Your Images Are Stolen, Now What?

- - copyright

My post on google’s new search by image feature (Google Announces New Image Search) had a few photographers wondering what to do after discovering images of theirs had been used thousands of times online. You can refer back to the primer called Photography, Copyright, and the Law written by Carolyn E. Wright that I referenced here: What To Do When Your Image Is Stolen Online. I also found a post on this topic over on Jeremy Nicholl’s Russian Photo’s Blog called: The 10 Rules Of US Copyright Infringement. In that post he tells how in January of this year he found one of his photos on the website of a major US media company and he hired Barbara Hoffman of the Hoffman Law Firm to handle the matter. The outcome was a five figure settlement for a 468 pixel wide image used illegally on a site he’d never heard of. Here are his 10 tips:

1. Register your images at the US Copyright Office. “…the USA has a dual copyright system: major protection and zero protection.”

2. Make your copyright information visible.

3. Google Alerts is your friend.

4. Grab all the evidence.

5. Don’t contact the infringer directly. “Did they contact you before heisting your property? So why would you call to warn them you’re on their trail?”

6. Hire a lawyer. (Note: his recommended list here)

7. There’s no such thing as a small infringement. “The substantial penalties for infringement under US copyright law are meant as a deterrent.”

8. Your small-time infringer may be a bigger player than you think. “a few seconds research revealed that both sites are owned by one of the world’s largest media companies”

9. Be forensic. “Identifying repeated infringements demolishes any “isolated case” defence and shows the site infringes as a matter of custom and practic”

10. If you have an agent don’t expect them to protect your copyright.

Visit his blog (here) to read the whole story.

UPDATE:
A few people pointed me to this new post http://waxy.org/2011/06/kind_of_screwed/ where Jay Maisel recently collected from a lawsuit.

There Are 22 Comments On This Article.

  1. Nice.

    Just used it and found one of my images being used in someone else’s Photobucket account. What a thieving dick.

    Used google image search.

  2. Hi,
    again, another great post (imho) – thanks a lot !
    Thanks to Jeremy too, of course.

    I acted after your first posting, redid my images and figured out a way to add a copyright notice to each single image (only visible to image catchers) without destroying the visible appearance for ‘normal’ visitors. There maybe better solution, but for now this works for me.

    With your new post I see (at first glance):
    – a way for photographers to monetize some of their images – which IS GOOD !
    – as the example shows it MIGHT be possible even in high figures – which is even better ! Might help the photographers to act and fight for their money (if they don’t like to fight for their rights)
    – of course, a way to punish all the crooks
    – frighten off some of the “*****” who might think a photographer’s work will come for free. At least when it is around that with Google’s new feature it’s very easy to unveil copyright infringements AND some closed cases are public. (I’m sure you will post some examples in the future)
    -etc …

    Now, what I would like to see (as a non-US citizen):
    – photographers take pictures and aren’t lawyers. Many might be afraid to ‘deal’ with the US-law system (especially the foreign ones). There are a lot of open questions on the ‘How To’. In font of all, what’s about the costs, etc …

    A post by one of the lawyers, a tutorial … in clear, understandable terms (*smile) might be of great help. Maybe the lawyer also could state what might be possible and what will be a waste of time. And I guess this lawyer will get tremendous amount of work …

    Might be more efficient too (instead of replying to each single client) …

    However, many thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Btw, if somebody might be interested I could post a quick and easy tutorial how Google’s image search/indexing works and how to prevent (at least to some extent) that your images get grabbed.

    It’s not only about lost money – the crooks also drive traffic away from your site (to their sites, of course) by using your images while your own images are ranked by far lower (if at all) …

    Best, Reini

  3. No problem, Heike … just call me Reini
    well, at least Heike has asked for it, so it will be worth the effort
    And I’m not a native speaker – so all typos are yours :-)

    Here we go

    PART I ) A NOTE ABOUT FLASH
    If you have a flash site your images are a BIT safer, but you can’t rely on it.

    – Internet isn’t like TV. It is based on downloading. If you can watch it on your display it is already stored on your PC. Where it is stored depends on your operation system and one can very easy grab it.

    – Even easier would be to use Safari’s ‘activity window’. It leads you to the image url. A click, and the image is up. This is especially true for flash sites with xml-feed. And I guess, most photography flash sites use xml, it’s easier to update and maintain.

    – If all fails, a quick screenshot will do the job. Common sense.

    But for most rippers this will be too much effort and they will look elsewhere. And, as explained later, many rippers are not interested in your image – they are interested in the image’s ranking ! And a flash image isn’t indexed ….

    Well, common sense, but I just liked to make sure that a flash based website is NOT a safe.

    To be continued ….

  4. PART II) Google’s image search – A marketplace

    It’s not easy to get indexed high in Google’s text search. We all know that. Either a lot of knowledge, a lot of effort, a lot of money is needed. Or just sheer luck.

    Photographers talk via images. Most visitors are interested in the photos, and less interested in the blabla around a pic. Therefore Google’s image search could be a valuable marketplace for any photographer. But as any photographer knows —> where is light there is shadow and it has it’s drawbacks.

    Google’s image search isn’t that complex and it is ‘quite’ easy to get your image high ranked. To fight image grabbing it’s necessary to explain how Google does index your images (as far I have experienced it). And, btw, to explain how to get your work high up there.

    Well, Google’s image robot is stupid by nature. Unless there isn’t any fancy image recognition software the robot hast to translate the image into searchable terms. This is done by using the image’s name, as well as by fetching the text around. Common sense to many, but not to all (at least I guess so)

    Example:
    Now you have this artsy black shot of a ‘black cat in the night’. If you use a cryptic image url like /xyz125637899.jpg AND no relevant text around the pic, well, how do think the robot will index it ?

    A image url like /black-cat-night-art-photography.jpg and a short description like Art photography of a black cat in the night MIGHT (!) bring it up high with the relevant search terms. But with Google there is never a ‘sure thing’.

    But if you experiment a bit, be creative in the description, etc, or have have a lot of images some will be up high. This could market your work and at least will drive traffic to your site. We all do like it, and it is GOOD.

    But if it is high ranked it also will gain attention by some ‘other’ people – which is BAD

    What can happen (and will happen !) and how to fight it will be explained in the next ‘chapter’ …

  5. PART III) HOTLINKING – the worst case scenario

    Now, your ‘black cat in the night art’ image is high up. You check your stats and you will see traffic caused by search terms like ‘black cat’ or ‘art photography’, etc … Nice, you smile.

    One day your traffic will decrease. You check back Google’s image search. Well, the image is still there. What happened? You hover the image and you will see a different weburl shown below. Not yours. You click the image and you will be routed to another website. Again, not yours. Someone has hotlinked your work.

    1.) your work is used to gain attention
    2.) your traffic is gone
    3.) the traffic is now routed to another site
    4.) YOU pay for the traffic because the image is still hosted on your server. Either by money or, at least, it might slow your site down. Especially when hotlinked by a site with a lot of traffic.

    This a a big drawback with Google’s image search. It is IMPORTANT to know that it is NOT necessary to show the image on a site. It is enough just refer to it.

    a simple will do the job.

    Although it was first published by YOU it is now referring to another site. Not nice by Google, but it’s a fact !

    Very often this hotlinking is done by people who are not really bad. They just don’t know what they are doing, e.g. young kids in forums. Anyway, it is bad for you.

    OK, the good news: hotlinking can be prohibited. It’s done on the server side. Usually by .htaccess. Well, I’ll not explain it here. Use ‘hotlink protection’ (or similar) in Google and it will be explained. Usually it’s not a big deal. With luck it’s done in some minutes and works like a charm. But sometimes more effort is needed and some help from the server crew. ( I needed hours to get it to work *smile)

    Note: don’t rely on the installation of the script only. Check back if it really works. There are free ‘hotlink checkers’ around.
    Note: always clear the browser cache when checking .. otherwise you will be faced with wrong results
    Note: Not all browsers are equal (wow, what news). Check it with all major browsers. Important. IE, FF, Chrome, Safari.
    Just similar when checking your website if it works in all browsers. And please, include Safari ! One might think it is only used by 5% (rough estimate by me) of your visitors. Photographers think again. Safari is mainly used by the graphic industry. Might be just 5% of your site’s visitors – but might 50% of your clients !

    I only can strongly suggest to put on a hotlink protection – it’s worth the effort for your traffic.

    Well, this is only half the story … to be continued (I hope I don’t bore too much)

  6. ok .. error … should read
    a simple a href =”http://yourdomain.com/images/ black-cat-night-art-photography . jpg” I left out the … but you know what I mean

  7. Wow. Jay Meisel sure is a dick.
    He could have at least offered an opportunity to license the photo for an appropriate fee instead of jumping straight into litigation-mode. This is what all the stock agencies and other licensing businesses do when they discover an infringement.

  8. Jay Meisel is a famous photographer not some stock image producer. What on earth would he want to offer a licensing fee for? That’s hilarious. I’m not sure you know who he is. He’s protecting his art/copyright. I am still laughing at the comparison of Jay Meisel to some shmo who takes stock photos. http://www.jaymaisel.com/

    The original guy should have checked that out before using it since he claims to have gone to all kinds of work to make sure everything was above board but never bothered to find out about the cover art. His fault and he had to eat the loss even if he thinks he was in the right. I’m not sure I agree with him but either way it’s his fault for not checking first since this was not some art piece but actual commercial work.

    He has as much right to protect his copyright as a photographer as you and I do as amateurs.

    • Why should it matter how famous he is? Why does someone who takes a stock photograph not have the same right to protect their work as Jay Maisel?

      I’m not famous and if someone took my work in this way I would absolutely offer a licensing fee. It’s called not being a douchebag.

    • Bob,

      A few things:
      Of course he’s in the exact same business as stock agencies, licensing. From Meisel’s own site: “Since he stopped taking on commercial work in the late ’90s…” Where do you think he makes enough money to support his massive building on the bowery? (I shudder to think of the property taxes alone…)

      It’s completely appropriate for Jay to request a licensing fee, rather than jumping into lawsuit mode. The vast majority of copyright infringement is done inadvertently by people who don’t even realize they’re infringing, and when informed of the infringement, they gladly comply and offer a license fee.

      In the music industry, it’s business as usual for artists – musical, visual, etc. – to assign their copyright, so it’s not obvious that the author of the photograph (Meisel) is the legal copyright holder. It’s not always clear-cut who holds the copyright and it obviously wasn’t clear to him (see above: infringers not being aware) whether the license for the music also allowed for use of the album cover (or he would have paid a license fee in the first place).

      It’s also not obvious that the license was necessary – that’s the point of the blog post, that the guy who did the bloop album feels that it’s a derivative work and protected under fair use laws. He’s probably correct in this, since the pixellation certainly adds a layer of commentary and satire to the original. He settled because it was cheaper than hiring lawyers to prove he’s right (although I really wish he had since it could help with precedent-setting).

      And yes, I agree with Tyler – it’s irrelevant how famous he is (and whether or not that fame is deserved is open for debate), and yes, he is a douchebag.

  9. Part IV.) FRAME BUSTER – the last one (big promise)

    now, the hotlink protection is on and working and you get rid of all the furom kids and myspace gals. And all of the crooks who know about the ‘just-referring-is-enough’ feature (!) in Google’s image search. They use it with intent. They are not interested to show your image, the are interested in the traffic of the image.

    Well, now people can no longer hotlink it, and many will f*** off (and also free your server for people who are really interested in your work)

    But some are really nasty and now will steal your image and host it on their own site. Many are too lazy to rename it. So now your image is hosted on

    hotcatinvirginia.tumblr.com/daily-inspiration/uploads/black-cat-night-art-photography. jpg

    What will happen again? Google mainly refers to the image url to index it. The pic is not renamed and is likely in front of yours with the relevant terms. NOT GOOD.

    But not all are just too lazy, again it’s often done by intent. To reroute the traffic. Of course, they will use the images that are high ranked.

    Example: the term ‘art photography’ (google images) will bring up 4 of my images within the first 6 pages. Nice. But none links to my site. All have copied my image url. My own images (the same ones) are shown at page 20 or so, if at all. Not nice.

    Note: if you allow someone to use your images, e.g. for a blog feature, and it is taken right of your site: advise the blogger to rename the titles. Best to use your name with some numbering. Otherwise the images might be in front of yours again.

    A way to prevent it a bit: to install a frame buster/frame killer. As soon as one clicks your image the image isn’t shown in Google’s index (over the site in the background) … of course, easy to rip. With a frame buster the user is immediately routed to the site. It works. Just try to catch an image.
    Not a 100% protection, one can take it from your site. But at least it frightens off some ‘nice’ people.

    A frame buster is just a short code of Java. You can use google to find one. Here is the one that works best AND keeps the browser’s back button intact (important).

    0) top.location.replace(document.location);
    –>

    You can put it anywhere in your site’s code. But I would suggest to put it within the header section. As far up it is as faster it works. It also keeps the design of your site intact.

    Maybe not everyone might like it. You might think users are annoyed when they are ‘redirected’. They maybe afraid to be redirected to a spam site. I have no bad experiences with this code. It mainly scares aways the image rippers. Of course, it is up to you to use it. But use a code that keeps the back browser button working.

    Btw, sometimes images are used to lure traffic to real spam sites. YOUR image is clicked and the user is forwarded to a site that will harm the user’s PC. Bad neighborhood. Would you like it ? But this can very easy resolved with Google’s report spam feature.

    That’s it .. Not really a 100% protection, but some ways to make it harder for the crooks. The methods mentioned above shall mainly protect YOUR traffic caused by YOUR images. If one really might misuse your image he will find a way, of course. Ok, therefore you can report it to Google or write to the webmaster (works in most cases) —> or lawyer (and cash in, hopefully).

  10. The Jay Meisel case really does not belong in the same post as the clearly violating use cited in the original article you refer to . As the commenter said, it was a ‘dick’ move, as the pixellated version was obviously a new, albeit derivative, artwork that served a completely different niche and was in no way interchangeable in use with the original piece. It is the kind of lawsuit that will lose respect for copyright (and eventually protection) for all of us, for all of our images. If talented artists cannot even comment artistically on well-known, iconic works without the allusion being cited as copyright infringement, we will surely lose the respect of non-photographer creatives for our intellectual property rights, and only degrade our ability to protect our images from unauthorized use.

  11. Does anyone have any suggestions for trying to find the copyright holder for a specific image? I’ve been trying to find the photographer of a certain shot for a LONG time and am completely out of ideas…so any suggestions at all would be GREATLY appreciated! I even posted a copy of the photo in question and the tale of my search on my blog: http://arismusings.blogspot.com/2010/10/desperately-seeking-photographer.html – if anyone has any information about the possible photographer/copyright holder for this shot or any suggestions for what I might try to further my search, I would be SO incredibly grateful! Thanks!

  12. Yes this has happened to me many times. I usually contact the person who stole my image and ask them to make sure and link my website to the image, or to remove the image, or they can purchase the image…. most of the time I am successful.

    This article is very educational and I’m happy to find it. (thanks Michelle)

  13. Rule No. 7 above states: There’s no such thing as a small infringement. “The substantial penalties for infringement under US copyright law are meant as a deterrent.”

    However, in the real world, even with an image that is registered properly with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to an infringement, attorneys rarely take cases on contingency – unless the image was used by a major company such as the example in this post. The sad fact is that most photographers do not have the money to hire attorneys to defend an image or images.

    Have money will travel.