An Editorial: Is the Internet a Photographer’s Friend or Foe?

An Editorial: Is the Internet a Photographer’s Friend or Foe?


Rewinding the Clocks back 15 Years

Should we wind our clocks back about 15 years to a time before the phenomenal popularity of home based computers and the internet, there was a general widespread knowledge or understanding that it was illegal to lift a picture from a book and re-use it in some fashion without the author’s permission.

But really, how would one misuse the image: photocopy it and paste the picture on the office wall?  That really was a time of print media and the avenues for misuse were quite limited.

Let’s move forward to about a decade ago and the infusion of the digital age.  Gone were the days of a stock photographer shooting in-camera duplicates and huge FedEx bills to supply clients with overnight deliveries of image requests.  Digital capture and ftp delivery were rapidly becoming the norm.  At the same time agency print catalogs were giving way to on line image marketing and automated image licensing.

Unfortunately for the photographers of the world who earn a livelihood from their work, it also meant images could be right clicked and saved to a desktop without license or authorization.

Introduce in the last five years, or so, the whole social media craze and picture sharing portals. What has evolved is not only a platform for families to share images with other family members, but it has also developed a breed of web users who, quite frankly, believe an image on the internet is public domain. Attitudes have become very cavalier and self-patronizing with barely a thought given to copyright and how repurposing that image might affect the copyright owner.

What hasn’t changed, at least in Canada, and I also assume in other countries as well, is the copyright act.

Although I am not a lawyer I certainly do understand its most basic premise that in most cases the copyright in a work resides with the author for his or her life plus fifty years.  There are a few exceptions, but for all intents and purposes when a photographer releases the shutter on a camera they own the copyright by default.

Specifically Section 13.(1) of the Canadian Copyright Act, and I suspect most western countries that subscribed to the Berne Convention have similar provisions, reads:  “

Subject to this Act, the author of a work shall be the first owner of the copyright therein.” 

The Act further goes on to clarify that only the owner of the work shall have the right to license or assign that work.  I always thought this was very cut and dry.  Not so.

Introducing DMCA

Now introduce the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a piece of law from the United States of America that has far reaching implications.  While I certainly will never suggest understanding the laws of my own country, let alone those of another, what I do know is this one piece of legislation has opened a Pandora’s Box for photographers.  In essence the DMCA has provided immunity to ISP’s and requires the photographer to request a takedown notice should they feel their copyright has been breached.  To my mind, that is like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.

An Example

Allow me to use a real case example as a point of clarification and concern.  But first, it is important for readers to know that a stock photographer earns their income by way of licensing their images to corporate or editorial clients. This can be done individually or by way of a commissioned agency.

Generally the more an image has been licensed and ultimately seen the less its value (due to over-exposure), and most certainly that over-exposure will certainly limit the potential to be licensed exclusively within a certain corporate or editorial sector.  For example, an image of the Loch Ness Monster would be worth a small fortune to an advertising executive who wanted exclusive rights to the image; however, should that same image appear in every newspaper in the English speaking world the commercial value would be greatly diminished.  Regardless of ultimate use, it remains the sole privilege and right of the photographer how they could best take advantage of that image and they alone saw fit.

Now let’s move forward to that real time incident that has me thinking of the long term consequences of the DCMA and internet picture sharing portals. In December 2012 a prestigious travel magazine licensed one of my images for the cover of its web based magazine.  No problem here, my agency negotiated the license fee and the magazine was certainly within their rights to use the image as was licensed.

But this is where the complications start:  a viewer of that website obviously liked the picture also as they lifted the image from the magazines page and re-posted it on an image sharing site.

From my school of thought, this act alone is a contravention of my copyright as they had not sought a license from me or my agency of reference.  The image sharing site stands under the notice that they are immune due to the DMCA, as does the person who lifted it. Both are saying I could ask to have the image removed and have to fill out the required reporting form.

Excuse me, but shouldn’t the person who lifted the image have asked for permission first?  By their logic, and apparently by United States law, am I also to request the other 237 users who have re-posted the image from the image sharing site to have those users remove the picture from their respective websites as well?

I can only imagine how long that will take: 15-minutes multiplied by 237 times, excluding follow-up enquiries.   More so, why is an American law being dictated to a non-American, and especially so when the person who lifted the image is also not American?  Hopefully an intellectual property lawyer can answer that question.

Unfortunately what no one can answer is this:  Have I lost potential income from over exposure of this image?  I really don’t know, but I can suggest this incident certainly hasn’t done me any favours.

Before those on the internet decide to “lift” images I do hope they consider the photographers point of view.  Not all images on the internet are public domain; in fact most aren’t.  Is there not an ethical question, if not copyright considerations, to be answered first?

By innocently sharing that image is the act of re-purposing the image potentially depriving the photographer of income, income that we use to feed, house and clothe our families?

These are questions that should concern all photographers from all stripes and skill levels.

Let’s Discuss It

I am hoping this editorial will encourage a POLITE discussion so I can get a better sense of feel just what the global interpretations of web based images are.  Are they there for the taking or does this appear to be a North American issue?

Thanks in advance for your participation by responding with your thoughts.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Dale Wilson is a freelance photographer based out of Halifax, Canada. He has been a regular staff writer for a variety of Canadian photo magazines for 18 years. Wilson has also published or co-published four books and was the photo-editor on the Canadian best selling Canada’s National Parks – A Celebration. His practice concentrates on commercial work and shooting natural history images for four stock agencies. After a 10 year hiatus Wilson will once again be offering eastern Canadian workshops with his teaching partner Garry Black.'

Some Older Comments

  • Richard Jones February 8, 2013 09:37 am

    Michael.... That is a seriously defeatist attitude you have there. I took on an oil company that defended my copyright Infringement suit against them by retaining one of the top law firms in Canada.

    Not only did I win a settlement, I did it without a lawyer and settled for ten times what my normal fee would have been. I simply read the Copyright Act and used it to assert my rights.

  • Michael Harris February 8, 2013 08:46 am

    Welcome to cyberspace 21st century style. You are right but on the losing side. Until someone comes up with a way to 'key in' a copyright code directly into the picture code that forbids reproduction unless you supply a key then anything that is posted is practically public domain. It may be illegal to use it but find a lawyer or a government that will help. No chance.

  • Richard Jones February 7, 2013 12:46 pm

    Adobe promotes software for watermarking with retained data re: the author and ownership. Once registered with the program, the author is advised if their work shows up on a website (done by continuously scanning the web). It is then up to the author to determine if the use is with or without permission.

    Some stock image companies use this service.

  • Linton February 7, 2013 11:26 am

    It has been asked many all this wonderful techo stuff making our lives better or just much more complex. I do not earn from photography, just enjoy it, but I do wonder about this stuff whenever I look others work. Maybe someone will invent imbedded software that alerts the owner and prevents sharing without permission.

  • Charlton Vaughan February 7, 2013 11:21 am

    This is a very appropriate subject at this time for myself. I know that there are ways to disengage the "right click and copy" mode of images on the internet however, I don't know how it's done. I have a program that places a watermark on the image. If anyone has information on how to do this it would be appreciated.

    Thank you


  • Trish February 3, 2013 10:22 am

    Yes, Fabien, it would be impossible to give credit to all those who created the subject matter right down to the parents of the models posing for the glamor shots, but now I am getting too pedantic. Out camera club members often discuss these matters and in the end there is no solution. I must say that my creative mind has benefited from the beautiful work submitted on the internet and I hope it never stops.

  • Andrew February 3, 2013 01:21 am

    Hello, I am British living in the U.K. and am a very poor amateur photographer (both financially and camera wise). I have read all the comments, so far published, and I think nearly everybody has completely missed the point of this article. Firstly was the claim that a U.S law is being used by all and sundry to bypass copyright laws. Now whether this is true or not, and how it affects people I think needs to be inspected, not here, but by non U.S. countries. I should be asking my M.P. to find out how much it will affect me here in the U.K. Now we come to the second point. Some one takes a copy of a photograph and posts it on the web. A lot of the people who have written here say " The extra exposure is good for buisiness". Rubbish. Good for who's buiness. Not in this case Dale's. How can it possibly be when the most important relevant piece of information is missing, manely the name and contact details of the person who owns the copyright!
    How it is done I cannot answer, but there has to be a way of thumping the infringers and if that means that there has to be laws that make it very, VERY easy for people to get the contact of the wrongdoers, so be it.

  • fabiennelaveau February 3, 2013 12:42 am

    To add to this conversation, I would like to say that there is also a next tier, of people like myself ( I happen to be w wedding florist/designer ) who rely on photographer's to capture our work. Wedding colleagues typically have a mutual agreement about properly sharing and promoting one another. The photographers are very precise in what they want from that bargain, as well they should. Sadly, not so precise when it comes to the folks who have created the beautiful imagery for the capture. It is seldom that I ever note a photographer giving credit or kudos to my work, without multiple e-mails, requests etc. It might be worth adding to this notion of respecting the work of photographers, that for the most part, they did not create the subject matter....whether it be people. buildings or flowers. I am beholden to my shooter friends, and once a relationship is established, I find it to be little issue. Just food for thought - when was the last time you in the group that shoot other's work, took the time to credit it properly, as you insist for yourselves? Worth contemplating as we all contend with the internet and it's implicit license to 'borrow'.

  • Steve February 2, 2013 06:55 am

    I'm an amateur photographer from the U.S. with aspirations of going pro. As I consider how to go about doing that, there are 3 things that influence my thinking:

    1. Cameras are a commodity. From DSLRs down to your camera, everyone has one within easy reach. Furthermore, the auto settings on these cameras just keep getting better and better. It's easier than ever to snap a photo that's in focus and properly exposed. Just having a "nice" camera won't get me hired.

    2. Stock photos are a commodity. If an editor of a website or magazine needs a generic photo to illustrate some idea or theme, all they need to do is head over to one of the many micro-stock photo websites, pay a relatively small fee, and they're done. The old school stock photography business model as a viable way to make a living is in its twilight years (for the individual photographers, at least). I'll grant that some are making it in the micro-stock world but I suspect they'll become more rare as time goes on.

    3. Photographic knowledge is not a commodity. While everyone may have a camera, not everyone knows how to use it creatively. Using the f-stop to change depth of field; slowing shutter speed and panning to add motion blur; realizing the trade off between high iso and image noise...these are things that come with experience and training (and websites like this one). And this is what will continue to have value in the future.

    All this points to a future of photography as a service rather than a product. Simply put, people will hire you when they need unique or personal photos and you can do things with a camera that others can't. Once that service is rendered, you're done and they get to use the photos whenever and however they wish. They may use you for prints but that won't be a significant factor in your income (from what I've read, some wedding photographers are already going in this direction). In this environment, exposure is your bread and butter. The more people that see what you can do, the more likely you'll be remembered when someone needs your unique abilities.

  • blindcoder February 1, 2013 10:31 pm

    For all of you who think you can "disable" a Save as function in a browser:
    That's a Javascript functionality tthat's disabled by any halfdecent scriptblocker and can even be disabled in some browsers directly.

    With minimal work I could also get any flickr image, even when downloading was "disabled".

    Don't fool yourself into thinking it's possible.

  • Greg Moffatt February 1, 2013 10:22 pm

    I admit there are too many posts above for me to have read them all, so this may be a repeat. But surely, when on your own website you can disable the "right click" facility that denies viewers the ability to copy the image. The answer then would appear to be to have as part of your contract with any purchaser a clause to the effect that if they use your image online, that they take the precaution to ensure that it cannot be copied from their site. If the image is then taken, they have broken the contract and they will presumably be responsible under the law governing your contract details (that then raises other problems admittedly).

  • QT Luong February 1, 2013 07:22 pm

    Let's look at the positives instead. I am a full-time photographer (never liked "professional" which is not accurate). I derive all the income for our familly from selling my photography on the internet. Obviously I wouldn't have been able to do so had the internet not existed. If you want more details about my business, I provide lots of details on and follow-up posts.

  • Gopinath February 1, 2013 07:06 pm

    I feel the internet must be used as a vehicle for promoting one's work.. Lets admit it, the potential is just too massive when compared to other mediums we had in the earlier days. So, posting a few samples should serve the purpose, plus if anybody wants to share those samples, then they are actually helping the artist to take their work further.. Or you can always disable right click too..

    Almost all of my learning about this wonderful art form has come from the internet for which I am absolutely grateful.

  • Trish February 1, 2013 05:39 pm

    WOW, I hope you all get to read my 2 cents worth after reading all the above, as I did. All comments were very interesting and diverse in opinion.

    I am a 70 year-old great grandmother who has just discovered the real beauty of this world through a camera and the beauty of the many artist publishing their great work on the internet.

    Before discovering photography I used Photoshop to design basic web pages (for family only) and got some ideas from the underlying code of other web pages, while at the same time not actually copying the code but learning the lay-out of the html.

    My question is, would this copying of ideas be considered breach of copyright. I admit to copying images which would give me inspiration for creative images of my own but I have NEVER used them or claimed them as my own.

    As I do not acquire any income from my photography I love to publish my pictures on the internet for others (I hope) to enjoy. (From Australia)

    Here is one I took in Chiang Mai Thailand in Dec 2012
    [eimg url='' title='p127080-tribal-beauty.html']

  • Constantin February 1, 2013 04:55 pm

    Hello Dale,

    I recently read this marvelous book, "Free Culture", by Lawrence Lessig. Lessig is a professor at Harvard and one of the most prominent thinkers on the topic of intellectual property. Reading his book has made me realize that copyright is not as simple as I thought before. I humbly suggest that you read this book, since I think you will benefit from its insights. (In fact, if you contact me directly, I offer to buy you a copy of the book.)

    In response to your question: Have you lost any income from the fact that your photographs got shared online? Perhaps. But there is also a bright side: You have gained a larger audience for your creative work. The people who see your picture online can then become your customers, or they can spread the word to others who might become your customers.

    I am an amateur photographer, software engineer by profession, grown in Moldova but now living in the US. My personal opinion is this: When a person "lifts" an image from the web and shares it somehow, that is a *non-commercial* use of that image (i.e. the person does not make any money from the picture). It is analogous to cutting a picture from a magazine and hanging it on your wall. Historically, such use has not been regulated under copyright law. Trying to regulate it, especially on the Internet, would do more harm than good, in my opinion. All creative work builds on top of past creative work, and regulating non-commercial uses of creative works would lead to a bleak world, where creativity is only accessible to those who can afford a lawyer.

    I respect the fact that you might disagree with this view. In any case, my offer to send you that book is still standing.

    Best wishes,

  • Jocelyn February 1, 2013 04:27 pm

    Lot's of interesting comments and perspectives. Well... allow me to play devil's advocate and make a few points which are not necessarily reflective of my "feelings" on the subject. But maybe that's part of the issue... our feelings don't matter much because this is all about the law. The copyright acts are just laws. We have ingrained expectations based on those laws but laws are just a reflection of what society has come to agree on. If copyright laws had never been enacted, we'd still have music and photography and art. The motivations would be different but we'd still have these things. How can I be so sure we'd still have these things... simply because they all existed before copyright laws came along.

    You can't have your cake and eat it too. To say that photographers are being attacked by the Internet or it's cutting into photographers' business one must consider how many photographers are earning money because of the Internet which has increased by many times over the need for images. Or consider why, as a photographer, you are putting your images on the net... is it for exposure, does it get your name out there, does it bring in business?

    Print is a dying industry. Distribution is down. Magazines are going all digital. Newspapers are going out of business. Technology has brought photography to the masses and there are millions of very talented photographers who will work cheap or even for free. The volume of photographers, talented and hardworking photographers, has increased because of digital technology and that includes by definition digital storage and transfer of images. It also includes the Internet. The Interet is not what's making it hard er to earn a living as a photographer... it's the competion doing that. It is the advances in computer technology that have given rise to "digital images". Can't have one without the other. There are pros and cons to everything. Copyright laws and everyone's expectations based on the laws are not some universal moral or ethical standard. They are just laws and they differ among countries.

    To make an impression on the people who so callously copy images or music, the first thing we need to do is to stop calling it "stealing". A few comments stated "stealing is stealing". That's true... stealing is stealing. But "copyright violations" are not "stealing" so stop saying that. When you tell someone who thinks it's ok to copy images, musics, movies, etc... that they are stealing they simply take the position that it isn't and they're right. Calling it stealing is nothing more than a straw-man argument created by the RIAA. It's a logical fallacy that makes almost no impression on anyone.

    To anyone whining that "why should the DCMA apply to non-US residents. It doesn't, so stop whining. Why it matters is because if the ISP is a US company then you have to make use of US laws to request they remove the photo. If the actual copyright violator is a US citizen then you have to make use of US law if you want to file a civil suit for copyright infringement. If the ISP or the person posting your photo are in Columbia you have to rely on Columbia laws. Good luck with that by the way. Check out the news on what Antigua is doing and has WTO approval for.

    Should it be the artists responsibility to go after each and every copyright violator? Unfortunately, yes. That's the way civil laws tend to work. If you feel someone has harmed you financially, emotionally, etc. you have file a lawsuit. That's essentially how it works for everything. Major crimes (assault, etc.) get prosecuted by the police and the state but even then you would still have to file a civil suit (and fund the legal fees yourself) to get compensation.

    Bottom line is that if you're going to use the Internet to promote your photography your images are going to get shared. You will benefit from that sharing at the expense of some people mis-using your images. If a magazine or newspaper uses your photo, sue them. If someone posts on their blog, ask for credit if they didn't already give it to you. Right or wrong, the music, movie, and photography industry is not going to win the battle over file sharing and will have to adapt.

  • Tim February 1, 2013 12:33 pm

    Pictures still sell, if you are willing to get out there Leon and get them...

    and @nms...

    from the US copyright website...
    (a) A transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner's duly authorized agent.

    meaning simply agreeing to Google, or Yahooo TOS when you sign up and post images does NOT grant them the copyright to your images....

  • leon February 1, 2013 12:29 pm

    Wow, 3am, cannot sleep, stepped onto this interesting article, read al the comments, the pro's and the con's.
    What can I add, except that I experience the same frustrations. The digital era of photography and the www has certainly changed the scenario for the previously exclusive photographer, and that includes myself. Every day I ask myself the question, is it not time to seek for another passion, another source of income. Millions of photos are uploaded onto the internet every minute of the day, what pics are there still to capture, that have not been captured million times over and over.
    Corporates and project managers dont' have the time or need anymore to seek for photographers, the pics they need are allready available with the click of a keyboard button. Sorry guys, personally, my opinion, I think that the future of this profession will become so restricted, not worth its while. Time to reconsider, copyright or not.
    From a afrikaans speaking south african whom will still seek for those rare pics.

  • nms February 1, 2013 09:19 am

    I agree that websites should be accountable .... to the extent that they ban any users from their site who break their rules. One of which should be unauthorized use of copyright protected materials. I also feel that photos should belong to the person taking them, not a website like google or facebook, or anyone else. Our laws need to change to protect us, not hurt us.

    That being said, we know we will not be protected. So, I no longer share online.

  • janina February 1, 2013 07:20 am

    Something you may also wish to look into: I am reading this article as I have subscribed to the dPS weekly newsletter. I have clicked onto their link and got to this article, which I find very interesting, along with other similar articles I've read online.

    However, what I find truly interesting is that whilst on this webpage to read this article, there is a toolbar right at the bottom which allows me to Pin it on Pinterest, one of those very same photo-sharing portals you refer to and we all love to hate! And the fact that we can add images to our comments also concerns me, just a little! I suggest you discuss this with the owners of this website.

  • Amdrei February 1, 2013 06:39 am

    Very interesting article. Never considered the loss of income from overexposure.
    Photographers should register their images with the copyright office. There is a company called Imagerigts who can help with litigation. No upfront fee, just a commission after the fact.
    The Creative Commons licenses are also hurting photography. Copyright is the fuel to the fire of genius (Abraham Lincoln).

  • Chris February 1, 2013 06:34 am

    Sorry - just read further...I am a semi-professional from the USA. I make about 3/4 of my income shooting sports and recreation facilities. When I work for a client, they own the images 100%. All I ask for is permission to use them to promote myself. That way I already got paid and people can do whatever they want with the image. If it is copied a million times (I wish), that's a million eyeballs that saw my shot - cool!

  • Chris February 1, 2013 06:15 am

    In this day and age, you are crazy if you post an image on the internet and expect that no one will copy it somewhere. It has happened to me many times and when I am aware of it I simply ask the person to give me a credit and a link. As soon as you sell or post an image to the internet, you have lost control of it permanently. On the upside, you couldn't get your name and contact info in front of potentially millions of people for free in the old days either. If you want to benefit from the internet, you have to eat some downside.

  • Richard Jones February 1, 2013 05:56 am

    This is so close to home! In 2011 I successfully sued A large foreign owned oil company in Alberta for copyright infringement and settled out of court for an amount ten times what they could have paid me for my logo design had they not attempted to steal it.
    It’s too long a story to go into detail. Two important lessons learned; 1/ There is no better advocate for YOUR rights than YOU. 2/ Your lawyer is not always putting your interests first.
    I fired my lawyer after spending $10,000.00 in fees and then he urged me to settle for the Defendants offer that was significantly less than the legal costs to me. I fired my lawyer and issued a notice of discontinuance followed directly with a brand new Notice of Claim. I won a significant settlement out of court.
    I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of knowing the Copyright Act and your rights therein. Read it again and again until you can recite it (slightly exaggerated), very important to know the act, it’s one of the easiest to read and understand acts I have ever read.

    I believe every author of a creative work entitled to copyright protection, has a duty to fellow artists to vigorously pursue their rights to protect their work and thus the work of their comrades in art.

  • Tim February 1, 2013 05:21 am

    I am a semi-pro from the US, the web has been both good and bad for all artists....good because we have an avenue for exposure of our work without having to go through the gatekeepers (i.e. publishing, stock companies etc..) bad because we now have more avenues for exposure outside of our countries boundries where copyright laws are very different if they exist at all.
    Do we sit around and lament for the old days, or ask for more draconian measures on the wild wild web...carefull what you ask for...somebody may give it to you...whether you want it or not...or..
    do we figure out how to use what we have realizing that there is going to be some loss along the way...look those who steal your work were never going to pay for it anyway...if they were, they would have done so already.

    "Copyright laws cannot realistically be enforced on the web"....actually that can and are...when both parties are in the same country...espically if the photographer has gone through the effort of registering their images with the copyright office in the adds a whole lot more teeth and monetary damages that can be recovered...different countries....well that's a different game..

  • Steven Price February 1, 2013 03:11 am

    I'd like to add one thing.

    Treat your photographs as if there is no internet. Make hundreds of thousands of prints of your greatest photograph. Go out on the street and hand everyone you can find, a print. As you do this, tell them they may look at it but, they may not show anyone else, they may not copy it, they may not scan it and use it as their desktop, they may not frame it and hang it on their wall, they may not sell it, they may not give it away, they may not do anything with it other than look at it, they must insure it is never stolen. Problem solved.

  • Rachael February 1, 2013 03:05 am

    I didn't have time to read all the comments above but got as far as Nathan's and, well, couldn't have put it better myself. I have used lawyers to enforce my copyright in an image stolen from the net by a print magazine and I will continue to stick by my rights whenever I find them to have been infringed but the reality is I will never know of the vast majority of misuses. I do not rely on stock photography for my income and I feel sorry for anyone who does these days.

  • Ed Brumley January 31, 2013 01:50 pm

    This is such a hot button for me and I am just an amateur living in the USA. I have had my photos “stolen” on numerous occasions despite having put watermarks on my photos to only have them cropped out. I now post only my “good” photos, with the watermark placed in the middle of the photo, and upload them at low resolution. It has slowed the piracy, but more than anything I just want to be asked to use my photos and credit that it is my work. The demand for my photos is flattering, but I can’t understand why some people think it is okay to steal.

  • viragored January 31, 2013 01:44 pm

    Hi - I'm in New Zealand and an amateur. My view of the world in which we live is that putting a photo on the web - anywhere, anyhow - is losing control of it. Any of my photos that go onto the public web are limited in size (960 pixels in the longer direction) and heavily watermarked. If anyone wants a copy that will make a decent print, they have to come to me to get it. Copyright laws cannot realistically be enforced on the web, so - for the present at least - we might as well recognise that and work in the knowledge that nobody is going to prevent stuff being taken and re-used so let's not give people anything worth taking. That works for me as an amateur - professionals may well have a different view.

  • Joseph January 31, 2013 12:42 pm

    I agree with Glendon. The internet has been far more valuable to me from a marketing and sales perspective and I have resolved to use it at my own risk. Surely there will be instances (I hope) where people love my work enough to steal it. Should I find it on a blog or in a publication, then I will deal with it at that time. I watermark everything that I put up. That will not entirely solve the problem (that is, when it becomes a problem). Until then, probably 45% of what I earn comes from Facebook alone. Just yesterday I posted a photo from an event I shot and within a half hour had a message from a friend of a friend who wanted to know if I could come and shoot an event on Friday. We contracted it today. I am shooting a destination wedding and had spoken about it on my Facebook page. Now I have a portrait session with a local who is a friend of one of my friends and loves my work and wants to work with me when I am finished with the wedding weekend.

    I understand why people feel as they do. I protect my images as best I can on my website and on all of my social media accounts and I use a lot. I use Tumblr. Pinterest, Facebook and a couple of others. And I questioned it and even agonized over it and finally contacted a successful photographer with a large online presence. Her advice was to 'Get over it'. People will steal what they want to steal. Far more will work with you as you hope they will. I know it sounds silly, but really after going full time in my freelance business, probably the best thing I have learned is that most people are, in fact, good. I haven't been burned yet. And if I do, then I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

  • David Hague January 30, 2013 12:26 pm

    From Australia. Last time I triedI could neither put "exposure" in my bank account nor could I eat it. Nor does it add to my child's inheritance.

  • Bruce Simmons January 30, 2013 06:29 am

    I do not think an internet provider or host should be held accountable, but I do believe the individual(s) who own or run a website should have practices in play to prevent copyright infringement.

    Unfortunately, we're still in the "wild west" phase of the internet, where everything from "unknowingly*" absconding with copyrighted material to movie piracy is some sort or sense of freedom that many of the younger web surfers feel entitled to, and it's a sad mental state to see.

    (*Meaning not even try to research the source of the image or what rights that might be attached to it.)

    Sadly, if you want to protect your content, you should find ways to do such. Watermarking sucks, but is one way. I found a process that puts up an alternative image in place of a website's image, if someone tries to hotlink an image to their own site that they're not hosting.

    But this pervasive mentality is hard to fight with. They totally feel they're in the right. (I mean seriously, stealing an image or a movie to "preview" it for purchase? I might as well head down to my Ferrari dealership and preview one of their cars to see if I want to buy it...)

    But alas, protecting the rights for yourself is also an uphill battle. For now.


  • Yacko January 30, 2013 05:13 am

    "Yacko …books, too, have always been about sharing, and long before the days of WWW. Goodness, we can even go to a library and “borrow” a book; BUT, we cannot legally copy and redistribute."

    A book is a single object. I was pointing out, it is you (or your buyer) who have let out a second instance of the picture to some other anonymous person. Don't get me wrong, my sympathy is with you. You are right that anonymous person cannot claim copyright or redistribute. However, you let those extra copy(ies) out with your permission and I am afraid you have little leverage over the circumstance because that's the way things are.

    Again, the Internet is by definition, problematic in that regard. If you want control over each instance of your photographs, don't have them on web sites. As others helpfully suggest, low pixel, 72dpi should be the rule for the web. You can embed a watermark, preferably crossing as many object boundaries and colors in the photo, ie not across a clear blue sky or sea, but Photoshop has made removing that easier and easier with each iteration.

  • Julie January 30, 2013 05:02 am

    I am an ameture from the USA. If there is something that I have captured that is really special to me it does not go in the Internet. Not only is stealing stealing, there is just a huge lack of morals and civility. Very sad to say. The funny thing is that I have shared some of my work and had my own daughter ask if I designed it. So far I have not copyrighted anything. If it becomes a business some day that or watermarking may need to become an option. Photography so far is hobby and I do feel sorry for those who have it as a lively hood these days.

  • Dale Wilson January 30, 2013 03:33 am

    doug sundseth, et al: You will note above in the article "In essence the DMCA has provided immunity to ISP’s..."

    In practise you will often see this notice on image sharing portals where the images are trolled from the web and repurposed; here is an example from the "friends" who lifted my image from the licensed user "Disclaimer: All the pictures featured on this page belong to their respective owners. If you see your picture featured and don't want it to be, email us with the link and we will take it down right away. The problem is there is no e-mail contact on their page!

    The problem, as I see it, is one country has introduced a law known as the DCMA that crosses all boundaries of the WORLD WIDE WEB and is being misinterpreted mostly through ignorance.

    Yacko ...books, too, have always been about sharing, and long before the days of WWW. Goodness, we can even go to a library and "borrow" a book; BUT, we cannot legally copy and redistribute.

    Thanks all for your feedback. It truly is interesting to read the global opinions.I do hope others are learning as much as I. Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts in a non-provocative and polite manner.

  • Yacko January 30, 2013 02:54 am

    Hmmm… The Internet has always about aharing, even from day 1. And by day 1, I mean day 1, like 30 years ago, even prior to web pages and the world wide web which is 15-16 years ago. Being able to examine minutely what others are doing is baked into Internet DNA.

    A web page is made up of dozens to hundreds of small components, some or many of which can be on many disparate servers and can be called up to make said web page at any time. You do realize that the entire web page of this post and responses, the entire code, give or take, that makes up the instructions the web browser uses to display it, can be examined? Depending on what browser you are using, you too can view it by choosing the menu item View -> Page Source. So you can use snippets of that programming code yourself, see how others did it and query other servers for web page components.

    For example:

    brings up the small picture that accompanies your bio.

    Web addresses? Have you noticed that web addresses have structure similar to hard drive paths? Indeed they are paths and a browser can even open a local file on your own hard drive, looking something like:


    Browsers fetch material off the drives of web servers. To load a picture, from your server, a magazine's server, or ftp sites or whatever, the users browser by default has full permission to obtain it. Usually it is obscured in the larger web cache the browser uses, but there is no mumbo-jumbo, "well you can view it but not keep a copy". However obscured it is, the web code is normally obtainable to know what server and file structure it comes from and the file itself, say a jpeg, is on that user's hard drive. There is no magic you-can-view-it-but-you-can't-have-it.

    A browser is simply a program that executes code on the users machine, and the necessary code and files are fetched from remote servers and are executed on the user machine. If you don't want people to have stuff, you simply have to give up the notion of using the Internet. The very act of using the Internet is to put material on other peoples computers. If you sell something to an entity that will use it in a web page, you will have to assume that it will be a sieve that allows others to have that photo.

  • NgeeJee January 30, 2013 02:28 am

    Hi, I'm from Malaysia, and 100% of my income comes from providing service to my client (either via photography, or creative works like designs and consultations).

    Akin to what the music industry went through a decade ago, we photographers are now being attacked by the internet. The music industry tried to fight it, but eventually, more artist made more money out of the internet as a vehicle to market and sell their music than what an average musician can a decade ago. Take iTunes for example, they embraced the technology, and made a blue ocean out of it. We photographers should be doing the same thing too.

    Be it a law of a certain nation or realm that is affecting you (where you think you should not be as you are not physically there in that certain location), we all belong to the same Internet, hence whether you like it or not, it will affect you; just suck it in.

    A better way is to use the net wisely, use it as a marketing tool, reach out to your potential clients, and provide a bespoke service to them that would make you much better income than just "spray and pray" using the old stock image way. When people share your image, they are essentially helping you to market your products (please label your images properly, be smart, and do not be a proud artist who cannot swallow your pride, as they are not worth anything).

    All I ever wanted every single moment, is for someone to spot my work, share it, and more people get to see it, then, the right person/company will contact me to commission me for future works. Until someone comes out with a web 3.0, use the current social media wisely, and you shall be rewarded handsomely. Gone are the days where you can just do 1 thing, and let others sort out the other stuffs. As a photographer today, marketing and branding is far more important than protecting your work.

  • Doug Sundseth January 30, 2013 02:23 am

    "The image sharing site stands under the notice that they are immune due to the DMCA, as does the person who lifted it."

    BZZZT, wrong.

    Sporter above is correct: DMCA only immunizes websites that do not have creative control over what users post. And only to the extent that they timely respond to takedown notices. It does not immunize the person who posts the copyrighted material.

    Would it be reasonable for this website to be subject to statutory damages if I were, in this message, to post a poem or song lyric that is not in the public domain? How about if you have a photo blog that allows comments and someone did the same there? Would you be able to handle the huge civil judgements? I couldn't.

    As a site hosting conversations, there's no possible way to identify everything that a commenter might post that could be copyrighted somewhere in the world.

  • Darren Lightfoot January 30, 2013 01:06 am

    Dale - I write from Canada. I am of the school of thought that stealing is stealing but can also understand how some find it be difficult to hold the ISP responsible for the actions of it users. I have no problem with holding the users responsible for their actions. I guess that would mean the photographer would have to go after the user who stole their photograph for potential loss of revenue, legal expenses and a good dose of pain in the ass compensation.

    Like you, what I don't understand is how an American law should pertain to anyone outside of the US. Why should I as a Canadian citizen be govern by an American law? To my understanding the Americans have the right to carry hand guns in certain states...does that mean I can carry a hand gun in Canada? In some states they have legalized "dope" does that mean I am free to light up anywhere in Canada? Of course the answer to both questions is NO but how is it I fall under the DMCA? Is this just a case of size makes right.

  • Tom January 29, 2013 11:42 pm

    The internet is the most awesome tool ever for photographers wanting to market themselves. It is powerful, but you need to be careful with that power.

    It's foolish to allow full-size, top quality images onto the net. I generally limit my posted images to 720px on the longest side (sometimes 1024), and as jpegs at less than top quality. Anyone who wants to copy these is welcome, but if you want the full size top quality versions, you have to pay.

  • Stuart Chard January 29, 2013 11:21 pm

    I'm happy to share my images to folks who would enjoy having them on their desktop or put on their blog etc. I do not see that as stealing because I have not lost revenue and they have not materially gained from using one of my pictures. In fact who knows what will come from my images getting a wider audience. It's a completely different scenario if someone "takes" an image and uses it for commercial gain

    Is it not the photographer who defines the right to use their work and under what license?

  • Glendon January 29, 2013 01:51 pm

    I believe if you are going to use the internet in any way to promote your photography you need to embrace it. Yes, people will share the images. That's what makes the internet such a wonderful invention. With minimal effort on your part you can reach a global audience. That was not possible 15 years ago.

    Yes, people will use your images without you earning a fee. Being smart about sharing will limit your losses, such as only posting lower resolution photos, watermarking, etc. But ultimately we need to change our business models to survive. Embrace the future, there's no going back!

  • Steven Price January 29, 2013 12:35 pm

    From the USA and an amateur photographer for 40 years. All data on the internet, photos included, end up on hard drives. At what point is it illegal or a violation of copyright? When it is copied from a website to another hard drive? When it is requested by a "user" accessing that particular drive? Are search engines (heavily relied on by photographers to get their images to potential clients) violating those copyrights by saving it on their hard drives? Should internet service providers and website operators be responsible for a search engine copying files from their sites? I submit that if you want to remain in control of your images you shouldn't publish them in such a public realm. It's like giving cash to your children. You lose control once it leaves your hands and it's pretty much up to the recipient how it's spent.

    Perhaps the practice of shooting a lot of photographs speculating that you will be able to sell them, with royalties, over a period of time has passed. A better way to make a living may be to find a client that requires your services, you fulfill their request, provide them the product and your rights end. Use your craftsmanship to compete and provide a service people want to hire you for. As a machinery and equipment appraiser, I used my skills to provide accurate useful opinions of value. That was my service. The product was the report with the actual numbers in it. Nobody saw the report until I was paid. The day may be here that you need to provide the service with the photos being the final product delivered after payment. "Times, they are a changin'."

  • Karen January 29, 2013 12:11 pm

    I'm from the U.S. and have earned my living as a professional photographer for the past 18 years.

    I too have seem the changes the internet has brought to our profession and I have felt your pain

    We have careers that other people only dream of when they sit at their desks day after day. They don't have a great deal of empathy for our dilemma.

    Musicians (like Frank who posted earlier) were hit hard long before we photographers were.

    For me watermarking my images provides a small measure of protection, but that'll never happen on a magazine cover.

  • Scottc January 29, 2013 10:12 am

    Speaking from one amateur's point of view, I just like to take photos and share them. Like the first poster, I use a CC license (Attribution, Non-Derivative) for private and commercial use. The license protects the integrity of my work (mostly), but it can be shared. I've learned a lot about photography by sharing my photos in this way, and it makes photography a more enjoyable experience for me. The internet makes this possible.

    That said - I'd never steal someone elses work, do not condone doing so, and can understand the outrage of someone who makes a living at photography.

  • Man January 29, 2013 09:30 am

    Stealing is stealing. Words like "sharing" and "promoting" are not correct since they do not have the right to that work.

    You cannot come to my house open my mailbox copy and share my mail with my the world. That is stealing and invasion of privacy. You cannot walk up to my window and take pictures inside even if the windows are open because that is a violation called criminal voyeurism. Photos and music are no different.

    Websites should get together and have restricted uploads. Use a reverse image search during upload to make sure the picture is not stolen and if it cannot be verified then the picture should be tagged as such. this way legit agencies can regularly search these photos and have them requested removed. None of this requires the government and can be implemented with minimal cost. Also after verification social sites can grant full rights automatically to the uploader and make it hard to release those rights, not the other way around like it is currently.

    The internet is a great resource for photographers but it is a better playground for thieves. For now there is little that can be done but that may change more incidents occur that causes a person to sue. I remember cable TV was once not protected and for years many people just stole it, then each year the cable companies made it more difficult. Sure today some people still steal cable but it is a fraction of the past.

  • Frank Villafane January 29, 2013 08:10 am

    As a musician, I am acutely aware of copyright law. In a sense, photographers are now suffering the same inequities that copyrighted musicians suffered thru with the proliferation of the MP3. It is now extremely easy to "lift" MP3's, images, and virtually any other media content off the web.

    That's not to say that I want the "bad old days" to come back...far from it. I laud the ease-of-use and convenience our internet-laden, Facebook world presents; however, it now becomes IMPERATIVE that photographers (of which I am also one with licensed, copyrighted photos floating out there in the ether) take extraordinary steps to protect their property (i.e. their images).

    With the recent anti-photographer TOS Instagram (nee Facebook) released, I simply DO NOT post onto ANY photo sharing site (including Flickr). My website has image copy turned off, and I watermark all my images. Is it foolproof? Not really...people who are determined to get your images will eventually figure out a way to do so. Unfortunately, DMCA just makes it that much easier to get away with it.

    Maybe the answer is to take Trey Ratcliff's approach: release everything with a Creative Commons license...

  • sporter January 29, 2013 07:44 am

    The DMCA gives immunity to the service providers that handled the improperly posted image. It does not give immunity to the individual who posted the image. If people are using your copyrighted materials without permission you still have civil lawsuit options (but only against the individuals that chose to post your image without permission, not to those that "helped" by offering an image-hosting service) in addition to having take-down options granted by the DMCA.

    Of course, the world would be better if people didn't copy your work without permission in the first place. But that isn't going to happen (without a totalitarian state, which would be a crappy tradeoff).

    In the real world where people have the ability to reproduce copyrighted work without permission, what would you want to be different?

  • Nathan Lee Bush January 29, 2013 06:18 am

    Whether people old enough to remember the old order are comfortable with it or not, the writing's on the wall, the cat's out of the bag, and any number of other mixed metaphors. Trying to legally contain the countless actions the billions of internet users worldwide perform every day is like trying to put out a forest fire with a Dixie cup (though it's not stopping China, who have proper hoses for the task). Technology changes behavior inexorably.

    Take calculators and then computing in general. I once heard that in the 30s a tenth of the population were clerks. How many clerks do you know now? Hardware running software does the heavy lifting of calculations for us.

    The fact is that highly capable and cheap cameras have created massive swaths of enthusiasts with a dream, and the tsunami of free and perfectly enjoyable images are sharable with the click of a button. You now see more images in the first twenty minutes of opening your computer than the average person saw in twenty years just a century ago.

    No one ultimately knows what form this brave new world of dismantled barriers to entry, both in production and distribution of images, will look like. But it's pretty clear that imploring people to think more about the artist's feelings and livelihood when they share an awesome picture is not a realistic solution. Nor is any legal attempt to punitively damage hundreds of teens and grandmothers for reposting pictures on Facebook and Tumblr going to restore photographers to profitability. Try to explain the concept of image property to the next teenager you meet and prepare yourself for a vacant expression of incomprehension.

    I've got skin in the game, making perhaps a quarter of my income from photo/video work, so I'm not saying this as some click-happy Pinterest mom who's not even aware of copyright law. I just have two eyes and enough sense to know what's unfolding is unprecedented and paradigm changing and not clinging to any illusions.

  • Martin Wigginton January 29, 2013 05:12 am

    Good article Dale. Covers the basics well, and should provide anyone thinking of posting something online food for thought.

    I am constantly disappointed by the attitudes of people who refuse to acknowledge that piracy and taking something from a website and saving it to your computer is actually a form of theft. While the use of Flash and other tools to reduce the incidence of right-click theft are available, I have seen images that were stolen using screen capture. When called out people will just brush it off with "It wouldn't be on the web if they didn't want others to have it." When I try to have a rational conversation with them about the costs, training, years of experience that go into making a photo that is good enough that people want to have it on their wall, their eyes glaze over and they tune out. Couldn't care less. I'll bet they get mighty upset when someone tries to take credit for work they've done, or if someone steals their idea at their place of work.

    There is no easy way to get around this digital conundrum. Watermarks, EXIF data, copyright statements, etc. all aid in the fight, but ultimately we may need to develop a better strategy for dealing with who we sell our images to. The travel site that bought your image did not protect your rights by preventing the person from right-click stealing your image. Perhaps they should have a bill for your lost future revenue. If the contract included a statement and a cost people who license images might take better care when setting up their sites. Embedding a distinct code in each image is possible, and this would be tied directly to the specific license, allowing for tracking and follow-up. Until we do they are not being held accountable and so we are forced to chase everyone who stole it after the initial theft.

    We need to take a lead role in the protection of our work, and stop waiting for others to do it for us. DCMA proves that.

  • blindcoder January 29, 2013 03:32 am

    Hello Dale.

    I am a programmer by profession and only recently started to pick up photography as a hobby.
    Nevertheless, both share the same common ground on publication on the internet: copyright.

    For the programming work I publish on the Internet, I generally use a license called the GNU General Public License (GPL for short). It grants everyone a license to use, modify and redistribute my code, but he MUST do so under the same license and grant everyone else the same rights then (this is a simplified version of the actual legal bounds, but this is the gist).
    I use those programs and snippets as references if I apply for a programming job somewhere.
    The work I do for pay i generally do not publish on the internet.

    The same goes for publishing pictures or any other kind of art on the internet:
    In order to allow other people to use it, they need a license of some kind or are not allowed to use it, period.

    Unfortunately, people - and often enough companies, too - do not always care about that. The website is visible proof of that in the programming community, and I'm sure there is no shortage of similiar stories in the photograhy community.

    It is even more unfortunate that there is no easy answer to the problem.
    Obviously, it should not be the artists job to go after every single license breach of his/her work.
    On the other hand it is oftentimes difficult, if not impossible to even find out who the offender is that copied ones work and make that person do the cleanup.

    In an ideal world this would be no issue at all. In an almost-ideal world you would know who copied the picture unlicensed for the first time and make him publicly state to be an idiot who knows nothing and cares not about copyright.

    This is an issue that brighter people than me heavily discussed, came to different conclusions (not all of which I agree with) and are hitting their proverbial heads over.

    I have no answer to the problem, but I'm pragmatic about it: If I don't want people to copy what I created, I don't put it on the internet in the first place.
    This might not work when licensing a picture to an online magazine, though :-(

  • Juan January 29, 2013 03:30 am

    Hello Dale. I write from Colombia. As I read just the first lines you wrote about the DCMA act I noticed it would have worldwide implications because of the World Wide Web and the way it is used. I agree we should all ask for permission or license to use any photographer's images, either good or bad, especially when that photographer makes a living out of them. I know we all are prone to believe that if something is in the web it is there for free, and whereas I love having access to all kinds of knowledge, information of all sorts and the beautiful images of thousands of talented photographers and artists, I also try to put myself in the shoes of those who do business in the web, who, as the rest of us, try to make a living, and find that I would not like my work to be displayed or used in any way without my permission even if I want to give it for free. Asking for permission is the most basic formality and form or respect for the craft of others. I would not go as far as to say the Internet is our foe, because it is us who ultimately make the decision to use those images without the permission of the author.

    That DCMA act is a very "intrusive" law because, even if intended for Americans only, its implications go far beyond USA borders, as you pinpointed. So, being bad for American photographers, it can potentially be even worse for non-Americans.

  • Danny Dutch January 29, 2013 02:54 am

    This is indeed a very difficult situation. There should be (copyright) laws to protect the work of photographers and other authors (and their income). On the other hand, the current copyright laws seem to be out of date and certainly nobody is able to enforce those laws in the internet era. Initiatives as Creative Commons are a well-intentioned first step, but are still based on the old way of thinking, since it is only an adaption of the current copyright laws.

    Trying to enforce (and strengthen) the current copyright laws seems foolish to me. They seem no longer applicable. We should come up with a different approach that is applicable in the internet era.

  • Dale Wilson January 29, 2013 02:49 am

    Thanks Skand Hurkat,

    Could I be so bold as to ask respondents to refrain from using acronyms and also identifying what country they are from.

    dPs has more than 1,000,000 followers from around the world. What might be a common phrase in your daily language or work may not be the same for the reader.

    It would also be interesting to learn iof you could categorize yourself as an amateur (no income from photography), a semi-professional (up to 60% of your annual income from photography) or a professional (more than 60% of you annual income from photography). This is for no other reason than to try and have an understanding of the responsesbased on demographics.

    Thank you all in advance.

    Dale Wilson

  • Tom January 29, 2013 02:47 am

    Stealing is stealing - period. Justifying it in any way does not make it any less of a crime.

    I take pictures for fun not a living, but I recently had a photo of mine used on a blog without my permission. Didn't know how to feel about it at first - but in the end I reported it and it was removed (although some time later). There was nothing that attributed the photo as mine, nor did the blogger even bother to simply ask...

    Free exposure is well and good for some, who just want the joy of sharing pictures (or ego of stats - take your pick), but for those making a living from their work, free exposure does not put money in the bank. Yes, it may bring a new client - but it may not.

    Report violators when you find them - no matter how many. If nothing else, consider it an investment in your business! At the very least, you may at least cause people to reconsider doing it again.

  • Skand Hurkat January 29, 2013 02:25 am

    Well, copyright laws are always difficult to implement in the internet age. They are from an era long ago, when making copies was far more difficult.

    As such, I disagree with the tone of the article. A website should not be responsible for the actions of its users. This is just wrong, and will lead to websites, and the internet in general shutting down.

    What the author describes is just what SOPA and PIPA proposed, and I strongly believe that both those acts were just wrong in holding service providers responsible for the actions of their users. The massive internet protests are an indication of how the public feels about this.
    The fact that these laws can be misused, as has often been the case in the past, with corporations (eg: Lenz vs Universal Music Corp), is a big danger flag.

    As such, I'm all for more liberal licensing terms on the internet. Licenses like CC-BY or more restrictive variations can actually help a photographer (or any content generator) gain exposure, while allowing the content generator to retain copyright for cases that really matter.

    As an example, if a photographer takes an image that makes to the cover of a magazine, but a casual user shares the image, with attribution to the photographer (and maybe the magazine), that move can actually be beneficial for both entities in gaining exposure; while the user makes nothing out of the act of sharing, except maybe the pleasure in sharing something beautiful with his/her friends.

    I prefer to license all my work on the internet under a CC-BY-NC-SA license; in any case, I doubt that my work is considered great enough to be shared. Nevertheless, I don't want to prevent people from sharing it.