Have you ever had a photo of yours stolen? Here are some important things you should know about.
Having your photograph stolen by another person or a company can be very frustrating. The mere thought of anything that belongs to you being stolen is of course already irritating in the most general sense. However, if you’re someone who shoots professionally, the implications of your photos being used by someone else can make things even more complicated.
In this article, we’ll talk about a few of the things that you should know about getting your photos stolen to better understand how to proceed with the necessary actions and if it is worthwhile. However, it is important to keep in mind that copyright laws vary from one country or state to another. There are some universally applicable points that are similar for most countries, but it would be best that if ever you deem it necessary, do familiarize yourself with the copyright law of your state and consult a lawyer.
1. Photo Theft Happens Millions of Times Everyday
The act of copying and reproducing another person’s intellectual property (in the form of a photograph) has definitely become much easier with technology and social media. Most photos online can be saved with a few taps on a smartphone or a right-click on your computer. While some sites try to prevent this by presenting your photos in other formats, they really can’t escape the inconvenient convenience of the screen-capture. It has become so easy and so instant for many people that most don’t even think that any of it is wrong, especially since it’s virtually impossible to trace such activity if the person only keeps the copy of the photograph for themselves. What’s more realistic is to trace those who actually make use of the photos, and there are a few simple ways to do it.
2. Google Image Search Is a Double-Edged Sword
As mentioned above, a common way that photo thieves come across your beautiful photographs is through Google image search. This has, of course, become a very useful tool for anyone who is in need of visual material for whatever purpose. However, Google does offer some help in finding pages where your photos are being used, and that is through what’s called a “reverse search.” By simply uploading your image on the Google image search, it will find public pages where copies of the photo are being displayed. The mechanism through which the search engine does this also looks for visually identical images, so that may also have some value in finding material where your photos have been cropped or tampered with.
The long-press or the right-click on your device can also be a double-edged sword on your browser. Making use of these gives you the option to search for the image on Google, which is actually a very convenient way of looking for copies of that particular image without having to go through your files and upload your photo. There are, however, more advanced ways available to trace copies of your photos, but they often require a bit of a fee.
3. Watermarks Do Not Protect From Theft
My multiple experiences of having my photos stolen and illegally used have proven that watermarks never really stop anyone from stealing your photos. With the simple use of the heal tool on Photoshop or even just by cropping out the area where your name was, many photo thieves think that they have permanently gotten away with it. Of course, even without a watermark, your photograph is protected by copyright even if most of the original image has been cropped out. A notable example of this was when the sky part of one of Elia Locardi’s images was used to replace the sky of another image. After some back-and-forth denials and shoulder shrugs, it was proven that the sky from his photo was grabbed by someone who uploaded his version on a stock photo platform.
An unusual habit of mine a couple of years back did prove to be quite helpful in battling photo-theft. From the years 2014 to 2016, I had this habit of placing two watermarks on each photo that I posted. One was clearly visible, while the other was intentionally very small and almost transparent. Consequently, the photo grabber would assume that there was only one watermark on the photo (which they would remove one way or another) and would fail to identify and remove the hidden one. This habit didn’t prevent the photo from being stolen but basically acted as a “smoking gun” piece of evidence when it came to proving that the photo was indeed stolen.
4. Photo Thieves Come Up With the Lamest Excuses
The most common form of photo theft is the use of a photo for commercial use. It may seem so simple and easy to understand that you can’t just take another person’s photo to make some money out of it, but thousands of people do it anyway. The latest and most common excuse I’ve gotten was of course saying that they didn’t know that it was wrong. Most people, even big corporations, seem to think that if you can find a photo on Google image search results, then it means it’s free for you to use. Obviously, that is not the case, and if they took an extra second to read the smaller text on the page, they would have found a warning that says that the photo may be protected by copyright.
Another lame excuse that you might encounter goes something like “that was done by the intern” or “the guy is new and didn’t know it was wrong,” but of course, any prudent company or organization would know that they are liable for whatever crime a subordinate does on their behalf.
5. All Your Photos Are Automatically Protected by Copyright
Again, it might not be safe to say that this applies to every country in the world, but at least, it is safe to say that if your country adheres to the provisions of the Berne Convention on copyright, which is a total of 178 countries, then this applies to you. From the moment of creation, in this case, the moment that you take a photograph, the whole and any part of it belong to you as the creator of the image. Without the need for any registration or notice, that image shall be protected by copyright unless you revoke that in any legitimate way. That includes selling an image with a subsequent transfer of specified rights, selling the image as a stock photo, or any other form of legally waiving your ownership.
Despite the absolute evidence of who is at fault, I’ve gotten unsolicited advice from people telling me to stop posting my work online if I didn’t want any of them stolen. Of course, such a remark would come from people who may not be oriented to the reality of how the internet and social media are important tools for marketing and that many of us actually get paid to post our work online. I feel no need to expound on this further; however, it may be valuable that if you do post online, then you should know that there are various ways to increase your level of protection. Doing regular searches for my most popular photos has proven to be quite successful for me. Another option I’ve recently found is Photoclaim.com. They basically search for your most popular photos (which you provide copies of) and help you throughout the process of collecting from the erring entities. It’s quite an awesome deal that they only charge you a certain amount for cases that they win, so there’s basically nothing to lose on your part.