05/15/2013 04:06 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Anti-piracy enforcement company becomes accidental pirate

MONTREAL - Chalk this one up as a mildly embarrassing coincidence for the company leading the fight to uncover, and punish, online copyright infringement in Canada.

The Montreal-based company has been forced to change the images on its website — upon learning that several had been copied without permission.

It was an awkward twist for Canipre, given that the company name stands for Canadian Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement and that it offers "takedown services" on behalf of clients like Hollywood studios.

A message on the company home page says: "They all know it's wrong and they're still doing it."

The company says that, in this case, it did not actually know that the images were used improperly and only learned about the infringement through an online article on the Vice website.

The site reported that the company had used the images without the knowledge or permission of the photographers.

"We are concerned about this as anybody," Barry Logan, Canipre's managing director, responded in an email to The Canadian Press.

"The minute it was brought to our attention, the pictures were taken down, (and) contact was made with the owner."

The pictures have been removed.

Logan said he hired an independent contractor to design the website — and, apparently, some details were then left unattended.

The contractor took responsibility for the snafu.

"It's my fault. I didn't do my due diligence," said the site-design contractor, Trevor Paetkau. "This has nothing to do with Canipre...

"I just assumed we could use them."

While Paetkau wasn't able to say exactly what prompted the error, he said he is looking into it. He said one possible explanation is that a broadly distributed photo might have mistakenly wound up on a free image website used by a member of his team.

Vice captured screen images of four pictures it said were improperly used. They were originally taken by at least two different photographers.

One of those photographers confirmed that nobody sought his permission to use a picture.

"I've never been contacted by anyone requesting its use," said Steve Houk, a forensic photographer for San Diego county.

The image in question is a 1930s Film Noir-style black and white self-portrait of Houk, dressed as a detective in a dark room with shadows obscuring his face.

Houk says he only uploaded the picture onto the website Flickr, his Facebook page and his blog. The words "all rights reversed" are clearly visible next to the image uploaded onto Flickr.

That means that it requires the rightholder's authorization.

A reverse image search, however, shows that many websites and blogs are using it. Houk said anyone else using the photo is doing so without his permission.

Ironically, Houk sent a takedown request to Canipre — something the Canadian firm does routinely for pirated content.

He was then contacted by Canipre's Logan.

Canipre is the only anti-piracy enforcement firm that provides services to copyright-holders in Canada. The firm has been monitoring Canadian users' downloading of pirated content for several months for its clients.

It is currently assisting a file-sharing lawsuit case launched by American studio Voltage Pictures, which made the award-winning movie "Hurt Locker."

Many more lawsuits could pop up in Canada, depending on the outcome of the case, according to Logan. While such suits have been common in the U.S., they have not made headway in Canada.