Have you ever been a victim of photo piracy?


Back in February, I posted about watermarking and how I use this opportunity for advertising. I mentioned briefly the idea that if someone was going to steal your images, you may as well make them work for you with watermarks that are attractive and don’t get cropped out. At least then when Tight Theresa steals my images, her friends will know where they came from and hopefully get in touch. Although on second thought, do I want all her tight friends also scamming me for freebies? A subject for another day. But I digress.

I also mentioned in that post that I couldn’t believe the lengths people go to in order to steal my images and that watermarks make no difference when someone has their heart set on stealing your stuff. Ironically, it was only a couple months later that a friend many hours away called to say she’d seen some of my stuff being displayed on canvas in a printers near her. After some investigation, I found that the images (stolen off Flickr, cropped to oblivion) were being distributed on canvas by a large warehouse in this country. And they weren’t just any old images, they were four images of my son.

Now, some well-meaning friends who don’t understand the nature of piracy and the invasion I felt just said, “wow that’s so cool! You’re like…famous and stuff! You’re good enough to steal from.” Um…thanks but no thanks. I’m also good enough to get paid.

Through this event and hearing the reactions of people who really didn’t see the big deal made me realise that we are pirates. Some of us copy CDs, some ‘let’ our friends leave their pirate DVDs at the house, others copy images off Google to fill the corners of our blog posts, quote Wiki without attribution, directly steal concepts for our photography without giving props. In some way or another, many of us do something unethical with another person’s intellectual property once in a while.

And even more, I believe that we’ve all been the victim of piracy at some time or another, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Take that image stolen from me for instance. It’s being distributed by a massive warehouse in Birmingham. Who knows where in the world there are hanging photos of my little boy. But that’s the risk I take when I decide to share my work online. You have to do so knowing that once it’s out there, you can’t control what happens next. But please let me know if you see this image in a canvas printers’ near you! 🙂

This isn’t a list for how to avoid being a victim or piracy because clearly, I can’t control that in my own life. But I just thought it would be great to get the discussion going and hear stories of photographers who have had their work stolen. Even more interesting to know is how did you find out?

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Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

  • Lina

    I’m just here to drop by as your Fairy God Mother to inform you all the pichit.me is fixing the photo theft issue. I’ve been using their site for the past 4 months and so far it’s been great. I get paid when people use my photos and even just by being an active user. Granted I’m not making millions, but I’m making a few bucks and getting credited for my work. And they always have photo contests/missions that pay well. This is the best solution I’ve come by so far, hope this helps!

Some Older Comments

  • VBB August 25, 2013 09:57 pm

    Dear Elizabeth,

    I am currwently working on an essay project on general piracy, and I find this blogpost a very nice source for meanings on picture piracy, Do you mind if I quote a couple of sentences from your post in my book? I am particularly thinking of the paragraph ending with "In some way or another, many of us do something unethical with another person’s intellectual property once in a while." If you have questions regarding my book project, please contact me on mail - vegabug at live dot no.

    - Vegard Bugge

  • Kasha June 23, 2013 06:27 pm

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you
    wrote the book in it or something. I think that
    you can do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog.
    A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

  • Kris Kenneth March 27, 2013 02:37 pm

    While those two applications are very useful, Flickr is way more,

    Have a look at the most recent posting on our own online site
    <,http://www.caramoanpackage.com/ than a simple photo storage facility

  • Sharri Mondoux November 16, 2011 03:01 pm

    What's Happening i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I've found It positively helpful and it has helped me out loads. I hope to contribute & assist other users like its aided me. Great job.

  • Get over it January 23, 2011 05:21 am

    Once you post it its theirs. Forget about it. Do not post it on the inet if you dont want people to have it. Its a lost cause.

  • Gwadonna August 24, 2010 06:55 pm

    While reading this I have been curious and googled my site name to find out (for the moment) that one of my pictures published on flickr was also presented on a ... thai website that seems (I don't understand thai) to promote the Canon Powershot SX120IS that I am using now! The watermark is still displayed and they also write my name under the picture!
    I didn't think this picture was good enough to be used by someone else to promote the camera itself but it is a little scary to see your stuff used on a website that you don't understand the language!

  • Urindar August 18, 2010 11:56 pm

    The difference between your friends DVDs and your stolen photos lies in the use. Using other people's work for commercial purposes without proper licensing IS terribly wrong. People make a profit and dont give you squat for your part of the process...

  • National Photographer August 11, 2010 11:09 pm

    I have both sides of this, I was accused of stealing content from a website, This was entertaining as his basis for this was that four words where in the same order as his, the page had around 1000 words and to add to the joke, the words where commonly used in photography marketing.

    Wedding thieves:
    Of all places, OCR on Facebook picked up my style of photography (or something) as it suggested I may know these people.. It was old clients who were in breach of the (giving) credit agreement and usage. I was able to look and saw images stolen from the website. I sent him a email and it was corrected.

    Model thieves:
    Models have names and emails, if you work with them its a good thing to check now and then by searching their name and email.
    I found a model who had two online portfolios with images that she had stolen from the websites or blogs.

    I often kick myself when I see images that I have taken stolen, its my own fault for not watermarking the images, I now watermark them directly across the image. It spoils the images really to what they should be like. Our local council has stolen images as I had found them on their website. and I have seen other images printed on canvas in large chain shops.

    The problem is that chasing these up in court takes a long time and can cost a considerable amount of money to do so. Unless the person admits they took the images, and you can prove you own the images then it gets a little hard.

    I always tell photographer to watermark their images as often I see stolen images or which may not be contracted to use and I send notice to the photographers so they can chase them up and check for themselves.

  • Pauny August 3, 2010 04:08 am

    My own girlfriend is my worst thief. She just can`t understand why I get upset when she steals my pictures and then displays them without giving me credit.... I explain I invest thousands of dollars and many hours of time into getting the shots and to have someone take them and show them off as if they were there own is very hurtful.
    So now I watermark anything I think someone else may use for themselves and before I hit the upload button for everything else I have to accept that I better be ready to accept it being stolen.

  • Shelley July 29, 2010 03:20 pm

    My thoughts, if you are going to post any photos on any website, someone is going to copy it and use it. If you don't want your photos broadcast around then don't add photos to any websites. The worst part about this.. no one will get to see some wonderful photos that have been taken by very tallented people because of the inconsiderate people who steel....

  • Filip July 27, 2010 10:24 pm

    Hey, you can always try to protect your images by Digimarc. If this one is to expensive for you, check SignMyImage. Both of them have web crawler searching for signed stolen photos. F>

  • Kiran July 27, 2010 08:22 pm

    You have to be very lucky to realise if your photo is stolen from your online posts. Most of us wouldnt even know it as its not really stolen, its copied (original still stays in your website) > so unless you bump into a blog or an article which has published your photo or someone who has seen your work finds it out on another website it is very difficult to know about it.

  • Dwight Sokoll July 27, 2010 06:35 am

    I do a GOOGLE search of my name "Dwight Sokoll" about every other month and usually find others using my pictures. Most of the major web crawlers track my name and have been for about 15 years which makes it easier to find out who is using my pictures. The first one I found I told them to send me a license fee of $50, or take it off of their website. They took it off of their website. If it is an educational website I dont mind, and/or they give me credit for the picture.

  • Scott Shea July 27, 2010 12:35 am

    I have had this issue twice, and both times I found that it was both negligence and ignorance to all of the following: Photographers Rights, Understanding of public domain website usage agreement policies, misunderstandings of what public displayed pictures mean, understanding that even if the subject matter is of their property of of them, that even if they didn't authorize it that its not there property by default (again, see photographer's rights). Overall, it could be cut down as a misunderstanding, but it really bothered me that in both cases I had to get legal advice. There is a longer, more drawn out version of the first instance that happened in 2006 that I'll provide the link to, but the long story short is my picture was being used to sell gift certificates, and I asked that if they use that picture that they post the photographers credits. The owner insisted that it was his property because I took the picture of his airplane on his private airport. While the two facts may be true, it was taken at a fly-in that was open to the public. He was trying to make it out that I was trespassing and fortunately the webmaster that made the website knew better than this guy and removed the picture. No other action was required, and the webmaster was sincerely apologetic. The photo and the longer story can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19178908@N02/4260323015/

    The second incident happened this past week. I was cruising a well-known public aviation website to sell your airplane on, and on the front home page, clear as crystal, I spotted a photo that I had shot only two months ago on the front page to sell a $60K airplane. Going through the same channels as last time, I contacted both the webmaster and the aircraft owner/seller. Surprisingly, the seller was completely understanding and apologetic,and did everything he could to fix the situation immediately (I had asked for compliance within 72 hours since it was on a Friday) but the webmaster is the one that was misguided and misinformed. He stated he knew of copyright infringements, and when I told him he was in violation of Flickr.com's (and the other website that I stated I posted the picture on) photo usage agreements and subjected to their copyright laws (not mine since I didn't apply for the $32 per picture copyright). The webmaster, who apparently is a small man that feels he can bully people around, stated that I didn't have permission to take a picture of the owner's airplane (which is not only not needed, it was again shot on a public airfield during a fly-in) and that it was on a public website.
    Additionally, on flickr I posted a picture of the ad and circled it on MS Paint, wrote "ass" with an arrow pointing to the picture, and wrote "muther f*cker! Someone is stealing pics again!" and even though clearly the description stated that someone stole it and posted it on their ad on Barnstormers, the webmaster felt it was directed towards his company ( I suppose he can't help it; he's from Texas, which explains his ignorance and arrogance, and likely undeveloped genitals.)

    That picture and short story can be read here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19178908@N02/4592478952/

    I think once someone important enough has this happen to them, I think public awareness will be raised to a level of somewhat understanding. Watermarks and placing a copyright on a photo do not stop people. Ignorance to the law is never an excuse is what my law teacher once stated repeatedly.

  • ericaJ July 26, 2010 11:41 am

    a friend of mine did it to me. She took the photos off of facebook and used them for her wedding thank you cards. Granted they were of her and her husband but still... The funny thing is if she would have just asked I would gladly have given her the full size versions of them, which would have made for nicer printing results.
    I am really thinking about starting to watermark my stuff now though...

  • John B July 26, 2010 08:09 am

    One of the writers, here, mentioned his work being stolen by a newspaper who claimed that if they altered it by ten percent or more, it was legal for them to use it. I did some digging around and found that this is a widely-believed myth. According to the lawyer where I got this information, no amount of alteration makes it legal to use. The newspaper was wrong!

    Perhaps the answer is to post only small versions of the original photo. I don't think these can be used for prints much larger than a passport photo. Posting the full-size original, even with a watermark, is asking for trouble.

  • kenna July 26, 2010 06:22 am

    While googling to see what photos of mine were showing up, I found one of my photos in a Science magazine for an article about rain. They had used my "raindrop" photo. While checking this further, this magazine was somewhere in Russia. I emailed them telling them they took my photo without permission but I never heard anything from them.

  • Waqar July 26, 2010 12:08 am

    Mine is probably the strangest of all cases of piracy.

    I am a university lecturer and also supervise the website content for my department that another department is responsible to manage and upload. While on vacation, I recently discovered one of my images from my facebook profile stolen and posted on the home page of my department's website; its watermark cropped. The guy who posted it is a student who is also added as friend on my facebook profile and had access to my photos (I've blocked him now). Being on good terms with him I called and asked why did he steal my image and who approved of it since I am on leave. He apologetically told me that he couldn't find a more suitable picture for the home page and that he had asked the permission of the university website committee to use my image. Well, website committee or not, I reminded him of my copyright and politely asked to remove the stolen image. I even emailed him some relevant images from my photography collection to be used for the web. Two days later, I found out that he removed the stolen image from the home page, but kept it on a flash slide-show on another page and uploaded none of the images that I had sent as alternative.

    I will be going back to work from August and taking action in this regard will be one of the first things I will do. What amazes me is that the stealer is also a photographer himself.

  • John B July 25, 2010 01:39 am

    I created a new picture from two photos a friend sent to me. One photo was taken by her. The other was a photo taken back in the 1800s of a man with a top hat in his hand. The photo was public domain. I put the man into the other photo of an old shed with vines growing around it, and he was merged with a degree of transparency as though he was a ghost. My friend liked it so much she had it printed and mounted for a photo competition at a local fair. The problem was, she had posted it on a social networking website and somebody stole it. When it came time for the judging, the photo was disqualified and my friend was accused of stealing it. The judge said she had seen that same photo on her daughter's computer, as wallpaper. So we guess it was the judge's daughter who stole it, and we got disqualified. And it wasn't just that photo that was disqualified, but all the others we submitted. Protesting did no good, not even when my friend asked the judge where her daughter got the photo. So we were branded as pirates. I wish there had been a way to show that judge that it was her daughter who was the thief.

  • mabel July 24, 2010 11:15 am

    But why.. don't you get a lawyer to solve things out?

  • B July 24, 2010 06:32 am

    fishcop: When you take a photo, the EXIF data stored with it contains vital information such as the camera's serial number and your name (if available and you set this up). It's possible to fake this information but not common.

    But the best way to protect yourself is to register your photos with the US Copyright office.

  • B July 24, 2010 03:37 am

    "Through this event and hearing the reactions of people who really didn’t see the big deal made me realise that we are pirates."

    I wonder how many who have had their pictures stolen are using copies of Photoshop that they didn't pay for...

  • fishcop July 24, 2010 12:47 am

    I am new to this so can someone answer a question? I get how a film photo can be conclusively proven to be yours if you have the negative, but how can you do this with digital?

  • As July 23, 2010 09:56 pm

    Everytime I upload a photo at flickr, I used to put at least 3 watermarks on my uploaded images. One is visible. The other two been reduced in opacity until barely could be seen. Thus they would think twice before they steal the photo

  • Dria July 23, 2010 09:18 pm

    For on-line use I stick to posting small (no bigger than 400x600) images. Most of mine are on my blog and my Facebook is private. Even someone clicks on the link of my images it takes them to another small file.
    If someone wants pics I have taken of artists at concerts they can e-mail and ask (those are images I share - no problem-- but only big enough to print a decent 5x7)...The reason I went to this method is that images of my daughter were lifted and put on facebook- nothing tacky - just a boy in a far away place claiming that she is his girlfriend. We only found out because of a tag- coincidence - her pic came up when someone she knew was surfing facebook pics!

  • Les Molen July 23, 2010 07:00 pm

    I can't say too much, but I can say that I took photos of quite a lot of musical instruments of mine, just for my own personal uses (and were watermarked).

    I later found that the website of the manufacturer of the majority of the photographed instruments found them, and was using them in their online store (watermark cropped out, of course), and even had the bollocks to claim that they were taken by one of their staff members.

    So, appropriate action was taken, and my images were taken down.

    Funny story: Now whenever I try to order from them (hey, they still make a quality product), I always get an "cannot process purchase at this time" error... no matter which country I'm in, or what computer I'm on.

  • Erika Williams July 23, 2010 12:38 pm

    As with many others, I've also been a victim of theft. It doesn't seem to matter if proofs are in the form of a disc or supplied in a web page, people don't hesitate to copy the images and use them elsewhere. I'm not sure how far the images have ended up but, I know some have travelled several countries within days and have been used for desktop backgrounds, even with the copyright information all over it. It's very frustrating.

  • Ivon Perrin July 23, 2010 09:49 am

    i am a profesional photographer, some time ago one of my images was published by a major newspaper, on seeing it an advertising agency phoned to ask to buy the use of the image. After some discussion they told me "we only have to change the image by 10% and we dont have to pay anything", and they did it.

  • Linda Abbott July 23, 2010 09:41 am

    I wanted to show a friend of mine a photo I had taken and posted on Flickr. We were out of town and I was using my Blackberry. For some reason I Googled it and was directed to a photo where someone had taken a winter scene I had posted and put a photo of a horse running in it. I have tried to find it again, but can't, but I was really insensed by it. Now, when I post to Flickr or anywhere else on the net, I post it at 72dpi. It's less likely to be pirated if it's at low resolution. Watermarks can be photoshopped out but dpi can't be improved.

  • Stephen July 23, 2010 09:10 am

    A while back some one in South Africa stole almost all of one of my websites and set it up as his own. I emailed him to no effect. I then contacted the company that hosted his site, his site was removed the next day. Hosting companies often have copyright infringement clauses in their contracts. If some one is breaching your copyright on the web just bring it to the notice of their hosting company, an e-mail threatening them with the shutdown of their website will almost always result in instant compliance.

  • B J Hughes July 23, 2010 09:09 am

    Where can I obtain Watermark software/whatever is needed to watermark photos???

  • Jeni July 23, 2010 08:19 am

    Interesting subject, and as far as I know I have not had any stolen. However, I have been researching copyright information, and please correct me if I am wrong, but in certain parts of the world our US copyright isn't valid!
    So, this poses the next problem, whereby if I want to sell my images on Zazzle, for instance, how can I possibly protect them? There is a watermark on the images before you buy them, but what if Joe Blow from Germany buys your work and then copies it for resale, and it just happens to be one of those countries where you cannot prosecute.

    OK, maybe that's too many subjects for one comment, but my point being that the subject of watermarking seems to take us further into the subject of piracy and copyright infringement.

  • Christina July 23, 2010 07:55 am

    Oh and one more key element to the store is that my watermark/copyright was on the digital file, He placed parts of his design/art over the corner where the copyright image laid.

  • Christina July 23, 2010 07:51 am

    I've spotted an image of mine through myspace. As a beginner I would store my images via photobucket which was public and were posted on my myspace blog. Mind you this was years ago! One of my images was taken from that album and printed THEN added to a local artists canvas piece that I saw on myspace. I kindly messaged the person who created the artwork and used my image in it, he denied stealing it from me, he claims he found it through google images search. I checked back with my album and I named the file numerically and did not have any meta data or tags attached to this image so I knew it would not pop up on google images. Worst thing is that he was a friend of a friend so I knew he was lying and we were even friends on myspace! He got away with it and probably made money off selling the art. womp womp!

  • Chris Hill July 23, 2010 06:51 am

    My dad stumbled across a macro picture I took of a white flower printed on a canvas and for sale in 'In-store' and 'Pound Stretchers'. No watermarks or nothing so I can't exactly write to the multi national company and ask for loyalties... Devastated :(

  • Arturo Martinez July 23, 2010 06:09 am

    Worst if the thief just say it belongs to him/her.

    I wonder if it is enough proof to have the original image in higher resolution.

  • Bryan July 23, 2010 04:01 am

    Well, I haven't (as far as I'm aware) had photos stolen, though several have asked to use various ones. Some I've given permission, others not. Who knows if they respected that. I would like to assume, if they had the decency to ask they would respect my response. Time may tell.

    What has happened, though, is someone completely stealing a website that my company created, html and css code structure as well as graphics that were created by myself and my co-owner. I've documented the trials and tribulations in two blog (first one and second one) posts if anyone cares to read more.

    I used to teach web design and graphics classes, and this subject is one I am quite passionate in my attempts at educating people.

    Thanks for your post.

  • AniV July 23, 2010 03:38 am

    I have also had at least one photograph 'stolen' but the situation was a bit unusual. After a strike in our neighbourhood (during which the striking municipal workers upended trash cans all over the streets) I arranged a community clean-up. We spent 10 hours over 2 days cleaning and bagging. During this I took a few photographs, one of which was of my brother-in-law hauling around black bags of trash.

    The next day my mother-in-law contacted me to let me know that she thought the cleanup effort was newsworthy and she had reported it to our local community paper. They wanted to interview me and she needed my permission to give them my contact info. I agreed.

    The reporter called me and I told my story. When the paper came out, the article and photo of my brother-in-law took up the entire front page. We were the headline article! We were so excited and suprised that I barely registered that they had used my photograph without permission or crediting me. I also never stopped to think if anybody had asked him if he was okay with it.

    It turns out my mother-in-law had saved the photos I had shown her (directly off my camera on her PC) and sent it to them. I considered contacting the paper and informing them that it would have been nice if they had asked permission and credited me, but at the same time the publication is given away freely, and to be honest I am quite proud that my photo made the front page. So I left it at that.

    That was a few years ago. Now I am serious about my photography and more aware of copyright. If something like that were to happen again now, I would know from the start to ask for a credit, or I would certainly contact them afterwards.

    I still have that paper and I'm still proud of it.

  • nikki July 23, 2010 03:31 am

    I was hired to photograph a birthday party for a friend/relative of another past client. At the end of the Birthday party, one of the guests went around handing out flyers for another party that she would be hosting and all of the images on the flyers were from events that I had taken for the other client in the past. I was a bit shocked and felt that I didn't think that the people who were in those pictures might appove of just having their personal photos distributed like that, especially since some of the people in the photos were children. Also, I felt like I should be able to protect the people who allow me to photograph them. I don't use flicker, but people have asked me to post things on facebook for them, which I no longer do.

  • shutterdancer July 23, 2010 03:01 am

    I have never sold any images or had any stolen that I know of....so at least there is an upside to being a bad photographer ;>)....seriously, I have seen a few of my images show up in blogs and newsletters but I have always been given credit.

  • Gordana July 23, 2010 02:59 am

    My most upsetting case of photo piracy was a woman in Australia who stole over 30 of my images and posted them in her gallery (amongst other, almost all stolen from others). Now, it was not the theft that shocked me (unfortunately it happens to often), it is the fact that she commented under them as if that was her life! "Oh, that is my son and me, in France picking cherries..." on photo of my kid. "Yes, the love that we share is so strong..." on photo of me and my child.
    How creepy is that? And, what real life do you have when you have to use mine????
    The admins of the forum took her whole gallery down within 12 hours, but the creepy feeling lingered on for much longer...

  • Photologyst July 23, 2010 02:52 am

    This was in the “olden” days of film photograpy. . . I have had two negatives stolen from the professional labs that were supposed to make enlargements. The first gave me the enlargement but claimed they had “lost” the negative. The other never did make the enlargement and also “lost” the negative. Their attitudes were basically, “tough noogies and I know nothing.” Very disconcerting!

    Everyone thanks for the shared misery. I appreciate all the tips on how to find one’s stolen works online.

    I copyright/watermark everything now, although I hesitate to ruin the image with a watermark right over the focal point. Of course, I only place very low res images on the web. Like others here, if I should catch someone I would immediately notify them and if they did not respond appropriately, I would publicize their thievery everywhere possible.

    I also change the order of my photos which breaks the link.

    That said, stealing/borrowing is big, always has been and will certainly never be stopped. I’ve even had a local custom builder steal one of my house designs. A serious legal letter theoretically stopped that. However, the thief never paid me or acknowledged wrongdoing.

    “Borrowing” and being “inspired” by the work of others has been going on since time immemorial. If they make something new out of my work, I don’t consider it stealing. The Chinese have a more relaxed attitude about copying. They see it as a compliment that people find a piece of art or whatever good enough to copy.

    Still, westerner that I am, I like to be credited and paid for my work!

  • Maggie Sbarcea-Ferrett July 23, 2010 02:42 am

    On flickr, I'm always wary of people with only 30 photos on their photostream, but over a 1000 contacts on their list! I usually block them....

  • West Gates July 23, 2010 02:28 am

    Send them a thank you note and a bill (at double your normal hourly rate) and tell them you would be more than happy to settle for a feature story on you.

  • West Gates July 23, 2010 02:25 am

    Our price for creating an avatar from and existing photo (which the client can use for any online posting) is $30. Send her a bill or add it to the current account. Whatever you do sets a president... and she knew she was stealing it when she cut off the watermark.

  • West Gates July 23, 2010 02:20 am

    As I person who has been through Federal Court enforcing my copyrights. Here are a few quick rules. Copyrights differ from Trademarks in that you are responsible for enforcement. 1) When you see an infringement or even a suspected infringement, you have 60 days from the day it comes to your intention to take some sort of action. This can be a note, an email, a fax, an invoice, a small claims filing, a threat to turn them over to your attorney, a letter from your attorney....any sort of dated action. If you know about the piracy and fail to take action, you lose all rights worldwide forever. 2) Your actions must be consistent. This is why Disney will send a pack-O-lawyers after a small daycare center. Failure to take some kind of action may end up biting you in the butt later. 3) Put your copyright notice on everything. This tells the court “they knowingly” stole it. 4) Find a really nasty lawyer with copyright experience and don't be shy about filing. Most of my disputes are solved with a strong threatening letter, an invoice and a visit to small claims...if it gets that far. 5) If your not willing to get nasty and take action...don't worry about it, just consider that everything you do is free and in the public domain.

  • Luis July 23, 2010 01:56 am

    A couple of years I was walking in a mall and I saw a Giant picture of my city cathedral, with a HSBC logo on it, the surprise; was my picture, some guy downloaded from my website, crop the copyright info and use it in the bank's add.
    Finally I got pay for the picture, 4 months later..

  • Staci July 23, 2010 01:42 am

    Funny. Just last week, I sort of had an image stolen, but I'm not sure if it's the same thing. I recently had a client take one of her "sneak peek" pictures that I had posted on my blog and crop out the watermark and use it as her Facebook picture. I don't know if that's stealing. I mean she paid her session fee and for a picture collection. I was just so shocked that I didn't know how to confront her about it. I really don't mind her using an image on FB, but I'd rather her leave in the watermark so that I get some credit and possibly some business from it. Should I confront her or leave it alone?

  • Silverzz July 22, 2010 05:09 am

    If you generally get paid for your work then it is understandable that having it stolen is a big problem, but for people like me it is nice to know that other people think your photos are actually worth using.
    This has only ever happened to me once as far as I know and was a landscape shot of my local area which I posted online and which I was suprised to see printed across the front page of the local community newsletter several months later.
    I was never unhappy at this and I suspect that whoever was responsible never meant to cause any harm.

  • Gigantor July 22, 2010 04:20 am

    I tag mine now, I think it is a compliment for someone to want to use your pictures but I tag mine, not that I think mine are that good just because I don’t want people making money off them. My tag is prominent over strategic areas of the picture, enough to render it mostly useless to someone else but not enough to spoil the picture but of course severe ‘artistic’ cropping or a dedicated photoshopper could take care of that.

    My first experience of being properly ripped off was after a local music festival. The bloke who ran it was new to festivals and was trying to do it on the cheap so he asked me if I would do it, we agreed a price and had an agreement that if anyone wanted to use the pictures then the copyright was mine and they would come to me. To cut a long story short the festival was a flop, a lot of people didn’t get paid including me but it was great practice for me so I was not overly bothered.

    What did bother me was for the next years festival the new website creators (did I mention I also set up his first website for him?) were blatantly using my images from the previous year including some custom panoramas. I got in touch with him and basically his argument was his festival his pictures. I haven’t seen him since and life’s too short so I let it go but the next time I see him the discussion about his abuse will continue.

    The funny thing it was a four day festival starting at 11am and finishing at 11pm and he complained when he didn’t have pictures of the bands playing at 11am!

    Another example, my niece came home from school one day excited because they had been making websites as a project and downloading and using pictures from my first website to put on theirs (my local town pictures and history type of thing). Now I have absolutely noooo problem with kids using them in projects but when I asked my niece if the teacher had mentioned copyright at all and she hadn’t. I caught the teacher at a later date and asked her but I just got a red faced stuttering reply. If it’s not taught in schools then you have no chance really.

    Just done a bungee shoot for a couple of local lads who are setting up a new business and asked for some pics for their website. Went down for the day had good day out got some good pictures and learned a lot again. I gave them the disc with the pictures on and a disclaimer about only them using the pictures and that no permission had been got from the members of the public to use their images on a commercial website, that there were pictures of under 18s on the disc and to satisfy themselves of the legality of the use of these pictures bearing in mind the the recent changes to the law on the subject of publication of pictures of under eighteens on the web and the ambiguity in the protection of children act which now covers images of all under 18s (revised from under 16s)

    The lads don't care about publishing laws or copyright – So I gave them the pictures free of all copyright as long as they know that if anyone has a problem with the pictures my response will be what pictures!

    Going on a bit now so I will get to the point,

    As has been mention the art of photography has been devalued and a lot of people seem to genuinely think everything on the web is free. Search for clientcopia.com or notalwaysright.com to see what people actually are like and the things they do, makes me crease up.

    And finally!

    The main reason to tag pictures now is the government has proposed a ‘digital orphaned pictures’ bill which basically means anyone looking to use a picture available on the web has to look for the copyright on any image before use but they don’t have to look too far, if your image isn’t tagged or the website it is on doesn’t say all images are copyrighted and who by then they can presume it has been orphaned and just use it. that leaves the door open for so much abuse.

    So if you have a picture you like that you want to share on the web but don’t want anyone to use without your permission then put your name on it as once out in the wild you have no control over what happens to them.

  • IrishNYC July 21, 2010 10:09 am

    Ironically, I had a photo stolen from Flickr and used on a website that represented artists for marketing ventures. The owner of the site and agency emailed me requesting permission to use the photo, and when I checked out the website before responding, the photo in question was already on the site and credited to someone else. I was furious to say the least.

  • theosus July 21, 2010 08:54 am

    I have been a victim of article piracy. Our aviation chapter flew a group of girls over the summer last year. The paper was supposed to send a reporter out, but the reporter didn't show up. I sent in a picture and a few paragraphs talking about what we did. The paper printed my picture and my article, word for word. At the end of the article, it said "Staff Writer". I was thinking, thats great, where do I pick up my check?
    I complained, but didn't get an apology, or a credit.

  • Hansi July 21, 2010 06:23 am

    I have not seen my pictures misused anywhere but I am sure somebody is using my pictures.
    People from US, China, Canada etc. is visiting regularly so, yes, my work is misused (I live in Denmark).
    Do I care?, Yes, do loose sleep?, No, would I watermark my pictures? Never (until I change my mind :-)).

  • Oneiroi July 21, 2010 05:42 am

    @Eileen Ludwig

    You can block everything in the world on the flickr side, but really... if it's on your computer screen you can capture it. It won't be the best quality but it's still possible. All you need is a screen capture program.

  • Countervail July 21, 2010 04:58 am

    I monitor a site, http://www.queerty.com/, that freely reposts images from a community modeling site I belong to called Model Mayhem. For months and months I document when they steal, have contacted them several times and have also contacted the infringed photographers from the Model Mayhem site. They post a new series everyday and have done so for months.

    The blog owners refuse to own up to their practices. They initially sent me some BS about being able to expose new talent and give them publicity. Unfortunately most, if not all, the photographers I contacted neither knew about the postings, nor were credited. They even went so far to crop off watermarks on the edge of photographs, start some bogus content about a "Photo Project NYC" and removed all their email addresses from the site so the photographers couldn't contact them.

    The problem is, as I've found, it's incredibly difficult for an individual to take any punitive action on something like this. First it's EXPENSIVE to sue, the laws are amazingly lax and subjective, and everyone in general throws up their hands and accepts it anyway.

    My advice, put a watermark over the image in an artistic way that can't be cropped. At least you can get some free publicity from it, and use EXIF data when you can to embed your contact info in whenever possible.

  • Doc Holliday July 21, 2010 03:12 am

    I have had images pirated in a variety of ways.

    The first was through FaceBook. Someone posted, without authorization, one of my photos on their FaceBook page. It went from there to who knows where, ending up on Getty Images with a different person claiming the work. Getty was pretty cool and took it down. I have no idea who the person claiming the image was. I no longer, under any circumstances, agree to allow anyone to post on of my images on any social networking sites. It's like giving someone a license to steal.

    Linking - and this is the big one. Every once in a while, I will run some of my most frequent keywords on Google's search enginge. I have found over a hundred images that are linked to images posted on Flickr. Most people take them down when, asked. A couple of people have made a fuss over it and/or got upset because I asked them to pay me or take it down.

    The third way is people downloading from Flickr and then printing them out - actually, not downloading, but doing a screen shot. [I only post 72dpi images so, they are at screen resolution anyway.] I walked into a friend's kitchen and saw a photograph of mine printed out at 8.5x11 and hanging on their wall, attached to foam core. It was terrible, obviously, because of the resolution. I asked them to take it down and they did. They didn't like it enough to actually buy a print; so I guess it had no value to them.

    My rules are: 1] Always watermark; 2] never give anyone permission to put my images on FaceBook or any other social networking site; 3] never post an image to Flickr at higher than 72dpi; 4] do infrequent searches to make sure there aren't any blatantly infringing websites out there using my images; and 5] do not take images of people with identifiable faces, (I take a lot of images of firearms, too - never show a serial number). I use Flickr a great deal. Every image I have sold was from Flickr; however, it is a trade off for the risk you take putting things out there.

    Since the advent of the cheap, (relatively), digital cameras, people don't see that photographs have any value. I think the 'value' associated with film cameras was with the film and processing fees. I doubt they considered the cost of the camera, even in the film era. Now, they know they can produce really bad photos with a $150 digital camera and see no cost associated with them. That translates into your images not being worth anything, so they take them.

    Once there is a disparity between what people think digital works are worth, (in this case images), and what they are being sold for, there will be pirating. People don't think photographs are worth anything, you are selling them for money; so they feel justified in pirating them.

  • Zack Jones July 21, 2010 01:18 am

    Before I changed my images to CC I had at least one stolen and used on a football (USA variety) web site related to high school football. I just happended to be browsing the site when I spotted the image. I recongized it immediately as one of mine due to the unique perspective I used to shoot it. I contacted the webmaster for the site and provided a link to the original image on flickr. He apologized and gave me photo credit on the article.
    Since switching to CC I've had several of my images used on blogs, etc. I'll search Google every so often to see what images are being used. It's prettying interesting to see some of what I consider to be my worst work being used :).

  • Orcatek July 20, 2010 10:10 pm

    I have had photos stolen too where they just linked and used them stealing bandwidth. I replaced it with a photo labeled "Image stolen from orcatek.com"

    I have also found the text from my website and blog stolen too. Word for word. I use a product called copyscape to find them and send them cease letters.

  • Dees July 20, 2010 09:32 pm

    Yes, recently a very cute and professional photograph of my cat was stolen online. I put a watermark in it and the person who stole it had just wrote her own name over it with: 'Greetings and a nice day from '. I had posted the photo in a very small size on my own personal Hyves-blog (Facebook-like page in the Netherlands), which is supposed to be closed for non-friends. She posted the photo on many different other personal pages as a funny greetingcard.
    A friend told me he had seen my picture on her personal page. I e-mailed this person and told her in a polite but very strong language about copyrights and even planning to sue her (hope that she got scared a little bit and didn't know how legal stuff really works) if she didn't remove all of these pictures. I have to check if she removed my photo. My friend has to spy for me, because for some reason I don't have access to her personal page.
    I know the risks and all, but still... I got very p#%$&d and felt really offenced when I saw my photo somewhere else.

  • George July 20, 2010 06:05 pm

    The first time I had a photo "stolen" was devastating. I bought a book on advanced SLR techniques and found a photo of mine on it.
    The photo was credited to a chap who ran a photography shop in my home town - a place where I had my films developed!
    Despite producing the original negative and a new photo of the same tree on our farm the publishers ignored me.
    That was in 1979, and no, of course I'm not still bitter :o)

  • Peter Holloway July 20, 2010 06:02 pm

    My wife spent a day working at a local charity cafe a couple of years ago. When I called in to collect her she commented that the pictures on the wall looked very like mine. I took one look and said: "They are mine!" The low res photos had been downloaded from my web site, printed (badly) and framed.

    I tackled the manager about the images and he assured me that the person who provided them had said that they were not copyright. To be fair to him, he did then offer to pay for proper versions.

  • angad singh July 20, 2010 04:34 pm

    Yes Indeed I have been. This guy not only used my image but water marked it with his own name. When I put it up on facebook with links to his page, he was humiliated and the took it down.

  • Tom July 20, 2010 03:27 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    What's wrong with using Google's image search?

  • Mixy July 20, 2010 02:06 pm

    Considering that you need a model release for prominent faces for commercial purposes, you are in every right to use the law to protect not only your work, but the friends and family that are in the images.

  • Sarah July 20, 2010 01:32 pm

    I've no idea yet if someone has stolen my images, but I'm sure it's going to happen someday if not already. My husband was using the google image search until I became very upset with him.

    I'm setting up an online portfolio,and apart from ensuring it's low res so people at least can't make reasonable prints, I still can't decie whether to have a discrete watermark in the corner, or something decent size in the middle of everything. And while I've already disabled the right click thing, it's still possible to steal images.

    So, should the photographic community be starting up an anti piracy campaign similar to the movie industry?

  • mei teng July 20, 2010 11:49 am

    Would putting images into collages (low resolution) using Picasa a good idea in preventing photo piracy? I don't upload high resoution images to Flickr.

  • Eileen Ludwig July 20, 2010 11:45 am

    Hello Elizabeth,

    Do you allow downloads on your flickr site?
    I have mine blocked from being downloaded and/or copied
    Am I missing something? Can people still steal your pictures if you block downloads?

    If someone wants them, they have to contact me


  • Eileen Ludwig July 20, 2010 11:43 am

    Hello Elizabeth,
    Help me understand here. Do you allow downloads on your flickr site?
    I have mine blocked from being dowloaded and/or copied

    If someone wants them, they have to contact me

    Am I missing something? Can people still steal your pictures if you block downloads?


  • Jesse July 20, 2010 10:00 am

    It seems that this sort of crime is worse than a consumer who pirates media. Besides a third party profiting from the crime, the lack of attribution in new works seems very serious. I had always assumed that prosecution would be easy, but now I get the impression that it isn't.

    It's also disappointing to think that if a newspaper is stealing images, they are doing so as an alternative to employing a professional photographer.

  • Andre July 20, 2010 09:09 am

    I had someone enter two of my Flickr pictures in a Microsoft photo contest representing them as their own. To their credit, Microsoft took them down extremely fast once I complained.

    It's a strange feeling browsing through hundreds of pictures on a contest site and to come across a couple of your own. I guess I was flattered at first, that someone thought my pictures were good enough to steal, but then I felt violated, as if someone had broken into my house.

  • Shelly July 20, 2010 08:25 am

    My feeling is, if I want to make money from my photos, I don't put them online. Any photos I put online, I have to expect someone will take, copy, whatever. a simple screen cap will do it. I have a CC license on my photos on flickr that allows any use other than commercial. I might not like everything that's been done with them or every person who's taken one of my pics, but I think of it as providing a nice resource that really costs me nothing, other than my pro flickr account and I have that for fun. Should I ever decide to sell my pics, I'll find the appropriate venue and those pics won't go online anywhere else.

  • Stella July 20, 2010 05:52 am

    I had images I put on a website i sold make up on published in a local newspaper.

    I was furious! especially since this was in Africa where the legal system isn't really strong so there was little I could do. Now I have a beauty blog and i have my blog name bold across any pictures of me i post.

  • Lynn July 20, 2010 05:47 am

    I went out on a couple of dates with a PREACHER a couple years ago. It didn't last long for various reason I won't post here. ;-) However, he got in touch with me again last year and was bragging about his new church and sent me a link to the website. Low and behold, guess who's coastal/nautical images were being used on his website!!! My images were being used as advertisements (not my business though) on his church website. I confronted him about it, and he thought it was funny actually. As you can imagine, I did NOT since there were absolutely NO photo credits to me. Needless to say, we don't speak now, but he still hasn't taken MY images off his website.

  • Paul July 20, 2010 05:01 am

    TinEye is a great way to look for image piracy - it does what Google does for text, but for pictures. You can search for images by URL, or actually upload an image for it to query. It's still relatively young, so its database is growing, but it's quite good. I wrote a review of it here:


  • Alis in Wnderlnd July 20, 2010 04:47 am

    Years ago I saw MY OWN IMAGE on a marketing pamphlet for a photographer. The image was taken of me in Il and I saw it in Virginia. I was shocked, called the photographer and apparently I had signed a release form. I was just 18 when they were taken and had no idea what I was signing, and it wasn't explained to me. It was horrifying and it was cropped to death so it looked like a very tacky nude photo. Not only should you watermark your images, but you should let clients know what they are signing and how the images could be used. I ALWAYS do both now.

  • Daniel Meadows July 20, 2010 04:45 am

    Looking forward to that Scott, sounds like fun retribution.


  • Stephen July 20, 2010 04:38 am

    I'm with Wired on this one.


  • VCrismore July 20, 2010 04:26 am

    Ten years or so ago, I had taken photos of a stallion for the owners to hang on their wall. They sold their horse and gave the photo to the new owner who then scanned it and used it as a promotional photo in magazine ads and online. They cropped my signature out and gave me absolutely no credit. I contacted the magazine and told them I had the original negative and this person had no permission to use my photo, they stopped printing the ad with that picture. The stallion owner continued to use my photo for years, probably still are. I eventually just threw my hands up and said "Whatever!". It wasn't worth it for me to "bird dog" where they were using the photo. I now realize when I send photos off, they are gone and will be used in many different ways. I needed to accept that unless I want to spend a lot of time in court.
    With digital photography I have started putting a digimarc in some.

  • Charlie July 20, 2010 03:32 am

    I had two stolen last year. Amazingly by a newspaper none the less. Just a small town bi-weekly in our area. I had taken some shots of a fallen soldier being escorted home by the Patriot Guard and shared them with the family to use in a personal Flickr gallery. The owner of the gallery had the copyright settings on the gallery set to images are copyrighted and she gave credit in the desc for who submitted each photo. The paper who claims to have permission from a friend of the owner of the gallery stole and used images from me and another pro in our area in an article covering the event. No credit and no notification. I found out when the paper hit my doorstep. They tried to beat around the bush at first till the heard from my attorney. Turns out one of the images they used of mine is registered at the Library of Congress. It all turned out in my favor, but I too am concerned at how disingenuous Flickr and Google images has made us.

  • scott July 20, 2010 03:05 am

    If someone in the US steals my photos, I have them all filed with the library of congress. If they are caught, the fines are huge and legal fees are included in the judgment by default. I will be publishing a blog article on this soon as I do get a lot of people asking me about it.


  • Olivier July 20, 2010 03:02 am

    What pisses me off is that some of these work stealers makes money off your work. But that's the risks of putting up an online portfolio.

  • Liz July 20, 2010 02:55 am

    I have had my photos stolen several times and every time it was through flickr. I had photos stolen that I had taken of my own dog, stolen and used by a scammer trying to scam people into buying a puppy that doesn't exist. This has now happened twice, that I know of.

    Last year I photographed a young musical artist in my city who happens to be an arm amputee. The photos I took of her were stolen from flickr and used on an "amputee fetish website".

    Disabling the right click does nothing but annoy your users. And will do nothing through flickr because flickr allows users to download your photos by default, no right click needed.

    I almost shut my flickr account down because of this, but decided not to. Instead I only upload small photos and I turned off the ability for everyone to be able to download the photos.

    It is very disheartening when people feel they have the right to just grab your images and use them.

  • Simon July 20, 2010 02:38 am

    You can use TinEye to check where are your photo posted too. It's a reverse image search.

    You input an image and it will search for similar image with great accuracy.


  • Karen Stuebing July 20, 2010 02:30 am

    How would you know unless someone saw them and told as happened to the author?

    Believe it or not, right click disable with a message to email you for use works pretty good. Yes, I know you can still get the images but a lot of people only know right click, save as.

    I do get emails asking to use my photos for whatever and if it's a site I like or a non profit, I will usually let them have the low res web image.

    Btw, that's the safest way to protect your photos. Only upload low resolution jpgs. If somebody gets one, what are they going to do with it besides use it on another web page. They can't print it. Yes, it's not nice to steal even for a web page but most people don't even understand that's stealing.

    As far as I can tell, Tin Eye is useless. I've used it for photos I have allowed to be used on other web pages and it never finds them.

  • Kevin July 20, 2010 02:22 am

    Just wanted to say that I think there's a big difference between the type of piracy where someone pirates for their own use (copying a CD scenario), and pirating to profit (stealing a photo for your advertisement, motivational poster, etc).

    A while ago I had someone start linking to my website for product images. I changed the filename of the real image and uploaded a horribly pornographic image for the old name.

  • Burt July 20, 2010 02:04 am

    As for finding out if your photos have been stolen, try:


    I have no affiliation with them -- just something I came across a few weeks ago, and which is aimed directly at your problem.

    Personally, I would never know if my images are stolen are not. Since I sell them through microstock (iStock, ShutterStock, VEERs, etc), I would have no idea if an image has been paid for or not...

  • Alan Hearnshaw July 20, 2010 02:04 am

    A few years ago, I notices that not only was one of my photos being pirated, someone was hot-linking to it and so using my bandwidth to display it ad a background for their myspace page.

    It was a "buff" young lad. I altered the image on my site and superimposed text causing him to declare to the world that he was finally "coming out", and admitting to the world that he was gay.

    Funny enough, the very next day, he changed his background picture (although he just hot-linked to someone else's work).

  • Bruce Lee July 20, 2010 02:01 am

    Rather than explain the whole story, please read the news article I wrote earlier this year:


  • Brandi Liner July 20, 2010 01:55 am

    I usually put my "mark" right over the subject. This way they really have to work on stealing. Most people can still get the aspect and feel of the picture even though it has been "marked" right in the middle.

  • Mike Le Gray July 20, 2010 01:39 am

    I had a civil rights lawyer in the US use one of my photos from Flickr without seeking permission, even though I had the following text below it;

    "©2009 Mike Le Gray. All rights reserved. Any usage of these images is strictly forbidden without my express, written consent".

    When he didn't respond to my email, I posted a message on the article to which the photo was attached and you can bet he removed that, soon enough. The photo is still there, but at least if you click on it, it now takes you to the photo on my Flickr page...

  • edmund July 20, 2010 01:25 am

    That's why I never post personal images on the internet. And by personal I mean portraits, pictures where there are only few people on it, with clearly visible faces.
    Sad, but the only way to protect the people on the photos...

  • Don Davison July 20, 2010 01:14 am

    As city attorney in a small town, I allowed the city's municipal website to use several photos gratis. After my retirement, one of the city council members asked the city webmaster for permission to use one of my photos for his real estate website. The webmaster told him that he would have to get permission from me. He went ahead and downloaded the (hi-res) photo from the city site and used it without permission anyway, and then acted wounded and insulted when I caught him. He had lied to his own webmaster and said that he had received permission to use the photo.

  • MeiTeng July 20, 2010 12:55 am

    Thankfully, none. So far, I am aware of none.

  • lucrecia July 20, 2010 12:52 am

    The picture i've tried to link is http://www.flickr.com/photos/lunatica/4018052934/

  • lucrecia July 20, 2010 12:51 am

    I have been a victim of photo piracy, too. Last December a friend of mine told me "Your face is in a magazine!", which I couldn't believe until I saw it: my face (a photo stolen from Flickr) illustrating a cheesy article about Christmas Season, and associated to someone else's testimony. So, in that magazine it seems I have a different name, age and profession, and that I hate my in-laws (which is not true!). I've hired a lawyer but the editorial is denying they owe me anything because “they work with so little time they HAVE to do this kind of stuff”. We are still working on getting some kind of recognition.

    I share your feeling! I still share my pictures through the net, but I can't stop thinking of how many of my pictures are being used without my permission.

  • Aaron July 20, 2010 12:45 am

    So Elizabeth, what did you do when you saw the stolen photos? What action did you take against the transgressor? Any sort of litigation involved?

  • Bec July 20, 2010 12:35 am

    the person who stole my photos openly admitted it to me!

    she said: i've been given the yask of decorating our office with some nice pics and i thought 'bec takes nice pictures, i'll use one of hers!'

    didn't know what to say considering she thought she was complimenting me!

  • Shanes McDonald July 20, 2010 12:35 am

    I've had a few pictures taken from my website and once I had a whole website copied and rebranded in their name - usually an email and a light hearted threat is enough to get people removing the content from their site. But its not nice!

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