I’m taking a break from my fun Italy posts to address something more serious- what to do when someone steals your intellectual property or uses it without your permission. Because yes, it happened to me.
Recently, I happened to search for Burano Island on Pinterest to see if any of my pins were doing well. What I found was that one of my photos was actually at the top of my search, but it went to a different website. I clicked through and found one of my photos of Burano Island used in a post on an online magazine’s website. I had never heard of this website before, and I certainly had never given them permission to use my photo. They did link to my website (but did not include my name- the name of the photographer), but something gave me an uneasy feeling about the situation. I didn’t think it was right that anyone can use any photo they want for as long as they link to where they found it. There are tons and tons of websites to find free and cheap photos, but my photos are not free.
While I debated what to do about it, I researched photography copyright laws and posted in a few different Facebook groups asking for advice. Some people said I should be flattered and happy to get traffic to my blog from such a big website with a large following, many people said I should send an invoice (especially since it was a large company using it, not a newbie blogger with a small following), and others said I should just ask them to take down my photo.
Ultimately, I decided to send the company a polite but firm email explaining that they were violating copyright laws and attached an invoice saying they had two weeks to pay it before I would involve my lawyer. I was so nervous that it took me two days to write the email and my heart would stop every time I got an email the days following! And in hindsight, I should have asked for more money than I did. Here are a few reasons why I chose this route:
- I would have appreciated traffic to my blog from this website, but I checked my analytics and I have gotten ZERO traffic from them, so I was reaping no benefits
- It didn’t make any sense for me to ask them to take down my photo because it had already been up for a month
- I’m a photographer and I make money from my work. If someone shoplifts from a store or plagiarizes or robs a jewelry store, they get in trouble and have to face the consequences. Even though my photo was digital, the laws still apply. This website stole my work from me without paying for it or even contacting me to ask my permission
- I have it posted in a few places on my website that all photographs on my website are taken by me and copyrighted, and no one can use my photos without my permission
- The author of the post was lazy. They used several different photographs from different places, and they included some photographers’ names but not others. My name is incredibly easy to find, and I even have it in all my social media handles. I also saw that while the author linked to some people’s websites, they didn’t for others. In fact, for one of the photos, they linked to the gallery website where they found the photo and didn’t bother including the photographer’s name or even his own website. It would be like someone finding a pretty picture on Pinterest and attributing it to Pinterest, not the person who created the pin
- I contacted some of the other photographers whose photos were being used, and I found out that none of them had given permission for their photos to be used
- Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. I’ve seen this come up in many Facebook groups that have a lot of people in the creative industry, and it’s true. Even if you think you’re going to help me by advertising my name and work everywhere, I have yet to make a cent off of “exposure,” and like I said before, this magazine included a link and still didn’t give my website any traffic
So after a few days of panicking every time I opened my email, the company replied. Thankfully, they were polite and apologized and agreed to pay my invoice. It did take almost two months before I got the check in the mail though, so I was close to involving a lawyer.
So what should you do if your photo or other intellectual property gets stolen?
The copyright laws for photographers state that as soon as a photo is snapped, it is immediately copyrighted. You don’t have to submit any paperwork to have your pictures copyrighted, and you don’t have to be a professional photographer to have your work copyrighted. As soon as you press the button to take a photo, it is instantly copyrighted and protected by law, it doesn’t matter if you’re Ansel Adams or a blogger taking photos with an iPhone.
Photo by Stephanie
So if you find someone who is using your photo (or any other creative work like videos or graphics) without your permission, they are violating copyright laws (there are a couple of exceptions, so do your research if you’re unsure). As soon as you see your photo being used, take screenshots and save the proof (I was so paranoid that I saved it in several different spots and emailed it to people). If the person removes the photo from their website before you can get proof, it’s going to make your case much harder.
Next, decide what you want to do about it. If it’s driving traffic to your website, is that enough for you? Or do you want to send an invoice? Or, do you want to take it further and hire a lawyer to send a cease and desist notice? It’s entirely up to you what you do next, and it may depend on the circumstances, like in my case.
Now that this situation has been handled, I’m not sure what to do next. I don’t know what I’m going to do to protect my photos, and I’m honestly too scared to see of any of my other photos have been stolen by other websites because I’m sure they have. My photos on my blog are already sized down to 600×400 pixels, so sizing them down isn’t going to help. A watermark wouldn’t be hard for a photo thief with Photoshop to remove, and it distracts my innocent audience from the content in the photos.
I could add a copyright notice to every single blog post, but that would be easy to ignore, as it already has been. I’m leaning towards disabling right clicking on my site, but people have told me how much it annoys them when they can’t right click to open a hyperlink in a new tab, even though I already have my hyperlinks set to open in a new tab (if anyone knows of a WordPress plugin that disables right clicks on photos only, let me know!). So I don’t really know of an easy solution, and I don’t have any good advice to give! Send me any ideas you have!
I hope you’re never in this situation, but if you are, I hope this post has been helpful!