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Gung-ho US lawyers attack German Web man over holiday picture

Family snap of the Grand Canyon sparks over zealous litigation

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Heavy-handed lawyers in the UK and US have forced a leading German software developer to close his Web site over a copyright dispute despite admitting that some of the allegations were false. Lawyers acting for IPIX (Interactive Pictures Corporation) have until this afternoon to substantiate the charges and submit evidence of any wrongdoing. If not, Helmut Dersch who owns the site, will re-open the disputed home page -- after he shut it down voluntarily last week – before contacting lawyers to discuss what action he can take against IPIX. In a strongly worded statement issued yesterday, Dersch told the photographic software company that it had five days to examine his site for any alleged breaches of copyrights, patents, or other rights. "If I do not hear from you by [this afternoon], and receive no satisfactory explanations, I assume there are no rights of yours violated, and I will reopen my site again," he said. And in a bizarre twist, once IPIX realised that Dersch was an expert in the field of imaging and virtual reality it tried to make up for its mistake in the most spectacular example of back-tracking seen in a long time. In a letter from IPIX's US lawyers, the company said: "We do not see why you and IPIX could not share information, enabling you and your Web communicants to benefit from this burgeoning technology. "Indeed, one of IPIX's engineers is eager to meet face to face with you to discuss the potential for mutual benefits." But IPIX's attempt to kiss and make up has just angered Dersch still further and he is livid at way he's been treated. "You have hurt me and my family," he told IPIX's lawyers. “You have caused, as you phrased it, ‘unquantifiable damage’ - you know better than I that your previous actions constitute criminal offences, at least here in Germany. I will soon find out how laws in your countries regulate these matters etc." The dispute arose after IPIX claimed that it "owned" a photograph of the Grand Canyon and its format that appeared on Dersch's site. It subsequently retracted the allegation concerning the photograph -- apparently, it was taken by Dersch while on holiday and the picture even has his shadow in it -- but maintains that it was recreated on the site using IPIX copyright protected format, allegations stringently denied by Dersch. Janson Harrison of IPIX in the UK conveniently ducked the issue insisting that all enquiries were being handled by IPIX VP Ed Lewis, in the US. Mr Lewis was unavailable for comment. ®

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