Stolen Photos and Copyrighting or The Internet is Not the Wild, Wild West

A week ago a potential iPad Engraving customer of mine expressed concern at sending me his expensive electronics. He wanted to know if I had a way to reassure him that everything about my company is legit. I was just a tiny bit annoyed, but this has happen before, so I knew what to send him. Even though my business website is professional looking and full of photos and testimonials, some people are still suspicious… and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing, as you’ll see.

After this happen I decided to make a media page for the website – one place to highlight all the articles about the company. So I set off googling my company to see what I could find. I have a google alert set up so most of it was not new to me. Then I decided to google iPad Engraving and see how the competition is doing. Nothing really new and exciting there. Down about eight pages in the search results I found a link to a site that focuses on engraving electronics for individuals. I clicked through and noticed they were using a web-to-print service I hadn’t seen before so I poked around some more. Somewhere on their site I found a link to their ‘corporate orders’ site. I clicked that. Imagine my surprise when I discover that this site is full of photos that I took myself.

Yes, that’s right. A business in the exact same industry as mine was using photos I had taken of my engraving work to promote their business. Not a “splog” site that just ripped my content, but a supposedly legitimate business. And not just one photo – but dozens. After a closer look I recognized work in other photos that was done by various engravers I know of.

If you share photos on the web, this has probably happen to you at some point in time. I even had a young deaf girl steal photos of me to put on her Facebook page once. This is why most photographers watermark their images with their name and copyright notice.

So this past week was a learning experience for me. Here’s a summary:

    • A lot of people are ignorant of even the most basic concept of copyright laws and how they work. Some are ignorant to the point of declaring that as long as you give credit it’s okay to use a photo you find online. One guy actually said that that’s “what books and magazines do”. Really? No! That’s not what they do. They license (receive permission to use) every photo they use either directly or through a license agency. Every Photo. There is a special case here, if you see a photo on the web that says it is released under a Creative Commons license that may mean that you may be able to use it and only have to give permission. There are different levels of Creative Commons licenses, so be sure to check that your use is included. My photos were licensed this way, but they were tagged Non-Commercial. If a blog had used them and given me credit I’d be perfectly happy. But since another business (commercial!) used them and didn’t even give credit… I was really not happy.

  • Sending a DMCA takedown notice usually works. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act means that the internet really is not the Wild, Wild West that some people claim it is. There are procedures to follow to sent a notice to the host of the site that took your content that you want it removed. The host then starts by warning their customer and if that doesn’t work then they go in and remove the files themselves.
  • It’s very easy to register your work with the US Copyright office. You don’t have to register your photos/work with the copyright office, but if you do it makes your case much easier to defend. Some photographers say that pursuing settlements for copyright infringements is a second income stream for them.
  • Watermarks don’t have to be huge. Watermarking images is a way to tell people that they are yours. The objection has been that a small mark in the corner is easy to just crop away and a big watermark across the center really distracts or takes away from the experience of viewing the image. It turns out that the small one will protect you greatly because there are laws in place to say that removing the watermark is illegal too.
  • Taking it further would require a lawyer. So far I haven’t found a copyright lawyer to work with, and since the photos have been removed from the site (though are stitll saved in the host directories) I probably won’t be filing any lawsuits this time. I’m just this much more ready in case it happens again.

2 Comments

  1. Alan Reeves
    Apr 24, 2012

    My wife takes great photos of our goats and we have often found them being used in places we did not agree to. I’ll have to try the DMCA tip; often our requests are ignored. My wife sent Facebook a few messages about a group that used a photo and it was eventually taken down. It took several months for them to get in gear though. I think think next time we need to be more insistent. Thanks for the information

  2. Cory Stilson
    Jan 15, 2013

    This article really rocks. I bought a mid range DSLR to start taking pictures of my products but want to expand to maybe starting a website to sell prints and what not. Thanks for the great article. Do you have any thoughts on the watermarking companies for photos (like digimark)?

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