Tackling image copyright theft in the real world

What do I mean by real world? Surely all avenues to deal with copyright theft is “real world”. The big difference is, do you have the financial means to back up any threatened legal recourse when dealing with those who would infringe your copyright? 99/100 of us don’t. If you can hire a lawyer to deal with on your behalf, go right ahead and you’ll probably do ok from it, but if you can’t you’ll have to use different tactics.

First things first though, how do you know when someone has been nicking your work? Luckily for us those nice people at Google have made it very easy for you to see where your work is being used, on the internet at least. If you have any online photo account, Flickr etc there is a VERY good chance your work is being ripped off. Try, just for instance, picking the most popular image on your Flickr photostream, have Flickr in one window and a Google image search in another. Now click on the Flickr thumbnail and drag it into the Google image search and within seconds you’ll be able to see where that image is being used.

Most of the time you will find a stack of results that are Flickr, the search will pick up where people have added the image as a favourite and then there’s all those sites built up around the Flickr api but now and again if you check a few you WILL find instances of copyright violation.

I should point out here, this only applies as long as you don’t grant a Creative Commons licence, if you do move on and accept that your hard work is going to be distributed and mangled as anyone see’s fit. If not then read on.

From a quick search of Flickr thumbnails I found many instances of unauthorised use. These seem to fall mainly into 3 categories.

1. Blogs

Blogs are far and away the biggest of these infringements. Really though, are they worth bothering about too much? Most bloggers are just ordinary people and if you really disagree with the context your image is being used then contact them and request a removal or at least a credit, don’t weigh in with both feet demanding a million pounds and their first born in compensation, be fair, ask them politely to remove the image and if they don’t most blogs are hosted somewhere by someone so complain to the host, be it WordPress, Blogger or similar.

2. Sites where the content is user generated

The biggest issue here is those free wallpaper sites but the likes of Facebook will also turn up fairly regularly. The wallpaper sites will generally respond pretty quickly to removal requests, others will spout on about DCMA regulations but will usually remove. Don’t expect any payment, you won’t get if from these sources as they don’t upload the content and as long as they remove it, you have little recourse. Facebook ask you to fill in their automated DCMA form and are actually very good at suspending accounts where the violation has taken place.

3. Commercial Operations

This is where you take your chances. If a commercial website is using your image then you must demand payment for the unauthorised use. Don’t threaten legal action unless you can back it up. It’s usually better to send a polite email, pointing out the image, where your original version sits, the copyright notice on the page the image is on and request a realistic amount as compensation. Don’t ask for a tenner, you’ll get laughed at; similarly don’t ask for a million pounds. Be realistic, if it’s a huge multi-national go in higher they can afford it and it’ll likely be a pittance you’re asking for in their financial terms, if it’s a smaller company don’t be a dick and try and bankrupt them over it, be realistic but don’t undervalue your work and be prepared to negociate.

In some cases you’ll get emails back apologising and informing you they have removed the image, if it’s a small local business I’d accept the apology and move on, if it’s bigger stick to your guns and continue to demand payment for the image, a lot of the time you will get some sort of compensation just to go away if nothing else.

At the end of the day, if you don’t want images nicked, then don’t upload them to the internet. It’s a simple as that. If it’s a major bugbear of yours then watermark them to make the image unusable to anyone else, remember though it also spoils that image you worked hard to get and want to show off.

The biggest single bit of advice I’m going to give you though is this. Whatever you do, don’t be an utter tool about copyright violations. Don’t try and bankrupt a small business, don’t try and extort money from a little amateur blogger. Most of these people use the image without realising about the copyright. It’s not right but we all make mistakes don’t we? Stick to your guns with the bigger organisations though, they DO know the law and they CAN afford to pay you. How much is down to your negotiating skills!

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2 responses

  1. Thanks for the tip about googling the images. I didn’t know you could do that, and have already found one of my images being used by an attorney website. Figures, huh?

    December 21, 2011 at 3:01 pm

  2. Reblogged this on Loving my Life and commented:
    Some great info here for photographers about Copyright infringement and some suggestions on what you can actually do to stop it.

    December 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm

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