A Guide to Plagiarism and Theft in Photography

Jun 8, 2015

Robert Baggs

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

A Guide to Plagiarism and Theft in Photography

Jun 8, 2015

Robert Baggs

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Join the Discussion

Share on:


In 2013, my most popular article (by some distance) was the story of how my most successful image was plagiarised in a rather unusual way; a photographer had recreated the image from scratch. It seemed to me to be a bit of a grey area, and I was unsure where I stood legally. The photographer hadn’t stolen my image and wasn’t selling his recreation, but he had stolen my idea and that is intellectual property theft. The problem was resolved rather quickly and painlessly in the end but in that regard, I was one of the lucky ones. It did, however, prompt me to write a comprehensive guide on the subject after I could only find very segmented information spread over several websites. I wanted the relevant information all in one place in an ordered fashion and as that wasn’t possible, I decided to create it myself.

This guide is in 3 major parts: prevention, detection and reaction. Firstly, how to prevent or deter plagiarism or theft of your images. Secondly, how to detect and identify any images or ideas that have been stolen – the internet is vast and finding your images where you hadn’t put them is a daunting task. Finally, the various ways in which you can react if you find one or more of your images or ideas have been stolen.

2. Plagiarism & Theft

2.1 Defining Plagiarism

It is first important to know the different types of plagiarism and what constitutes a case and what does not. The Oxford English Dictionary defines plagiarism as ‘the practice of taking someone else’s work and passing them off as one’s own.’ This is a little vague and requires unpacking further. The more legal definition is the following:

The act of appropriating the literary composition of another author, or excerpts, ideas, or passages therefrom, and passing the material off as one’s own creation.’

(Click here for source.)

So, taking someone’s work and passing it off as one’s own does not exclusively refer to the most obvious case: somebody uses a photograph you have taken and claims to have taken it themselves. This is obviously a case of plagiarism and despite how unsophisticated and easily detected it is, it’s still overwhelmingly common (click through for one of the more repugnant examples of late). This is exacerbated dramatically by both the transition of photographs to digital as its primary medium and storage, and the internet. That is to say, a photographer with only physical work and no online presence is far less likely to be plagiarised. However, the perks of the digital age far outweigh the cons as I would argue is obvious.

Direct theft of an image is not the only way in which a photographer is vulnerable to plagiarism as the quote above demonstrates. My personal experience listed in the introduction is an example of visual plagiarism and pertains to the theft of an idea or concept. (There is an interesting article on cases of visual plagiarism here.) As I eluded to in my original article of my stolen idea, the lines between similar ideas and theft of an original idea are almost blurry beyond distinction (note: ‘almost’). If I were to take a photograph of a woman in a red dress in front of the Eiffel Tower, I ought not be outraged when I see someone else’s image of a woman in a red dress in front of that particular landmark. However, if the details of an image are followed too closely then there is certainly a case for plagiarism.

Plagiarism is a deep and difficult problem in photography, now more than ever, and if I were to write a comprehensive paper outlining every aspect of what it is, it would be more of a tome than an article. So let’s move on to the most important step: prevention.

3. Prevention

I list prevention as the most important step merely because prevention is invariably preferable to curing, and plagiarism is no exception. So here are some ways to deter image thieves:

3.1 Watermarks

This is one of the most obvious ways to deter potential thieves from your image and one of the easiest to carry out. A watermark is simply a logo or author name often accompanied with the date and the trusty ©. It is worth noting that images without the © are not unprotected by copyright laws – that is a myth.

This is a useful tool for two reasons: firstly it works as an aforementioned deterrent – the more work a thief has to do the more likely they are to try and find an easier alternative. Secondly, it has its promotional purposes.

The two most common and effective ways to add watermarks to your images are either Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. Here are few relevant tutorials:

Watermarks in Photoshop:

YouTube video

Watermarks in Lightroom:

YouTube video

Watermarks are an easy option, but they are also easily countered. For example, the above image could have half an inch cropped off the bottom and it becomes nameless again. Also, it is not particularly difficult to clone out most watermarks in Photoshop. Again, I ought to stress that watermarks work as a deterrent and are certainly not a bulletproof method.

3.2 In-Camera Copyright

Another easy way to add a simple layer of protection is to add the copyright information in to your camera so that each image’s EXIF data contains the author, copyright information and so on. To do this you can follow one of the guides below:

3.3 Ease of Acquisition

3.31 Image-Sharing Websites

To avoid your images being stolen directly, you must be vigilant and often one of the easiest and most important ways is overlooked. If a thief can find your image, right click and ‘save as’ the full-sized file you’re doing something wrong. The perfect case in point is most of the images on Flickr. A huge number of high quality images can be simply right clicked and the ‘original size’ selected for a full resolution and full quality copy to be downloaded immediately and hassle-free. Here is Flickr’s advice on this very topic:

Flickr provides some deterrents to discourage downloading. You can go here to hide your original sizes (Pro accounts only) and disable right-clicking. You can also go here and disable the share feature.

Understand that these are minor roadblocks, at best. Any photo that can be seen can be downloaded. That is the nature of the Internet. This is from the FAQ:

“We’ve made changes to the page to discourage casual downloading and make people more aware of image ownership …. by ‘discourage’ we do mean simply ‘discourage’. Please understand that if a photo can be viewed in a web browser, it can be downloaded by people who actively disregard our roadblocks.”

You can make your ‘stream private, visible only to a select few. Remember, however, that adding a private photo to a group will enable any signed-in group member to see it, and thus copy it.

If, despite these precautions and others (All Rights Reserved, watermarks, etc.) someone publishes your photos, you may want to pursue legal action.

In short, don’t post any photos online that you can’t afford to lose control over.

Although possibly true, I vehemently object to the closing statement of that advice. One ought to feel comfortable and protected in sharing one’s images online without having to accept that any control over that image has been not only jeopardized, but completely lost into the digital ether. Another tip regarding any image hosting website such as Flickr or similar is to not upload the full sized file. If you scale down the image to even 50% of its original resolution, the number of applications of that file are drastically reduced; one cannot print the image at a decent size, they won’t be able to sell the image to companies and it is likely to be rejected by most competitions.

3.32 Portfolios

Another common problem is a photographer’s portfolio. The same problem that I have highlighted with Flickr can sometimes be replicated – albeit to a lesser degree – on the photographer’s own website. If one’s portfolio allows the right-click and ‘save image’ of your photographs then you ought to review the method for sharing those images. This can be combated by using portfolios that disable the specific actions of right-clicking, or alternatively by using a Flash portfolio which has the same effect. For example, my portfolio which can be seen by clicking here is not only Flash but has right click disabled entirely. (Note: some image sharing websites – 500px for example – have this feature automatically enabled along with not being able to see the full sized image by default.)

As anyone even remotely au fait with computers will already be aware, this isn’t a flawless solution. There is nothing stopping the user of your portfolio simply pressing print screen on the image they want and then cropping the file to the parameters of the photograph they desire. However, as already discussed, this will be a low resolution version and is far less useful.

3.4 Paying for Rights

It is a sad realisation that for the best protection of your work, you must pay money to receive the full extent of the law, but so be it. There are two other effective routes for preventing plagiarism and they will unfortunately require one to dip their hand in their pocket.

3.41 Copyright

The first is registering a copyright. For a full guide on how to do this, where to do this and what rights it affords the photographer, follow the links below:

Although registering the copyright for an image is certainly not inexpensive – especially if you wish to do so for a large body of work – it does have its benefits. It cannot stop theft from occurring, but it does mean that one is in a better position – legally speaking – if it should occur and there is allegedly a higher chance of larger fees for damages being paid to the photographer.

3.42 Digimarc

Of all the prevention techniques I have listed, Digimarc is probably the most thorough and effective. Here is Digimarc’s own description of what they do for images:

Digimarc® for Images allows you to embed imperceptible, persistent digital watermarks into your images to communicate ownership and other information — wherever the images travel across the Internet.

They offer a number of packages for anything from the small-time professional through to the photography tycoon. A succinct summary of what the service does is this: it adds a digital watermark to one’s images that cannot be removed or changed and means one’s registered images are tracked relentlessly.

The prices are reasonable, especially if you are not taking thousands and thousands of pictures per annum, but as with the other deterrents and ways of protecting your images listed in this section, it isn’t infallible. The registered images can still be stolen and your rights are the same as without Digimarc; the benefit lies in how quickly you can identify plagiarism and can act upon it. This brings me to the next section: how to find your images that have been plagiarised or stolen.

4. Detection

The prevention of plagiarism is certainly important and you ought to be as prepared as possible. Regardless, there is one glaringly apparent constant present in all deterrents: you can still have your images stolen. In fact, a photographer could employ all of the techniques in section 3 and whilst well protected, that photographer’s body of work is still vulnerable. So it is now important to understand the options available to a photographer for finding their work that has been plagiarised. Firstly, as mentioned in the closing of section 3, Digimarc is an excellent way to track your images and therefore is a successful detection system. However, there are other options that are free.

4.1 A Guide to Google’s ‘Search by Image’

Some time ago, using Google to find your images that have been stolen would be tantamount to dialling random phone numbers of anyone in the world and hoping to get through to a friend. The introduction of Google’s ‘Search by Image’ has put a halt to that almost fruitless task. Search by Image does exactly what it says on the tin: it allows the user to upload or link an image and have Google comb the internet for two things:

  1. Instances of that image
  2. Similar images

The application and uses of 1) is fairly self evident. By being able to browse every website that displays the your image, you can find instantiations of it which are theft and/or plagiarism. The benefits of 2) are with regards to the aforementioned visual plagiarism; the theft of an idea. It isn’t an exact science by any stretch of the imagination as it attempts to match up pixel by pixel similarities and it can result in wildly different images to the human eye. That said, it will unearth imitation or parody if the offending image is close enough to the original. So here is a step by step guide on how to use Search by Image:

1) Click here to access Google’s Search by Image.


2) Search by either pasting a link to your image (the url should end in a still media format file extension – i.e: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5489/11448122345_fdb4c62850_z.jpg) or by uploading the image from your computer.

3) Browse the results to see where your image occurs.


As you can see, there over 10 pages of instantiations of my image on various websites around the internet. Of those near 300 occurrences of my image Adversity only a few are either my website(s) or uses I have signed off on, so to speak. A lot of the websites that use my image are people on forums discussing how I made the image or featuring as their image of the day. Some credit me and some don’t. There are even a few websites who feature it as one of their images of the day that do not credit me and are probably making money off of advertising from it, and I will be contacting them. The others I will leave be. This is perhaps a refinement of the Flickr quote from section 3.31, but if you want to upload and share your images online, stopping any uses what-so-ever without your permission will be a full time job. The cases to which I take umbrage with are ones where the ‘thief’ (I use that term rather loosely here) is making money either directly or indirectly (i.e via advertising) from my work without my permission.

As you can also see in that image, the ‘visually similar images’ section is hit and miss in the extreme; as lovely as that rather orange painting of Jesus is, it’s certainly not plagiarising any of my work!

4.2 Plagiarism Detection Sites

Google’s Search by Image is not the only website that offers plagiarism detection and there are sites that have been doing similar jobs for some time. Here is a selection of alternatives that don’t always dig up the same results:

  • Tin Eye – By far the most famous among photographers and very effective.
  • Copyscape – A text focused alternative.

In my experience, if you’re not using Google’s Search by Image you ought to be using Tin Eye – the others are long shots.

4.3 Community

Search engines are irrefutably useful for finding misuses of a photographer’s images but they can’t always find them and if you have a particularly successful image, it can be severely time consuming. One of the most effective and powerful anti-plagiarism approaches is to be a part of the photography community as a whole. The case of plagiarism that I experienced was in fact flagged up to me by a number of other photographers and it is these acts of kindness that prove invaluable.

Most photographers – or any worth their salt – will detest image theft and plagiarism. Therefore, in the interest of attacking this evil and in the hope that others will do the same for them, they will often alert you to the offender. In fact, there are community driven websites dedicated to this very task, namely Photo Stealers and I implore you to support them. Websites like Reddit (more specifically /r/photography), TalkPhotography, Petapixel and even photo sharing websites like 500px and Flickr all have communities within them. Being an active part of these communities will not only offer myriad benefits, it will act as a kind of anti-plagiarism device in and of itself. Furthermore, the communities tend to band together and plague the offender in to submission as they did in my case and as has very often been the case with Reddit and Petapixel. Blogger David Hobby of Strobist fame will testify to this fact as his wealth of fans rallied to his defence after finding an unauthorized use of his image.

5. Reaction

If your methods of prevention fail and your methods for detection succeed, it is time for reaction.

5.1 Cease & Desist

Although you are not legally obliged to send this email or letter, it ought to be most people’s first port of call. It is simply making contact with the person responsible for the plagiarism or theft which asks for them to stop using the image in ways that breach the photographer’s copyright. Alternatively, if the offender is not using the image for financial gain, you could request appropriate credit and/or the image be hotlinked to your portfolio.

Here are some cease & desist letter templates.

5.2 Invoicing

A lot of photographers appear to shy away from this in my experience. This route is most useful when a publication or news outlet uses one of your images without permission. These cases can range from minor settlements between parties in private, through to photojournalists suing media agencies in court cases that last years. The reticence of photographers to take this action stems from a lack of understanding of how the media and freelance photographers interact.

Sports photography is the most useful case to illuminate why this action is often the quickest and cleanest. The father of a close friend of mine has run his own sports photography business for many years and through this friend I learnt exactly how the process works. The photographer will attend a sporting event as press and will take a number of pictures. These pictures will be quickly edited and distributed to news agencies and they will either use them or discard them. The photographer (or someone working for him) will then sift through all the publications looking for any photographs that the photographer in question took, noting down any he or she finds and what size and where they were used. Then, using the photography pricing guides (like this one) the photographer sends an invoice to the publication for the usage and they pay the fee. So if a newspaper, news outlet or similar print your image (or use it digitally) without your consent, sending an invoice is by no means alien to them.

Not only do I suggest this method as an alternative to legal action in theory, I have experience carrying it out in practice. I once sold an image of the UK riots to a broadsheet here in England and they printed it and used it digitally. They credited me and deposited the correct amount of money for the image’s usage in to my bank account. Several months later the same broadsheet used another image of mine (presumably found on Flickr as that’s where I get approached the most by media) without asking my permission first. I spoke to the son of the sports photographer about it and he explained to me everything I eluded to in the above paragraph and told me to invoice them. I invoiced them for the usage and they promptly paid the fee without question. I need not highlight the merit of this particular course of action any further than that.

This subsection marks the beginning of the more legal side to things, of which I cannot profess to have any knowledge of in a professional capacity. So instead I will quote Sara F. Hawkins’ definition of what the DMCA is and prompt you to click the link below to visit her article on it should you require more information.

First, let’s define what a DMCA is. DMCA is actually short for Digital Millennium Copyright Act and it is a group of laws that protect copyrighted content on digital mediums. Signed into law in 1998, the DMCA has been the go-to source for many of the copyright infringement issues arising due to the proliferation of digital media. There are many aspects of the law, but the one most people are familiar with is the DMCA Takedown Notice.

Click here for more information and to read Sara’s full article.

The next step should the above three methods either not prove fruitful, or need to be skipped in a more serious case, I suggest seeking proper legal assistance in order to file a lawsuit.

6. Further Reading

If I have missed any details you deem important or helpful, misinformed in an area or am inaccurate or require more depth for lucidity’s sake, please feel free to comment on this article or contact me directly. Any additions made to this article on the advice or submission of a reader will be properly accredited (as it would be unprecedented levels of irony not to) and the author thanked. I will keep this article updated where possible.

Filed Under:

Tagged With:

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!


About Robert Baggs

Robert K. Baggs is a 26 year old photographer from Hertfordshire, England, he is currently a research fellow at Hertfordshire University studying for his MA in philosophy. Robert also runs Acufocal,  a site dedicated to fashion, style and photography with a particular interest in portraiture and fashion photography. You can also follow Robert on 500px, twitter. This article was originally published here and shared with permission.

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

17 responses to “A Guide to Plagiarism and Theft in Photography”

  1. Robby Hoke Avatar
    Robby Hoke

    Good luck

  2. Felipe Buccianti Avatar
    Felipe Buccianti

    Ironically, this was the next post in my feed: Fascinating short shows Quentin Tarantino’s replicated scenes from other films http://ow.ly/O0Ml3

  3. Acufocal Avatar

    Thank you for the feature guys.

    1. DIYPhotography Avatar

      thank you, its a great article!

  4. Rocco Avatar

    Im really more interested in the “Stealing idea / recreation / homage / inspired by” concept than the copyright one. The copyright one is very obvious and the way to avoid it have been explained many times by you and countless other articles, and it is a living thing that changes constantly as technology changes.

    But giving credit is a different thing. In songs, you can copyright a song (music and lyric) but in photography (I think) you cant. I cant play or record Beatles’ songs without giving credit, and they will take a cut of the sells as authors.

    But I can make that photo and not give you credit. You may think Im a douche, I can even say it is an homage, or inspired by. Where is the line between recreation and inspired by? look at this post:


    Specially the skull photo, the one that gives credit, and even shows the original photo with Salvador Dali in it. What bothers me is how it gives credit:

    “The main image was inspired by an classic image created by Salvador Dali and Philippe Halsman called In Voluptate Mors”

    Voluptuous Death. Do you think it is inspired by? An homage? Or is it just a recreation? I think it is a recreation, not inspiration. The equivalent of singing a cover song, not something that sound a bit like. But it is debatable So choosing the right words, is also important when giving credit.

    But again, in an industry where we are constantly copying, constantly recreating, where photographers use mood boards with photos of other photographers without credit, or recreate classic paintings, anime drawings, or other photos, is it really stealing? Or is it how this craft is expanding? And do we need to add credit to everything? Im sure you got the ideas from your shot from somewhere else. The mask, the rain (what is it, is it rain? Or something different? I can tell, it looks like some kind of sparkles). Im sure you are not the first one to use those things, but you made them your own at some point. Making it your own is part of our craft.

    This is a bigger debate, and a lot more interesting than copyright. The debate of how we grow as a photographer on the shoulders of other photographers and at what point we need to give credit or not. A lot more interesting for sure, unless you are a lawyer.

  5. MarkusPetz Avatar

    Great article. As a philosopher you have no doubt pondered upon the bigger ramifications (I am also doing some philosophy – performative philosophy with the Vienna Group Philosophy Unbound). To me these are the change from private ownership to corporate “kleptocratic” ownership. Photographers commonly act as independent agents with occaisonally a few but mostly as master craftsmen/women/children. (by the way when did you hear of Children’s art work being protected?).

    Now we do not have guilds like in mediaeval times to protect us. BUT instead we have corporate persons that steal our creations – when we catch them, punishment consists of asking for take down and small payments in the way of fines / or schedules/rates of pay for image usage.

    Yet we lose several things here. We lose the rights to deciding on which patron we want – I do not want my images used by tobacco companies for example. We lose the commons – so you allude to this when you talk about forums with your image that you will not attack v advertizing magpies that you will.

    FOR me there is an issue that those who are stealing are not really stopped from doing this (I am not talking about fair use here – like you might see in academia – which is a socially acceptable form of appropriation) but how ideas can be patented for some things, but not for others – dance routines, fashion for example that are hard to so protect v. books and music that have strong protection mechanisms.

    In older more brutal times thieves had their hands cut off – what would be the digital equivalent of doing this and could it be done? Why if there is so much blatant theft are law enforcement bodies not doing this? After all you point out stealing is easy and so it is also really easy to find the thieves (they are being public about their thefts). If I am found financially corrupt I can be barred from working in a company. If an abuser or even for other reasosn I can be stopped working as a teacher or with vulnerable people. Why if I am a persistent copyright theft am I not banned from working in e-businesses of any kind? Hackers can be so banned and jailed, why not plagariasers?

    It seems to me the only big “thief” to be attacked is Megaupload (and in that case it seems more that it is because Kim Dot Com is not American – rather than he was an actual thief). As Kim points out YouTube is awashwith stolen AV material, yet there seems no action of a similar vein tacken against YouTube for enabling copyright theft (think of Vimeo trying to compete when people take videos off Vimeo and post them to YouTube to see how this is transforming what is acceptable).

    So that transformation of corporate institutionalism and loss of protection is an interesting aspect in what you cover.

    1. opaqueentity Avatar

      One of the reasons you won’t find cases against the likes of YouTube is that there is a given procedure for requesting things to be removed. And remove them they do, (sometimes with no checking and to the detriment of the real copyright holders!)
      Doesn’t stop more uploads right away but there is a proper procedure. One that megaupload didn’t seem to abide by from what I remember of the court case.

  6. RegularGuy55 Avatar

    Excellent article – even if I haven’t finished reading it all yet.

    Sorry for pulling a ‘grammar police’ move on you, but when you refer to something indirectly you ‘allude’ to it. You ‘elude’ when you try to evade or avoid something.

  7. George Salt Avatar
    George Salt

    Please do not spread links for the UK Copyright Service in a manner that makes them look official – it is a commercial business website not affiliated with any official, government or legal office or organisation. The UK does not have (nor need) a service equivalent to the USCO.

  8. Deacon Blues Avatar
    Deacon Blues

    It’s 2015 and you’re recommending Flash?
    Get thee behind me.

    1. JMinneapolis Avatar

      he’s also recommending watermarks and “disabling” the right click to save a photo. Most pros leave their photo in the best quality and make it easy for people to share it, so it blows up on social media and they get more work. This sounds like the write up of a worrying small-time person who is sure they are not super famous or rich because their photos are getting stolen.

      1. Rocco Avatar

        Completely agree. While I like most of the advice in his post, he has several things I completely disagree with him. Bersides the flash onem that Im completely against. BTW, PRINT SCREEN, got it. You thought flash was secure? Is as insecure, and it also makes your work less visible, so you get less potential clients. IT is double bad.

        Now, some points that Im not agreeing too, besides many I do:

        From flicker:
        “In short, don’t post any photos online that you can’t afford to lose control over.”

        From the author:
        “Although possibly true, I vehemently object to the closing statement of that advice. One ought to feel comfortable and protected in sharing one’s images online without having to accept that any control over that image has been not only jeopardized, but completely lost into the digital ether.”

        Flicker is completely right. IF you cant afford to lose control, don’t post it. If your photo is for a campaign, dont post if. If you are going to sell it, don’t post it. If you are going to make money with it (stock, microstock, selling, etc) dont post it. You are a big fool if you do. Post what you can afford to loose. What is not giving you money. Your personal work. An outtake from a work (not the main photo that appeared in the magazine that payed you) or if you want to show the main photo, do it scanning it from the magazine, specially the cover. Don’t be an idiot and post payed work.

        But the biggest misconception is that he feels he is entitled to have control of the photo. What ever you put in internet you lost control of it. Is the nature of the beast. Its how it works. It is not a closed environment. Is an open and collaborative one. You are loosing control, but gaining notoriety. Clients. Do you think the author of this post was more known before or after his photo was used and he posted his tutorials? He wasn’t. Maybe in 500px (that I use, and have never seen his photo, I probably missed it in the thousands of thousands of great photos, besides his, that are posted daily over there) but not every where else. Even when your photo is stolen, you get more notoriety. He has to be proud now, he is good enough to be stolen, but not good enough to be too obvious he is stolen, hahaha, I haven’t reach that level yet, so feel good about that.

        Finally, A last recommendation. You can waist your time trying to protect your photos, that is impossible, or you can use that time to make a better photo than the one that was stole/recreated. It is how GREAT photographers (or creators) do it. They do a photo, create a style, and everybody goes to emulate it. While everybody is emulating it, great photographers are already changing their style, adding something new, some new photo, they are always one step ahead.

        1. JMinneapolis Avatar

          yes! I think it may be a generational thing. I’ve noticed older photogs spend so much time worrying about where images end up online. It’s like the people who keep reposting the “legal notice” on Facebook. Um, you clicked that you agreed to their terms of use. You have no control to manage anything you post on THEIR platform.

          I don’t have a problem even posting great work or stuff used in a campaign. (of course after the campaign has launched.) It will get more visibility. People will already have grabbed it and reposted, anyway.

        2. Todd Gakk Avatar
          Todd Gakk

          The point being, you don’t have the right to steal the products of another individual’s mind, regardless of the perceived “notoriety” (strange choice of words) that theft may bring to the creator of the images.

          An individual doesn’t “lose control” of his property (i.e., lose his rights of ownership) just by putting it in “an open and collaborative” environment. (Again, a strange choice of words. How is theft “collaborative”? Since when does a victim of theft “collaborate” with his thief?) By your flawed reasoning, I should never park my car on a public street if I don’t want it stolen.

          In short, the perceived and largely invented “benefits” of having your property stolen are utterly irrelevant to the ethics involved. It’s not yours. Hands off.

  9. Todd Gakk Avatar
    Todd Gakk

    Great article. Thanks. Intellectual property theft is indeed a philosophical problem, and must be addressed as such. As noted in the article, there are things a creator may do to thwart or deter or punish a thief, but unless and until we as a culture get to the root of the issue — ethics — we’ll be forever dancing around the tree. Here’s a great place to start:


    “What the patent and copyright laws acknowledge is the paramount role of mental effort in the production of material values; these laws protect the mind’s contribution in its purest form: the origination of an idea. The subject of patents and copyrights is intellectual property.”

  10. Krasbit Avatar

    There are also use cases when a photographer / artist is involved in project where related images were given by customer without any information about the source and rights of use. Or the one when new project is started with draft vision of a direction where you would to go with a hope that design is fresh.

    I’ve developed a Krasbit Recognition plugin for Photoshop & Illustrator that is a real time saver in quickly research if there are already photos or designs published over web which may look similar or identical to yours. And finally – that extension is available at Adobe Exchange for free!

    See this short video at YouTube how it works:

  11. Penny Marshall Wurst Avatar
    Penny Marshall Wurst

    question i teach photography in a high school we have recently moved to digital. i caught a student taking a screen shot of an artist work and plugging it into lightroom and trying to pass it off as hers. is there a quick way for me to spot this in the metadata that it is a screen shot ect