The digital age has ushered in a new wave of access and convenience.
Never before have we been able to have access to petabytes of media right at our fingertips and never before have we been able to use an app on our phone to order a quadruple quarter pounder (FYI it’s called The Pounder) and have it turn up to our door with basically zero effort. (This digital age is going to kill us all, one coronary bypass at a time)
However, along with all this ease and convenience comes the darker side of media in the digital age– image theft.
Image theft is perhaps the worst thing since stolen sliced bread but, hey, it happens to lots of photographers, what can you do?
Well, lots actually.
Tell anyone who isn’t in the creative industries about companies using your images without licensing or permission and they’ll say, “Hey, take it as a compliment!”
To that, as a photographer, I say, “Yeah, well, no.”
At some stage in their creative pursuits and endless hustle, artists actually need to get some financial support for their efforts. Compliments don’t keep the electricity on and you can’t feed yourself on ‘exposure’.
So, in this post I’m going to take a quick look at;
- Why your images get stolen,
- How you find these copyright infringements,
- What you can do about stolen images now, and
- What you can do to protect yourself in the future.
Hold up, what about photo sharing?
Now, I’m not talking about people grabbing an image from Instagram to use for their phone’s background or downloading a Flickr shot for a personal blog, I’m talking about individuals or companies using your images for their own commercial gain.
Sharing work properly is the word of mouth advertising that many artists rely on but what we’re talking about here is blatant theft for monetary reward.
Why do your images get stolen?
Your images get stolen for a number of reasons like;
- The thief is just lazy and that ‘right click + save as’ action is so easy to do
- The copyright is wrong or ambiguous (more on this later)
- Your image is awesome (I hope so!)
- The thief reckons they can get away with it (not so fast buddy!)
- You shared your image somewhere that removed your ability to copyright
In a way, those who tell you to take image theft as a compliment are right – if it’s being stolen, there’s value in your shot!
How do you find these copyright infringements?
A stolen image is like a tree falling in the forest – if you can’t perceive it, you never know if it has happened.
One of the best ways to find where your images end up is by reverse image searching.
For a DIY job, try putting your images into;
For combined search engines try:
There are also a number of legal companies that can provide a full reverse-image searching and compiling service – my pick of the bunch is Pixsy (I’m not affiliated with them but I use them)
With Pixsy and others, you can link up your Instagram (or other media account or even just a straight file upload) and they’ll run the reverse image search and locate the places where your images are used online.
From there, you can open a case against the infringer and Pixsy will handle it all and usually take a 50% cut of any settlements. 50% is a lot but hey, it’s 50% of something as opposed to 50% of the nothing you would have had without them!
What you can do about stolen images now?
If your work is being used for commercial gains against the copyright without the proper licensing agreement in place then my opinion is to go after them!
If you’re using Pixsy or similar, gather all the evidence required and launch that case! For example, screenshot their website and use Archive.is to save an offline version of the website for your evidence. Remember, in this case, taking down the image is not enough – they have been generating commercial gain from your work and you’re entitled to be reimbursed for this use.
If you’re not using Pixsy or you’re in a region where they can’t enforce then you can look at contacting a local copyright lawyer or even do it yourself!
Did you know you can generate some pretty official-looking PayPal invoices directly through your PayPal account?
Send one of these to the company along with a letter explaining the copyright infringement and a pre-filled Agreement to Licence an Image and you’re good to go!
What you can do to protect yourself in the future?
If you’re producing high-quality work and sharing it online, there’s not a great deal you can do to stop someone from using your image.
They’ll trim off watermarks, screenshot if they can’t directly save images and find a way around most digital protection methods if they really want the image.
So, unless you want to stop sharing your work or put ungainly watermarks right over the middle of the image (which can actually be removed anyway!) then the best protection is to build up your ability to enforce theft.
You can do this by:
- Using the correct Creative Commons Licence when uploading to image sharing sites like Flickr (see more about CC here)
- Reviewing the terms and conditions of each site before hosting images on them to make sure you retain full copyright of the image
- Keeping RAWs backed up to help prove you created the image
- Avoiding submitting images to competitions that force you to give up your ownership rights
So, in conclusion, if you’re producing high quality work that you’re sharing online – image theft is an inevitable drawback of the digital age.
If this theft is for commercial gain then as a hustling artist you owe it to yourself (and the other artists in the industry) to go after these image thieves with all the energy you can muster.
Just because your work can be replicated quickly and easily does not reduce the value of it in any way.
You can protect and arm yourself to fight image theft and I believe you should.
What do you think? Do you have any experience with image theft? Got any interesting tips on this topic?
Let me know in the comments below!