Will Google+ Become Another Flickr-style Feeding Ground For Photo Theft?

Will Google+ Become Another Flickr-style Feeding Ground For Photo Theft?

Two month-old Google+ has already broken a number of records in adoption (and likely desertion) for a social networking site and is growing like no other. One of the groups most prolific on the new site are photographers. As you may have read here on DPS and other sites, photographers have found great results in regard to interaction and connection through the site.

And with good reason. Unlike individual blogs, where you connect with one photographer at a time, Google+ lumps your favorites into one place. Not only that, the size and presentation of photographs has made it a haven for those wishing to browse quality images. In the Photos tab/module/dohicky on the site, there is an endless stream of new images coming in from your circles.

For those who have spent time browsing the Photos section on Google+, you will know what a time sink it can be. Depending on who you are following and the quality of their images, it’s not uncommon to notice a half hour has flown by as you constantly scroll your mouse wheel lower and lower, heading backward in time to see more great (and some not so great) photos. For those not familiar, the service runs much like Google’s current image search on google.com, but only shows images people in your chosen circles have shared with you directly or publicly. It’s a narrower focus (pun intended) and you can fine tune it by circling or uncircling folks.

As with Flickr, the ability exists for unscrupulous people to download photos without the owner’s permission. As Google+ does not, as of yet, offer Creative Commons license abilities as Flickr does, unless a photographer specifically states the images are free to be used, all rights to copy the image, outside of use on Google+ (which is covered by the terms and conditions, as outlined in this post by Jim Goldstein) are reserved by the photographer. While it is true any image displayed on a screen can be copied via a screen capture, having the ability to simply right click and save an image makes theft easier for the casual, often ignorant, photo thief. (note: you may need to turn off the ‘normal’ ability for Picasa web album viewers to download your photos as well.)

Will Google+ become a haven for stealing photos as Flickr has become? And will that stop you from posting photos on the site (assuming you are there now)? I’d love to hear your input in the comments section below.

Find the DPS writers currently using Google+:

Darren Rowse
James Brandon
Jim Goldstein
Matt Dutile
Peter West Carey
Neil Creek
Simon Pollock
Helen Bradley
Christina Dickson
Anna Gay

Special Google+ photo note: By default Picasa Albums (which is what Google+’s albums run off of) turn on the ability to sell your photos when you create a Google+ account. If you do not want people to purchase your images, you need to turn off this ability with these instructions.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Danny.. January 21, 2012 09:33 am

    Dear Richard.

    I can see that you must be on cloud 9. of course it is theft. Just look at people who have taken info off people in a similar way, placing cameras on "Hole in the wall" cash machine's. sifting peoples bins. and there are many more others can add to the two that I have mentioned.

    So think again, I believe you are totally wrong. If you do not use Google + might say that we are right, "It's theft".

    Thank's Richard.


  • David September 11, 2011 06:04 am

    um I never posted a photo that said rent me or use my photo and send me a check later. but what ever, what was stolen was the fee for use. if you want to split hairs like some over educated lawyer then thats fine. I'm old school and they took something that was NOT theirs and used it for capital gain. you can dress it up any way you like. calling a fart flatus does nothing to improve the smell. I think for the most part everyone here "gets it" except you. no I wont without my photograph, but just because I leave my photo posted for my own advertisement does NOT give anyone else the right to use it for monetary gain. using my image on a
    t-shirt and selling that shirt is not right, I feel its theft, if you need to call it something else to make it smell better to ya thats fine,...

  • Richard Mays September 11, 2011 05:10 am


    It is NOT stealing!!! At no time while it was being used on the T-Shirt were you deprived of access to the image. Your analogy of the Lawn Mower is incorrect since the user of the mower deprived the rental company of access to the mower, while it was being used.

    When sombody walks into your studio and physically takes your image off the wall or takes your computer, then it is stealing.

    I also have some heartburn over your statement "I further believe any artist who thinks otherwise has very little regard for their own work and its worth." For me it is the artist who is willing to upload their valueable images in a format others can improperly manipulate for commercial use who do not have regard for their work. If your willing to go back to the lawnmower rental analogy. Imagine the rental company that leaves their equipment on the side of a road with a sign that says "Rent Me - Return here when done and send a check to...."

  • David September 11, 2011 04:37 am

    @ khurt and anyone else who feels this way. even though your point is valid to a degree accepting and verbally stating basically that its ok with you is like giving in to the unauthorised use of your images.

    however if any of you read the terms of service aggreements on these sites they pretty much are saying once you upload your pictures they ie: flickr google and so on can do pretty much what ever they want with them. which is sad for the many artist who come on here post their work share techniques and help others to learn.

    even though I have stated that I know my stuff gets used for personal use I think the line is and should be drawn at capital gain. I further believe any artist who thinks otherwise has very little regard for their own work and its worth. I dont think any true artist who puts their heart and soul into a piece would just accept someone stealing it, yes stealing, when you use an image for capital gain with out paying the fee its stealing. if you went into a rental place took a lawn mower cut your neighbors grass for money and then returned the mower but did not pay the rental fee thats stealing. unauthorised use, what ever. its one in the same.

    I have had my photographs end up on T-shirts being sold a events. they removed my water mark its was at the bottom and just started printing and selling shirts! that my friends is stealing!!! I dont care what anyone says.... its NOT ok to use someone elses art photo or equipment for capital gain with paying the fee for use and having a contract to the extent of such use.

  • Khürt L. Williams September 10, 2011 11:21 pm

    Unless someone has taken possession of your original files there is no such thing as online photo theft. Let's call it what it truly is – unauthorized use of copyrighted images. If you truy want complete control over your digital images then do NOT put them online. A watermaker does not protect your image from unauthorized use. . A visible license text does not protect your image from unauthorized use.

    I think watermarked images are distracting and ugly. I don't use them on any of my online image. I upload my images – to Flickr, Google+, Facebook, my blog etc – knowing that I have no control over how those images will be used.

  • Richard Mays September 7, 2011 10:16 am

    Ooops sorry Peter, I was on the phone with my friend Patrick when I started writing.

  • Richard Mays September 7, 2011 10:14 am


    We are making good progress. Now that you have acknowledged that "Cars are not photographs", let's take it one step further and dispose of the equating rights infringement with theft or stealing. You first asked why I put stealing in "". I hope we have arrived at the point that we agree it is not. Infringement is not theft in part because as the owner of the intellectual property you are not deprived of whatever value that property may have by someone elses infringement. You can still sell your artwork, photo for whatever value the market may bear. As a matter of fact the infringement often will lead to a higher value.

    As far as my statement that the relying on the law to protect your rights is foolish. I stand by that. Laws are enacted to provide a remedy not protection. While I concede that stiff or harsh penalties my provide a deterence value, it is not reasonable to believe that the existence of legislation will prevent or greatly alter the actions of those who perceive the risk as less than the potential reward..

    The internet is the "Ring of Gyges" to copyright laws. Someone intent on using an image they find on the internet for commercial gain has very little risk of discovery. It is incumbent on the photographer to protect whatever rights he wishes to preserve. Not by attempting to enforce or rely upon antiquated copyright laws, but by modifying our practices so that our risk is negligable and our reward is enhanced. We cannot do that by considering some of those who infringe on our work as criminals and others as customers.

  • Peter West Carey September 7, 2011 05:31 am

    Straw man arguments just don't hold. As David points out, it is the use of the photo that most annoys me as far as breaking the law. I know people download my pictures and for the most part that is okay. It's when, like a company on Facebook once did, they use my images for their own personal gain.

    It was wrong of me to compare cars and intellectual property and I see that now. Cars are not photographs.

    And what the heck does this mean? "For you to infer that the law protects all your rights is foolish." That's what the law is there for!! Before there was the law there were much more brutal ways of protecting ownership in anything. The law DOES protect all my rights. Explain to me how copyright doesn't protect my rights, please.

    Bad people will still break the law and that can never be completely stopped.

  • David September 6, 2011 07:50 pm

    it is NOT the locks installed that protects your house car or photo from theft. its the potential of legal consequences if one breaks the written law. people still break into homes, steal cars and use photographs. some get caught some do not, of those who do some get punished some do not. the LINE is generally drawn when someone makes "capital gain" from the use of a photographic work. that has little to do with wether or not there is a water mark, copy right stamp or any other "lock" put in place.
    but why does anyone need to steal a photograph when so many people freely give them away with either creative commons or making them available to "getty" for mere pennies. when you have everyone out here with a camera,.. more self proclaimed "photographers" than ever before in history. well face it that leaves very little room for "solid sales" of ones work. extreme LOW res files may help keep your art from being printed with any size available, but does little in regards to internet use. the only photos that are going to bring a premium "in my opinion" is the "one of a kinds". shoot it - develope it - print it large - frame it with top quality frames and museum quality glass - sign and number it as 1 of 1 - destroy the negative to never be reprinted and sell as such at a modest dollar amount ten thousand dollars and up. still you will have other photographers who will reverse engineer it and reshoot the same shot. in the end I feel its the "name" on the photograph, the creator of the work which will have more impact on the worth of a photo than the photo itself. I will also say what you see on these screens are far,.. far,... different than what you will see in quality print. so back to topic------> google, flickr etc.... = just Advertising venues for us ARTIST looking to get mild attention the true attention is gained after your work is hanging on a wall and cherished as "QUALITY ART". we put our stuff online for one reason only "ATTENTION". one could argue the measure of ones work by whether its "THEFT WORTHY" or not! are you confused yet?

  • Richard Mays September 6, 2011 06:14 pm

    Mr. Carey,

    Call your insurance carrier and ask them to issue you a policy to protect your copyright of images, which you post online, from theft. While you have them on the phone tell them that you have disabled your locks on your car and put a sign on the window that says FREE CAR in 10 languages. See if your auto policy is still in effect when you hang up the phone.

    Once you have uploaded an image to the internet, you no longer can reasonably or reliably protect it, Therefore, what you upload should not have any value you wish to protect. For you to infer that the law protects all your rights is foolish. Do you have a locks on your home? Why? The laws have for years considered the force necessary to turn the knob sufficient to constitute burglary.

    As photographers in a digital world the only way to absolutely protect ALL of our images is to never press the shutter. But that kind of defeats the purpose doesn't it?

  • Peter West Carey September 6, 2011 02:38 pm

    Richard, Copyright is not an idiom of the past, it is current law. And will likely be law. There is no need to put stealing in quotes, it is theft according to the laws we all agree to live by in the USA (other countries are different). You can't break into a car and say "car ownership is an idiom of the past. Look at Zipcars!". You may have one idea, but the law is what we all follow. If you don't like the current idiom, then change the law.

    As for your other analogy, take a look at all the other bands that sell their music. I don't have a record label behind me. And I too, like this band you mention, have struck out on my own and follow the law. I ask that others follow the law as well.

    There is no 'cost of living' when it comes to theft. I created something, don't steal it. Period. You don't have the right to and the law agrees with me. I don't have to make decisions about what parts to protect because the law says ALL of it is protected. It's a great law, by the way. Perhaps you disagree with that?

  • Richard Mays September 6, 2011 12:37 am

    Many of you including the author, continue to cling to idioms of the past. The entire world has changed including the best practices in photography. If someone is "stealing" your work, then change your practices. You cannot expect to exploit the internet for your own gain, while decrying those you use it for theirs.

    Look at the music group OK, Go. They have embraced the concept of open access to their music and videos. They have fired their recording label who interfered with this access and struck out on their own. As photographers we need to do the same. Realize that in the new digital age, we need to make decisions about what part of our work we need to protect and what part we will recognize is a cost of doing business in a modern open access society.

  • Fuzzypiggy September 5, 2011 10:08 pm

    If you're making a living from it, it's obviously serious issue for you, for most amatuers less of a problem.

    Lots of people saying, "Well don't upload if you don't want your stuff stolen!". Well that's like saying, don't park your car in the street if you don't want it stolen! Don't have glass windows in your house if you don't want burglars to break in and steal your stuff! Yes it's a shitty world but you have to be careful but you also have to have some faith that most people are perfectly decent, with the odd few ruining it.

    I want people to see my stuff and I want people to download it. I am not too bothered if people take it without permission I am more bothered about others claiming it's theirs and as the first poster said, using it to promote something you find personally repugnant, like extreme political ideologies. I try to take sensible precautions, keep the display size under 1200x750, adding small watermarks in places that if cropped will ruin the image but you can only do so much before you have to simply trust that the vast majority of images are safe and you will be paid if people want to use it commercially.

  • gipukan September 4, 2011 07:06 am

    I'm a Flickr fan from the first moment I heard of them. I like the app to move them into Facebook. I know my photo's are used elsewhere. Often i'm asked for permission and often time's i'm not asked. My macro shot of a head lice is one example. It's used for free (1000+ times) to show parent what the thing looks like when your going through your child's hair. When i'm going pro... if i will... then I might protect them more then on Flickr.

    Head lice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gipukan/4392466957/

  • Peter West Carey September 4, 2011 03:41 am

    chris, even if it is in a public forum, the right to copy the art work is retained. I realize you might not like the idea of intellectual property, but the courts see it differently and it's that law that we follow, at least in the US. I park my car on public streets, but it is still my property and you do not have the right to take it. The right to copy my photo is my property.

    Thanks to those who have mentioned the underlying ability to pick Creative Commons in Picasa. The main problem is it is not shown anywhere in Google+ that I can find, unlike Flickr which shows the licensing.

  • Thomas Hawk September 3, 2011 03:03 pm

    Google+ does offer creative commons licenses. All images are hosted on Picasa web albums, the underlying image engine for Google+. There you can stipulate your license. All mine are licensed Creative Commons non-comercial.


  • Ed Normile September 3, 2011 01:18 pm

    I am no pro and have never even considered photos being stolen from Flickr, for that matter I never thought, until now that is, that a photo of mine may be used without my permission even from a site like DPS where you have the weekly challenges and the games and all the places on the forums where you can post pictures. I did have a woman write me on Flickr and ask for my permission to use an image of mine in a DVD used in the training of health care workers who care for the elderly, and to be honest I was literally thrilled. I never asked for or was offered any compensation, just the thought of my work being recognized as good enough for someone to want to use it in a professional training DVD was a high for me.


  • J.Ed September 3, 2011 12:01 am

    I am less concerned with someone's "casual theft" for personal use as I am with what rights the TOS gives Google.

  • David September 2, 2011 06:58 pm

    hmmm, well in my opinion its like this. NO ONE has the right to use your work for any reason regardless if its posted on flickr or in the window as an ad at walgreens. its against the law! period.... with that said I doubt I would get upset if someone used my photo or art for personal / private use. its when they use it for personal or commercial Gain. that is the issue. of course I hope they do use it for that, so I can get paid! once it has been used by a person or agency for monetary gain then they must reinburse you for the use of the art / image and so on. of course you will have to contact them and "call them out on it". I'm sure once you do that a settlement will be worked out. of course I could be wrong, but I did stay at a holiday inn last night! oh my!? did I just use someones slogan? lol lmao!

  • Sean September 2, 2011 06:37 pm

    I totally agree with Carie. If it's out there, it can be nabbed. Instead of getting angry about it, use it as an opportunity! No publicity is bad publicity... The time they may spend cloning out your watermark will leave your name permanently welded in their mind (and conscience!). Slap a watermakr on it, and share it with the world! Instead of fearing, share the beauty with the world, and it will come out well in the end.

  • carie September 2, 2011 02:28 pm

    The second you put an image, or anything else for that matter, online, you run the risk that someone will steal it. If you really are concerned, then do not upload it, otherwise accept that some person may use your photograph without your permission. At the end of the day, nobody is forcing you to share your images with the world!

  • Richard Mays September 2, 2011 01:52 pm

    I do not consider the use of an image posted on the internet theft. As a photographer, there is only one reason I am posting the image in the first place. So that others will see my work. The only cost for advertising is the risk that whoever sees my image, may want to use it. Well, that is a pretty cheap cost. Especially when I control the image size and I can include a watermark...more advertising.

    If someone appreciates my work enough to use it on their invitation, business card or screen saver, the only thing I would feel would be honored. Before you post an image on the internet you should know that it is a gift to the online community. If they take that gift and use it. Congratulations!!

  • Lee Daniels September 2, 2011 01:38 pm

    @B Jay: yes. Personal use is counted as theft. It is like you going into a grocery store and taking food without paying because it is for personal use and you will not resell it. How far out the door do you think you would get? The food is visible and public, but it is not free.
    The use for school is a little trickier. It must be absolutely germane to the project where no other image will do. Even then, it is far better to ask permission and always better to find a liberal Creative Commons image if you can and credit it properly.

  • B Jay September 2, 2011 12:17 pm

    Is the downloading of photos for computer and phone wallpapers(personal use) and school projects/assignments also included in photo theft?

  • Lee Daniels September 2, 2011 12:09 pm

    This just came up on a G+ discussion about a Chrome extension that adds a nifty "Download" button under each photo. As a former journalism and media teacher as well as a photographer, this is a huge hot button for me.
    I am still embroiled in a case with a major television network who took one of my pieces from Flickr and displayed it on the 9:00 news with the only credit "From a Flickr Group" I'm an All Rights Reserved photog and my real name is always available. It is nasty.
    I will continue to post on G+, but will be even more vigilant until some protection choices are in place.

  • Howes Photography September 2, 2011 10:48 am

    There's a bit of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) expressed in this article. I agree with Niels -- it's about the risk that you think you're exposing yourself to. Your needs are not the same as everyone else's.

    Images placed on the internet, for any reason, on any site, can (and will) be downloaded or screen-captured by people who are motivated to do so. There is really nothing you can do to stop it. Picasa, and by extension Google+, do allow you to turn off the ability to buy and download images in your account's security settings. In fact, there's a control to enable the use of Creative Commons licensing just below there.

    If the thought of someone downloading an 800x600 JPG keeps you awake at night, then you should really find more important things to worry about. Chances are that the person downloading your image wouldn't have paid for it anyway, even if you did offer it for sale.

    -Paul Howes

  • susan September 2, 2011 10:31 am

    I dont mind people using my photos in a blog or desktop wallpaper. But i will probably start using watermarks on more images.

  • My Camera World September 2, 2011 10:03 am

    Its all about perceived risk. First; will they actually steal your photos and secondly, what are the consequences of that theft. I enjoy sharing and by limiting the size, photographer name and jpeg compression these allow a reasonable comfort of protection.

    I have used the free images checkers and these have only a few times found my photo being used and these were from before when I added my signature logo.

    If it has the potential to be worth a lot then definitely limit the exposure.

    Niels Henriksen

  • Verena September 2, 2011 09:13 am

    As of yet I have not had this experience yet (well, as far as I know that is), but I restrict download on flickr and have no direct links to the images on my blog. However, since it's not so difficult to download them anyway, I can't really do anything against people stealing pictures. I have decided to embrace it and don't even have a watermark on most of my pictures. If you don't want your pictures stolen, don't show them on the internet, that's what's left. I want to show them, so I won't make them look bad through a watermark. However, if someone would use them online or in print, I'd obviously sue them, if I find out. That's what copyright is for after all. I don't have a problem with people saving pictures for their desktop background though.

  • Chris September 2, 2011 09:06 am

    Using the term "photo theft" to describe using a photo that has been posted in a pubic forum is a little over the top. I personally display my photos via flickr and I also sell them at local art shows. That being said I am aware that by putting my photos on flickr(a public forum) I am making them available to be stolen. If my photos are used(*I used the term used instead of stolen) by someone without my permission and for something I don't agree with I can't blame anyone but myself for publishing my photos publicly. Would I rather someone offer me money to use my photos? Of course. Am a flattered that someone saw something in my photo that made them want to use it? Of course, isn't that what all artists want, to be appreciated? Are we so vein that we must have credit for everything that we do? If you are, can you truly call yourself an artist? Art isn't made for money it is made to be appreciated. Money is just an added bonus when we get paid for it. If you wanna sell your art then hang it up in a gallery and sell it. If you want to share it with just just your friends on the web then make the viewing of them private to just your friends. If you want the world to appreciate your art and don't care who uses it then do it freely but don't complain when someone uses your image and call them a thief.

    Look at it this way. I know a lot of photographer that like to take pictures of graffiti or street art. Most of this art is done in the public and is free for all to see and photograph. As a photographer you are welcome to take pictures of these peoples art and then sell your prints. Does this make you a thief as well? No. Once you have placed someone in a public domain it is free to use.

    If you don't want your work to be used by others then don't publish it to the public. Only you have that power and only you are responsible for its use. If you leave your watch on a picnic table in a park and then walk away and find it is gone when you return you can't claim it was stolen. The watch was found and then used by someone else. Lucky for them, you left it. We have so much of this in our society today; blaming others for our choices!

  • Biztag September 2, 2011 08:57 am

    Good Point! These little things are annoying and are good to keep an eye on, thanks for the post.

  • Danferno September 2, 2011 08:35 am

    Ramon, sue them for copyright infringement. If you can present a larger image with watermark, you're pretty much guaranteed a victory. People steal your art = people pay up.

  • Cherry79 September 2, 2011 07:50 am

    I post most of my shots on caedes.net which has a creative commons and has no problem pressing charges if copywrite is broken. I have no intention of using google+ as facebook allows me to set up my own photogrpahy page which I make good use of.

  • Design.edward September 2, 2011 07:44 am

    The only way to stop photo theft is to not show your photos. Then again, keep them at a relatively small size- like 800x600- so they can only go so far with them.

    Its just like identity theft- if someone really wants your stuff, they are going to get it. I think that the headline is a bit misleading, because it contends that google + is doing something "wrong".

    And as was stated, screenshots will always be your worst nightmare. Companies are dumb enough to take those and even print them at that glories 72dpi resolution. sheesh.

  • Lyndsy Simon September 2, 2011 07:40 am

    I regularly use photos from Flickr for editorial use on my many blogs - I *always* abide by the terms, though. If the image is licensed CC-NoDeriv, I'll not even crop it without asking explicit permission. A case could even be made for resizing, but that's as far as I'm willing to take it.

  • Ramón September 2, 2011 07:23 am

    I can relate to the topic of photo theft. A few weeks ago I received an anonymous tip on Flickr that one of my photos was appearing on the website of a right-wing blog, Traditional Values Coalition. They had cropped out my very visible watermark and are now using it to attack a California senator.
    I wrote to them, using their own contact page, but they’ve chosen to ignore me demand that they remove the photo.

    My advice? Plant your watermark smack in the center of a photo. If people complain about it, there’s a good chance that they want to use it without your permission.

    This isn’t the first time that I’ve discovered my photos being used without my permission, but this is by far the most egregious one to date.

  • Brett September 2, 2011 07:19 am

    I honestly don't see what all the fuss is about. google+ uses Picasa as it's image component. If you don't want people stealing your High Res images, don't put them on Google+. Or put a conspicuous watermark on them. It's not rocket science.

    Personally, I never post anything on Flickr, Picasa, or anywhere else for that matter larger than 1600 px, and I use an obnoxious, unambiguous watermark on my public shares. Frankly, I'm more concerned about people buying and then freely redistributing my full Res stock material than I am about Google+. Sharing is the name of the game in Social networks -that's the whole point.