Legal issues like photo theft are a sad fact of life in our digital world. If you share photos online, chances are pretty good that, at some point, you’ll have at least one of those images stolen with nary a whiff of credit or thanks.
But that glass-half-empty outlook shouldn’t stop you from sharing snapshots of your cat. There are steps you can take to make things harder, if not impossible, for those who would steal your work.
How to Keep Track of Your Images
There are a few ways you can keep an eye out for your photos being used without permission online, some of which are proactive.
Do a Reverse Image Search
If you think there’s a chance your work has been taken, conduct a reverse image search to see where insidious copies could be hiding. If you have a lot of photos online, this could be a time-consuming exercise you need to do on a regular basis.
There are several services you can use. Google Images is probably the best known. Another reverse image search engine worth checking out is TinEye. And there are also several ways to do mobile reverse image searches .
You can either upload your image to the Google Image search engine or paste the link to the copy you’ve shared online. Just be sure to use the image URL that ends in .JPG and not the page URL.
Use an Online Monitoring Service
If you have a trove of online photos, you can take reverse image searches to the next level and use a service that monitors the use of your photographs online. Pixsy is one of the few services that offers a free plan, with up to 500 images monitored. To sign up for a Pixsy account, you’ll have to request an invite.
In addition to monitoring, when Pixsy finds a copy of your photo being used without permission, they can work on your behalf to recoup your costs without an upfront fee. They will, however, charge a service fee of up to 50 percent of what they secure if they’re successful.
How to Deter People From Stealing Your Images
Before you have to hunt down stolen copies of your photos, there are a few steps you can take to make it harder for people to filch them. Proving ownership isn’t easy if you haven’t been proactive before the theft.
Register Your Images
There are several ways you can register your images to prove ownership. If you’re willing to go toe-to-toe with an image thief, there’s no better partner to have in your corner than the United States Copyright Office.
For a reasonable fee you can have your image(s) granted a copyright that is indisputable proof of your ownership. And you can do it all from the comfort of your couch. Do this before there’s trouble and the battle’s over before it starts. Note that the copyright will be enforced in many countries, but not all, so check to see if your individual circumstance will be supported.
If you want to go the free route, MyOws is a good option. It serves as an archive of your work, which you can log for free, and the site also allows you generate contracts for legal use of your images. MyOws offers dispute resolution for when your images have been used and can be used to file DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notices.
Lenstag is known for helping photographers recover stolen gear by registering camera and lenses on the site to prove ownership, but they also offer a similar services for your photos.
Watermark Your Images
Watermarks can be effective, but they can also be an eyesore. If you choose to go this route, think about something tasteful. That said, a small and unobtrusive watermark is easily cropped out, so think about placement and how it can impact your photo.
You can add watermarks using Photoshop .
If you’re worried about images on your personal site being stolen, but don’t want to compromise on image quality, consider a hard to spot watermark that won’t necessarily stop people from stealing your photos, but will make it practically impossible for them to remove it.
Crop Part of the Image
If you’re worried about proving to future arbiters that the original photo is indeed yours, you could crop out a small portion of the photo before you publish, and prove originality with continuity.
Anti-hotlinking measures simply prevens your image from being displayed on another site. But it doesn’t prevent a thief from simply saving and republishing your images. To prevent that, consider using the HTACCESS method. At the end of the day, the method you choose depends on your platform.
Does disabling right-clicking prevent someone from taking a screenshot of what they want? No. But it does make them jump through more hoops to get the deed done. And let’s face it: if they weren’t lazy, they’d be taking the photo themselves.
Add Your Information to the Metadata
To prove ownership of your images, you can also add your info to the metadata of your photo. While this is something that can ultimately be removed if someone really wants to, it’s an easy layer of security to add.
You can add your copyright information using Adobe products. Lightroom is the most convenient option for adding this metadata.
What to Do When You Find Your Image Being Used
Despite all your best efforts, there’s always going to be someone out there who’s going to find a way to steal your images. There are a few things you can do, but unfortunately most of them are prohibitively expensive — which is probably why copyright infringement is such a significant problem online.
File a DMCA Notice
Even if you don’t use a site like MyOws, you can reach out to social networking, photo sharing, and e-commerce sites to file a DMCA notice if your image is being used without your permission. Each site has its own process and DMCA requirements. Here are a few links to copyright information for the more popular sites:
If a thief is sharing the images on a personal websites, you can file a DMCA notice with their ISP instead. You can find out more on how to file a DMCA notice with an ISP here — and check out sample DMCA takedown notice template.
Send a Cease and Desist Letter
You can send the letter yourself, or hire a lawyer to send it for you. The latter is a costly venture, and in that case, you may want to cut your losses and get your content into an online monitoring system that will take care of it in the future.
File a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
This is the most extreme (and costly) option available to photographers, and one that could lead to a drawn out process. You would have to file a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court. The United States Copyright Office offers some information on who to contact when considering a copyright infringement lawsuit, and this is a process for which you will definitely need a lawyer.
To get a sense of just how expensive this process can be, PetaPixel gives the example of one photographer who won a $1.2 million settlement… but not before $2.5 million in legal fees.
The Ultimate Solution
There’s only one way to completely avoid the possibility of your photos being stolen. The sad truth is that keeping a private collection or password protecting your online photos are the only things that will keep them absolutely safe.
But if you take a few proactive steps before you publish, you can reduce the likelihood of theft. And if you know what to do once you’ve discovered that theft, you’ll be more likely to reach a positive resolution.
Have you found your images being used online without your permission? What have you done about it? Do you have any tips for how to prevent people from stealing your photos? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credit: Paul Biryukov via Shutterstock.com
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