Oh No! Someone Used One of My Photos

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There are times when I struggle to decide on a subject for an article. Many times, to help me get over the “hump”, so to speak, I surf the web and read other photography blogs. Usually I’ll find an article on a subject I like or a comment in an article that pushes me in the right direction. This is one of those times. And, as the title implies, it’s about others using your images on the internet.

Because I’m neither an attorney or an expert in the area, I’m going to steer away from copyright laws and options for enforcement under those laws.

Regardless of what you may take away from this article, this is my position. I fully respect the intellectual and artistic property of others. I don’t copy and paste someone else’s article and post it here although this has happened on other sites to some of Tiffany’s articles and I suspect mine as well. I may write on the same subject but it’s always my own words and thoughts.

I have never knowingly installed pirated software on my computer or watched a pirated DVD. I never copied music from Napster or Lime Wire. If there was a song I wanted, I purchased the CD. Hooray for MP3s and iTunes. Now all I have to do is purchase the one song I like and not the entire CD. I do use images of other photographers for Beyond Megapixels articles, but if you pay attention to the bottom of the article I only take them from Flickr Creative Commons and give credit to the photographer. The photos in Creative Commons are posted there by photographers that have granted blanket permission for others to use them with certain restrictions.

As to what I would do if I “caught” someone else using one of my images, it depends on a number of factors. If the photo was used in a positive way in a blog, for example, no modifications were made to the image and credit was given to me as the photographer, I would probably send a thank-you email. It has been said in Hollywood that publicity is good, even bad publicity. The more people that see my images and are informed that I’m the photographer the better it is for me. This becomes a win for me and a win for the writer of the blog.

If I found a photo of mine being used in someone else’s blog and they didn’t have my permission to use the image and they didn’t give me credit for the photo, I would probably contact the owner of the blog and express my concerns and ask them to give me credit, in their blog, for the photo and ask them to not use my images again without my permission. If they did as I asked I would drop it at that point. I would, however, bookmark their website and check on them from time to time to make sure they carried through with their promise. If they refused to “make it right” you would be reading a scathing article about them. I would also post it on my Facebook page and tweet it to my thousands and thousands of followers (okay, 50 or so followers) so that everyone I know would know how that person operates.

If I opened a magazine and saw one of my images, the rules would change a little. I would contact the magazine and inform them that they were using one of my images and they should pay me the standard rate for the use of the image. I also would suggest that they should look in to their source of the image to make sure that source was actually reputable.

Where I start to get a little agitated is when people use photographs taken by others and claim it for their own. I understand that sometimes it happens out of ignorance on the part of the person posting the image and they don’t intend to actually take credit for the image. For example, there is an area on Flickr called The Commons. The purpose of The Commons as copied and pasted from Flickr is:
The key goals of The Commons on Flickr are to firstly show you hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives, and secondly to show how your input and knowledge can help make these collections even richer.

I’ve seen where individuals have posted images taken by photographers that are clearly what would be called Masters. Photographers like Dorthea Lange and Ansel Adams.  Because the person posting the image didn’t change the settings in their own account, the information on the photo attributes a copyright to the person posting the photo and not to the actual photographer.

The last group of people I’ll mention are those that purposely “steal” an image that isn’t their own but present it as if they photographed it and owned the copyright. I’m happy I haven’t had any experiences with that group yet but I know they’re out there.

Frankly, it’s not a bad thing for other people to use your photographs. Isn’t that what many of us strive for? Wouldn’t many of us love to sell our images? The images should be used with our permission and as it was intended to be used, but we should all be excited when it happens.

For those of you who don’t want anyone to use your photos, in the digital age there’s only about one way to make sure your images are 100% protected. Don’t post them. Anywhere. Don’t put them on Flickr. Don’t post them on Facebook. Don’t tweet them to anyone. Don’t send them by MMS to a friend or family member. Of course, for most of us, not posting them anywhere isn’t very practical. Besides, what good is a photo if no one but you ever sees it?

If you post your photos anywhere on line, there will come a time that you will find someone else using them. Don’t get overly upset, but do consider taking some of the steps I suggested above.

Oh, and be flattered that someone else thinks enough of your image to use it.

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  • Linda Adams

    I’m amazed at how many people don’t think twice about grabbing something from online.  I feel like I’m the only one who actually looks for public domain photos or ones from a clip art site I pay for.

  • Anonymous

    Great article, Steve!

  • Jason

    Great piece Steve, I dont know if you’ve seen this blog post titled, “How Google Search by Image helps photographers catch copyright crooks” but it is really interesting an in the same vein:


    And love the comments from one of the other links,”Just a warning to everyone that may be using or has used unauthorized images from Getty. They are making a big sweep of sites and sending out bills when they find one of their images being used without permission. They are charging $1,000 USD per image. They are pursuing the site owners for this money. They are not sending out warnings. They do expect to get paid. If you have unauthorized Getty images, take them down. 

    A fellow designer just had 2 of his clients busted. One for $2,000 and the other for $4,000. The client wants the designer to pay since they weren’t aware of him grabbing the images from Getty. Getty’s stance is that it’s the clients fault.”
    So think it’s a really pertinent topic – and thanks again for your post on it. 

  • William Mark

    Fantastic article, it can be tough to police the internet and often people feel entitled to whatever they find. But remember unless otherwise mentioned someone most likely has rights to material you find online including photos.

    Merry Christmas,

    William Mark