I Just Made $2500 From A Single Copyright Infringement – And You Can Too

Oct 29, 2016

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

I Just Made $2500 From A Single Copyright Infringement – And You Can Too

Oct 29, 2016

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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Pixsy fight photo theft

There’s nothing better than receiving an email with a $2500 paycheck attached to it out of the blue.

That was my cut of a settlement that Pixsy was able to secure on my behalf from a single unauthorized use of one of my photos.

If you’ve ever had one of your photos published without a license (and who hasn’t), I am going to try to explain why and how you can get paid (in cash not credit) for the unauthorized use of your creative work.

About Pixsy


If you’re not familiar with Pixsy, they are a reverse image search engine with an in-house team of licensing experts as well as a global network of law firms that help photographers recover monetary compensation for unauthorized use of their work.

For copyright infringement cases where Pixsy is able to collect payment, a 50% royalty is paid to the photographer. (Considering all the work that goes into actually securing payment, I personally think that 50% is totally reasonable.)

Pixsy, can also be used to simplify the process of sending DMCA take-down notices for cases where you don’t want to pursue payment but just want your work removed from an infringing site.

For the record, am not associated with Pixsy in anyway. I just think that they offer a great service that all photographers and creative professionals should know about.

UPDATE: If you’re interested in joining Pixsy we have arranged for a special invitation code for DIYP readers. Please click here to join!

Pixsy fight photo theft

Why You Should Pursue Payment for Copyright Infringement

Before we get started, photo theft is never a good thing.

Every single time that a photograph is distributed without permission or monetary compensation to the photographer it harms the entire photography industry.

Eventually, tech companies will be forced to take copyright seriously and build copyright protection into their platforms – but until then, it is up to all of us to police copyright infringement as best we can.

In the past year I have submitted twenty copyright infringement cases to Pixsy. Ten were determined to be untenable, seven are still pending, one was unsuccessful and two were resolved and paid out.

For the two cases that Pixsy was able to resolve, one infringer paid $1400 USD and the other paid $5000 USD, out of which my cut was 50%.

Those sums are much higher than the infringers would have paid if they would have just legitimately licensed the images in the first place – and you can be guaranteed that they will never publish another image without permission again.

I do feel mildly bad for the person on the other end who is going to be held responsible for these significant payments. Image theft is so mainstream that they might not have even realized the magnitude of what they were doing – so rampant copyright infringement harms both sides.

Pixsy fight photo theft

How You Can Get Paid For Copyright Infringement

Of course you can go after copyright infringement on your own. You can even hire a lawyer and go to court if you want. But unless you’re talking about a very large fish with a major violation, its probably not worth your time and effort.

I have tried to pursue the kinds of infringement cases that Pixsy routinely goes after on my own in the past. However I was either totally ignored, or sent a terse F$#k Off And Die letter by a corporate lawyer. (Its way better to have the lawyers on your side.)

However, it is important to recognize that Pixsy is not a magic bullet.

There is a very small portion of copyright infringement cases that are financially viable.

Essentially, you have to identify an unauthorized use that is blatantly commercial by a relatively large corporation located in a jurisdiction with modern copyright legislation.

The bigger the ability to pay and the more blatant the violation, the higher the settlement.

Unfortunately, you can’t currently pursue compensation for publication on social media networks, or theft by internet spammers and scrapers or websites located outside the reach of modern copyright law (ie. China, Russia etc.).

It’s also not much use to pursue compensation from small time infringers with minimal ability to pay – such as low traffic blogs and home based businesses (although Pixsy can be used to send DMCA take-down notices).

Things are even more complicated when you are a stock photographer like me – you have to be absolutely sure that you only go after illegitimate use and not people who have a valid royalty free license.

Finally, you need to keep good records of when and where your work was first captured and published – after all if you are claiming copyright infringement, it is up to you to prove you are the copyright owner.

If you are interested in getting started with Pixsy or just want to better protect your work online, you can follow these Best Practices To Protect Your Photography Copyright and Pursue Infringement.

Pixsy fight photo theft

What Do You Think?

Have you tried to pursue payment for copyright infringement on your own?

Were you successful? How much did you get paid?

Would you use a service like Pixsy?

Do you think it’s fair to infringers to have a well armed legal team pursue them for monetary compensation?

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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26 responses to “I Just Made $2500 From A Single Copyright Infringement – And You Can Too”

  1. suruha Avatar

    My first, and only, ‘adventure’ with this was an image that didn’t have any identifying labels to note who created the image. As I could not find whose it was, I used it anyway. My BAD! It was a fellow group member’s image and she pointed that out to me, very kindly, if I may say so. I immediately removed the item from my blog, adding that, if anyone had downloaded it, please do not use it!
    The lesson here is to never use ANYTHING that has questionable ownership. If you are the ‘creator’, make sure your images are identifiable with your name or initials! If you are the ‘user’, make darned sure you can use the image before doing so! Period!
    Thank you!

  2. SD Smart Avatar
    SD Smart

    Great article. Just tried to join to find I need an invitation?

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Yes you do need an invitation – but you can apply here: https://www.pixsy.com/sign-up/

  3. Sd Smart Avatar
    Sd Smart

    Very interested to try this. Any one able to send me an invitation to join?.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      You can use this link to join: https://my.pixsy.com/register?code=DIYPHOTO

  4. eldueno Avatar

    Sounds like barratry to me, solicitation of litigation for profit. it’s a crime is most places.

  5. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    Copyright is in serious need of updating for the Information Age, both legally and technically. As it stands now big companies get to slap people around with copyright, but small creative businesses are getting screwed. There needs to be a quick, easy and automatic way to enable the distribution of images, music, etc. while keeping attribution and rights associated with the creators. Its far too convoluted now. I’m seriously supposed to send all my stuff to the US Copyright office and pay a fee? Really?

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Thanks for the comment – the US copyright system is ridiculous – it not possible or even resonable to register everything you publish. I’m convinced that it will take a successful class action against Facebook / Instagram / Google – to get change but until then we’re stuck with the system we’ve got. (Even more ridiculous considering the only thing that has to change is embedding attribution with all media).

      1. Nick Roberts Avatar
        Nick Roberts

        That is the first time I have heard anyone suggest a class action against Facebook and similar sites. I wonder if it is even possible; if so it might actually make Facebook and the others liable for damages since they are clearly acting as a stock photo service but hiding behind bogus claims of their terms of service. Copyright law needs to change so that actions by social media sites are not permitted to steal copyrights from their users. In an age where social media is the major way to get recognition it isn’t fair that they can do this.Maybe class action would be an alternative.

        1. JP Danko Avatar
          JP Danko

          I have two major problems with social media networks that I think could be challenged in court in a class action:

          1. The ability to scrape creative content (ie automated theft) is built into the API – https://www.diyphotography.net/social-media-networks-dont-give-flying-fudge-nugget-copyright/

          2. They strip metadata from published content on purpose – willfully removing attribution and copyright notification.

          Simply changing these two issues would solve most of the problems with rampant infringement – but you’d need a very intrepid legal team to take on a juggernaut like Facebook/Instagram.

      2. artstyle329 Avatar

        JP wrote, “…the US copyright system is ridiculous – it not possible or even reasonable to register everything you publish.”

        JP, you have a lot of misinformation. The US Copyright Office will allow photographers to economically group-register photographs published in the same calendar year.

        If you want to register groups of published photographs, you’ll have to use the “paper form” (Form GR/PPh/CON); you’re limited to registering one-calendar year of images (and up to 750 images); it’s recommended to include the images’ date of First-Publication. Fee at $US65.

        You also can register published photographs using the on-line eCO process “IF” all the images were published on the same date AND published in the same “unit of publication,” like in a magazine or calendar first-publishing 10 of your photographs. Fee @ $US55.

        Alternatively and the best and most cost effective strategy to register groups of photographs is to register them BEFORE publication–use the eCO $55 Standard Application. You can include an un-limited number of un-published photographs in a Standard Application.

        I’ve registered both published an un-published works over the last 10-years. It’s easier to register un-published works. Before posting, sharing, distributing, or releasing images to stock, clients, CC, or for public display, register them as un-published.

        To get you started, visit the following links: https://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl107.pdf
        and https://www.copyright.gov/forms/formgr_pph_con.pdf
        and https://www.copyright.gov/fls/sl04s.pdf and http://www.copyright.gov/eco and
        http://www.copyright.gov/eco/tips and (tutorial Standard Application) http://copyright.gov/eco/eco-tutorial-standard.pdf

  6. Nick Roberts Avatar
    Nick Roberts

    I just lost a small claims case against a local magazine publisher who used one of my photos three times on their magazine’s companion web pages. I made a couple of the mistakes covered in the atricle such as sending an invoice and after they failed to respond and hid behind the “intern” excuse I went public with it on facebook. The judge didn’t really understand how copyright attaches and ruled against me for “not registering” the photo, posting it on my facebook page and not going after city government for infringing it too. My argument that copyright attached at the moment I created it and that I didn’t charge the city because they are a civic organization fell on deaf ears. I argued that the magazine was a commercial entity and was seeking to earn from it’s use but that too was denied by the judge.

    I hope that I am invited to join Pixsy because I think it is high time that abuses such as this were litigated and hopefully ended. The idea that simply because it is posted to Facebook makes it free is ludicrous and needs to be stopped.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Hi Nick – thanks for sharing your story – that’s really rough especially when you’re 100% in the right. Court is serious business and even when you’re right there is no guarantee that you’ll win – with the potential of being extremely expensive just because you got a dumb ass judge. I think the key with Pixsy is that infringers are dealing with lawyers and experts on copyright law – not just a layperson photographer. If I’ve learned one thing going to court self represented it’s that the judge will take the side of a lawyer over a layperson every single time no matter if you’re 100% right.

      1. Nick Roberts Avatar
        Nick Roberts

        This experience is why I want to become a Pixsy user. I already know of a couple of Kickstarter and Idiegogo campaigns that are using my photos but because they are in Israel I’m powerless to fight back I’ll just wait for them to invite me now.

    2. artstyle329 Avatar

      In the US, if your claim is “copyright infringement,” it MUST be adjudicated in a federal court; you can NOT use state or small claims court to pursue copyright infringers!

      Timely register all your photographs. When you locate an infringer, contact your copyright litigator to review your legal options.

  7. Michelle Murtha Avatar
    Michelle Murtha

    I don’t understand the logic of using a service like this first instead of going to a lawyer. A lawyer could potentially get you up to $150,000 in statutory damages, plus up to an additional $25,000+ for DMCA violations, at potentially no cost you you (they can also recover attorney’s fees). Why is recovering only $2,500 a good thing? It seems like these types of “lawyerish” services pop up all the time for photographers, then quickly fold once their clients learn going to a lawyer is so much more beneficial and cost-effective.

    If it’s a small mom & pop blogger with no money, or if you’re interested in just sending take-down notices, then this service might make sense, but it certainly shouldn’t be your first choice. A lawyer should be.

    1. Michael Grecco Avatar
      Michael Grecco

      Here here Michelle! You are right. And if people are wondering how you get real reward from your work, you have to protect it by registering it. There is no way around it. Services like Pixsy and ImageRights do not have the leverage negotiating settlements because they are not law firms. They are also not complaint with US Law by trying to handle a legal matter, and not being a law firm. I run a company called http://imagedefenders.com/ and we only use attorneys to settle cases. In my opinion, we get the highest settlements for our clients. The numbers are usually many times a Pixsy or ImageRights. In my seasoned opinion use an attorney. Do not use a service with no leverage and that takes 40 to 50% of your recovery. It’s crazy.

  8. Sergio Lanza Casado Avatar
    Sergio Lanza Casado

    Great to read you got what you deserved, JP!

    I recently joined Pixsy too, and I’m particularly interested in your $ 2’500 case (after Pixsy’s comission). How it was the case so you got that fabulous amount for the unauthorized use?

    I would like to know things as if the stolen image was registered in the USCO, what was the country where the image was used, if the infringer was a large company, if they used in more than one place, or if your normal fees are that high…

    I hope I can get some compensations as this one, I have found a lot of my images used without authorization and it’s really frustrating!

    Thank you so much in advance!

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Briefly: I didn’t set the rate – Pixsy set it based on the specifics of the infringement. It was a single US use by a relatively large business, and no the image was not registered with the USCO. Cheers, JP

      1. artstyle329 Avatar

        jP: Congratulations on your (DMCA/Copyright Management Information) settlement success.

        JP wrote, “…It was a single US use by a relatively large business” and “…and no the image was not registered with the USCO.”

        I think you potentially left a lot of money on the table by not registering your photograph with the US Copyright Office. In addition, the $5000/$2500 settlement for “a
        relatively large business” is very low. It would seem that Pixsy’s goal is to accept quick (low) settlements and move on to the next infringer.

        On the other hand, having a “copyright litigator” on your side would have given you additional leverage to push for a (much) higher out of court settlement.

        International photographers who live in a country that’s a Berne Convention signatory, which includes Canada, do not have to register their copyrights to file a copyright infringement suit in the US. However, these plaintiffs are only eligible to pursue actual damages (typically the licensing fee) and the disgorgement of profits (if any!) against US-located infringers.

        For everyone reading this: Whether you’re located in the USA, Europe, Asia, or Canada, all creatives should “timely” register their copyrights with the US Copyright
        Office to have real legal & monetary leverage in enforcing your copyrights against American infringers. A timely registered photograph also permits creatives to pursue legal costs & attorney fees against infringers—again, additional leverage.

  9. pcsmith Avatar

    Intellectual Property is not real: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXZaOy3gMa4

  10. moonpick Avatar

    Yeah what a great company, harassing me everyday, calling my home for a photo I didn’t use and they want $750. Whoever supports this company supports harassment.

  11. Sondra Avatar

    Hi were the works that were stolen, registered and copyrighted prior to someone taking them? Do you regularly pay to register all of your photos?

  12. Rombout Avatar

    I do wonder how you find out which company/person has paid and which has not. Such information is not available i guess.