letter that basically “fuck you, I won’t pay”. Kanzlei Schröder answered “if you don’t pay, we will take you to court, and we will win”. They added “since you’re so cool, we’ll drop the price to 400€, and if you pay we’ll stop bothering you”.

They were probably wrong. The judge would probably ask them how a free photo with a slightly incorrect attribution lose the photographer business. The Cologne Higher Regional Court already ruled that no compensation is due in this situation. The Frankfurt Higher Regional Court also issued the same ruling.

But did I want to gamble thousands of euros to find out? No. I paid my lawyer, paid their lawyer, and never heard from them again.

Creative Commons attribution: a lucrative business

All About Berlin’s case is not an isolated incident. Kanzlei Schröder sent similar “fines” to several websites over Creative Commons misattributions. Christoph Scholz, Dennis Skley and Dirk Vorderstraße are known for sending Creative Commons Abmahnungen through them.

Some German law firms specialize in this sort of scumbaggery. They find people who make tiny mistakes, and offer them a choice: pay our “fine” or see you in court. Most people can’t afford a lawyer, so they just pay the “fine”.

There are many articles describing this practice:

What do the courts think?

The image was free, and I credited the photographer. I just used the wrong format.

The Cologne Higher Regional Court ruled that no compensation is due for misattributing Creative Commons images. The Frankfurt Higher Regional Court also issued the same ruling.


This happened in 2018. As I update this post in 2023, I am older and wiser. My advice is a little different.

If this happens to you, don’t pay. If you have legal insurance, let a lawyer take care of it. If you don’t, try to settle for a much lower amount. Make it clear that if you don’t get a satisfactory deal, you’ll meet them in court.

How to prevent this

Check the licence of the images you use. Buy the rights to your images, or use public domain (CC0) images. You can find public domain images on Pexels or Unsplash.