I have been using Pixsy for a while now to keep track of copyright infringement of my photography and where possible, pursue payments.
Having worked through the system a few times now, I have identified a number of simple steps that photographers can take to protect their copyright and pursue infringement.
You may or may not care about copyright infringement right now, but there is really no reason not to protect yourself just in case.
Continue reading for my suggested best practices to protect your photography copyright and pursue infringement.
Watermark Your Photography
I hate watermarks as much as the next person, but there are several good reasons to always watermark any photographs you share online.
The main reason to watermark your photography is that if the infringer has removed a watermark from your image it demonstrates willful infringement – ie. they knew that they were doing something wrong and tried to cover it up.
If you can demonstrate intent, it makes your claim for damages against the infringer much stronger – so its best practice to add a watermark to every Lightroom export.
Watermarks do not have to be giant obtrusive eyesores either – just a small subtle brand logo or copyright tag is sufficient – such the watermark on this image (can you even find it?):
Identify Legitimate Use Versus Infringement
One of the most difficult aspects of protecting your photography copyright is identifying legitimate use versus infringement.
For example, my photography is sold and distributed through Stocksy United. Because I am not the selling agent, I only know what images have been sold, but not to whom or where they will be used.
The last thing you want to do is launch a copyright infringement claim against an organization that has a legitimate license.
A watermark helps identify legitimate licensing versus copyright infringement (licensed uses would not have a watermark) but obviously it’s not foolproof.
The best method I have found for differentiating legitimate use versus infringement is to publicly share images that have not had any corporate logos removed (photography sold as stock or licensed to clients would have all corporate logos cleaned up).
While photo thieves might take the time to clone out a watermark, there is no way they are going to take the time to carefully remove corporate logos, or even realize that you are using those logos as a stealth watermark.
Here is an example of one of my most heavily infringed photos and most profitable stock images – notice the Nike swoosh on the swim cap (as well as a University logo behind the bubbles and another teeny tiny swoosh on the goggles)? As soon as I see that Nike swoosh I know that I’m looking at a copyright infringement use and not a legitimate stock license.
Track Your Image Details
In order to prove infringement, you need to know a few key things about your image.
These include details about the original image such as the title and when and where the photo was captured.
You also need to know where your photo was published online.
Tracking these points can be extremely tedious – especially if you share a large number of photos online – but there are a number of best practices you can use to simplify the tasks involved.
I keep a special Lightroom collection that contains all images that I share online – via email, website or social media – everything that leaves my hard drive electronically. This way even if the metadata has been stripped I can easily locate the original image and view the original capture metadata (including the title, date and location of capture).
To automate tracking where and when my photos were originally published online, I use If This Then That (IFTTT).
Every time I post an image to one of my social media accounts (500px, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook), an IFTTT recipe automatically saves a copy to Dropbox and a record to Pocket with the date, posted URL and title (if available).
Registration With US Copyright Office
Most advice on copyright protection usually recommends that you should register your photography with the US Copyright Office.
The idea is that if your work is registered with the US Copyright Office, you can pursue statutory damages (between $750 and $30,000 per work, at the discretion of the court, up to $150,000 where willful infringement is determined).
However, if your work is not registered, you can only claim actual damages, such as the amount it would have cost the infringer to purchase a legitimate license (far less than statutory damages).
However, I have never really gotten a straight answer if this is necessary for photographers who don’t live in the US.
For example, I live in Canada and it is my understanding that Canadian copyright law automatically includes up to $20,000 in statutory damages for commercial infringement. I suspect that most industrialized countries have their own copyright law that similarly would not rely on registration with the US Copyright Office. I further suspect that most country’s copyright law would include statutory damages by default.
I think the only time registration with the US Copyright Office would come into play for a global photographer is if they are pursuing an infringement case against a US based infringer.
Personally, the whole registration requirement to claim statutory damages for US infringement seems like an outdated colossal pain in the ass – it seems unlikely that anyone would be able to register every single photo they share online even if they wanted to.
Identify Photography Copyright Infringement and Get Paid
As I said at the beginning, I use Pixsy to keep track of copyright infringement of my photography and where possible, pursue payments.
Most infringement is from social media sites, spam sites or from websites that are located in countries where local copyright laws make pursuing infringement violations impossible.
However, there is still a large amount of commercial copyright infringement from businesses operating in industrialized countries with robust copyright law – enough that it is definitely worth your time to pursue payments for unlicensed use.
Pixsy simplifies this process but tracking copyright infringement with Google Image search and sending invoices directly is not as difficult as it might sound.
At the very least, I believe that the more photographers there are who aggressively pursue payments for unlicensed use, the better it is for the industry as a whole – so even if your invoice is ignored, you are still helping everyone else by raising awareness.
What Do You Think
How do you protect the copyright of your photography?
Is copyright even relevant today?
Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!