You have found that your images have been stolen… now what? You have a few different options on what you can do besides only reporting the theft to Photo Stealers.
1. Send a Cease & Desist letter. This is an email (you can find various form letters via Google) where you are requesting removal of your intellectual works from the website within a set amount of days before you pursue legal action. This is not a requirement. If you choose, you can skip to any of the following steps.
2. File a DMCA. Often the stealer refuses to remove the copyrighted works so you need to move on to reporting the image as your intellectual property to the online host of the image – be it a website, Facebook etc. To file a DMCA for a website, use Who is Hosting This to find the website host. Here is a great walkthrough from the Photo Attorney. If you need help with this, please feel free to contact me. Facebook makes it pretty easy to file a DMCA – use the report feature and follow the links until you get an option to flag the image as your intellectual property. Most other social media sites have a similar report feature.
3. Send an Invoice. Send the photographer/business an invoice outlining your cost for the use of the image for the length of time and purpose they used it for. I highly recommend this method if you have had images stolen by a business but many have had luck with this method with photographers as well.
4. File a lawsuit. If you have had enough or have had no luck with the above steps, call a lawyer and file a lawsuit. Note that you can sue even if the image was taken down when you requested. You get more damages if your watermark was removed and/or if you have registered the image so make sure you are doing both!
While there are definite downsides to all of these solutions, here are some things you can do to help protect your work from being stolen on the internet. Keep in mind the only failsafe way is to keep your images completely offline but this doesn’t mean that your clients will.
1. Digimarc. It’s definitely NOT a cheap solution but it’s the best way to digitally watermark your images to keep track of them online. The watermark can’t be removed with editing. Check out their website for the details and pricing information.
2. Watermarking. While it’s been proven that watermarking is definitely not fool proof it is a deterrent as it is an extra step to take to make your image their own. If they are determined, they will persevere but they may move onto another image that is easier to make their own. The harder your watermark is to remove, the harder it is for them to steal the image. This also allows a potential client to easily find you if your image is found somewhere that isn’t your website (i.e. Pinterest or Facebook). Keep in mind that if the watermark is small and in the corner it may be easily cropped out. If you have a watermark on your image and it has been removed, you are entitled to more damages should you pursue legal action if an image is stolen.
3. Use Flash. Of course, there are definite downsides to this method, but it is not easy to steal images from flash websites because you cannot right click. Of course you can screen capture but again, it is a deterrent.
4. Don’t Allow Pinterest. Pinterest is second only to Google Images as a place that thieves find work. You can opt out of allowing Pinterest to source your webpage but of course, this doesn’t mean that someone won’t still pin an image there.
5. Register Your Copyright. [For US Residents only] For $35 per group (online) or $65 (paper) you can register your images with the US Government. This won’t stop people from stealing your image online but if they are stolen you are entitled to higher damages should you chose to pursue it legally. Note that you must register the images within 3 months of publication.
I’ve been getting a ton of tips to thieves and general unsavory behaviors and I wanted to clear up what makes me post a thief.
1. They have to be a photographer. I get TONS of posts about models stealing other pictures, designers stealing other graphics, businesses stealing images for use and so forth. As much fun as it would be to out every person with sticky fingers on the internet, it’s just not possible and to make this blog work I have to streamline it.
2. The photographer had to actually steal the image, not just mimic a pose/location/style. I’ve got quite a few submissions from people complaining about someone stealing their style or pose. While it’s VERY annoying it’s not illegal, just unethical.
3. The photographer has to have a web presence WITH the stolen photographs. Craigslist ads are a given that they are going to be a mess. If it is JUST a Craigslist ad with no other web based presence, then I can’t publish it as it’s hard to really follow up on and those ads disappear pretty quickly. Still unethical but I frankly don’t have the time to make a post to every single stolen image on Craigslist. I’d need to quit photography to do this!
4. They have to have stolen photographs. This means not stolen graphic elements or designs but they have to have photographs that they’ve stolen on their site. An exception would be if they’ve stolen entire web content (about, blog posts etc) from another photographer because that’s a pet peeve of mine. This also includes stock photography, if the site is entirely made up of stock photography I won’t post it. Yes it’s unethical and sometimes against TOS but my goal is to “out” stealers, not unethical photographers. If there is a mix of the two I will out the stock images as well.
Does your thief meet the criteria? Then hit up the Report link to the top right and let me know! I keep all submissions anonymous so don’t worry about someone finding out you outed them.