Photostealers, Please Take My Images Or Why It Sucks To Fight Copyright Infringements From Overseas

Dec 16, 2014

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

Photostealers, Please Take My Images Or Why It Sucks To Fight Copyright Infringements From Overseas

Dec 16, 2014

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

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This is a sad story about image thievery (again), and why I think it is so common on the internet. It is coming from a personal perspective, but I think there is much to be learned from it about how easy stealing images is nowadays and how (despite the law is on our side) it is sometimes very hard to fight. Being a photo stealing story, it  obviously starts with one of my images being “borrowed”. I was considering my options. Each and every article on the web says talk to a lawyer, so I did.  He basically said: You can’t do anything and you will never see any money.

Here is the Story: About one year ago I was on a lake with my daughter and my girlfriend. It was a nice day and I took some pictures, later I’ve edited these and wrote an article about “How to create magical family photos“.

Here is the most copied image from that article:

family-candids-00-final
This image has no visible watermark. It is a COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT if you use it on your blog/website. And I will find out…

1. How to find stolen images

Every month I go through some of my images. using chrome I do a right-click on the image and hit “search for this image in google”, you will get a list of about 60 potential copyright infringements. A few of them are totally out of context, others are filtered and with text on it. Here is a screen capture of the search for the image above:

take-my-image-01

obviously DIYP is one of the finds, but there are others too. Some link to the original post as a resource which is kinda nice, but some reclaim the photo as their own.

So … what are the options?

2. Send an invoice

Yes, I’ve tried that before. You will likely never get an answer. For me (based in Germany) it’s quite hard to get any money from the international photostealers society (if they really took the trouble to make a guild).

The best response I ever got was: “The image is not watermarked, so what do you want?”.

3. File a DMCA takedown

Yes, I’ve tried that before. Find out who is the provider of the website is quite easy with the domain tools or whois.com. You can find a short FAQ about the DMCA-takedown as well as the required form here. If you have removed the content you can start with number one of this list again and wait for the next one.

4. File A Lawsuit

I’ve talked to a lawyer about it and basically here is what they had to say: You can try, it will cost you a huge amount of time and money and you will probably never see a dime.

If we break it down I would have to find a local lawyer, use them to files the claim and pay for litigation until the case is settled. While there is a good chance it will settle my way it won’t fe fast and it won’t be cheap and I’ll have to spend the time and money until the claim is settled.

This is not to say that I can not go through the lawyer/court thing, it is just to say that as someone living off shore from where I was infringed the time and money it will cost me to get this settled may cost more that the actual compensation I would receive.

5. Live with it

Yes, I’ve tried that before. For a long time every copy was balm for my soul, saying “Your images are not that bad”. It worked for a while very well. But as soon as you see you image for the first time filtered, badly cropped with some bullshit text in comic sans on it you might change your mind and go back to number 2 of that list.

6. write about it

Yes, I and trying this right now. It’s enough. I am really kind of angry right now. And yes – I will start with number one next month again.


Here are my personal TOP 3 Photostealers of this particular image

1) Greta Booklovers (used as a stock image for an “inspirational quote)

Greta booklovers even enhanced my image. Thank you very much. I am always happy to see some photoshop gurus helping me out when I am struggling with my editing.
Greta booklovers even enhanced my image. Thank you very much. I am always happy to see some photoshop gurus helping me out when I am struggling with my editing.

2) EscapadaRural (ad for some realastate + their watermark)

EscapadaRural did me an favour. Now the image is properly watermarked and copyrighted. Thank you very much. BTW: This image was taken in bavaria.
EscapadaRural did me an favour. Now the image is properly watermarked and copyrighted. Thank you very much. BTW: This image was taken in bavaria.

3) C. R. ESTRELLA RURAL (more hotel advertising. Maybe I should invest more in stock photography for realestate….)

Hotel C. R. ESTRELLA RURAL use my image as well. it’s the last one in that gallery. They resized the image unproportional. Thanks – it’s a nice touch and makes the image look a little bit funnier. I like that!

So. Now I feel much better. Thank you for your time and feel free to share your story and/or advise in the comments.

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Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

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32 responses to “Photostealers, Please Take My Images Or Why It Sucks To Fight Copyright Infringements From Overseas”

  1. disqus_O4wZZnzQ4J Avatar
    disqus_O4wZZnzQ4J

    Hi, just curious, how do you know if the website did or did not purchase your image from a stock photo site?

    1. Stefan Avatar
      Stefan

      I don’t know. But I never sold the image to a stock photo site and also Google Image search doesn’t find it in stock agencies.

  2. LSG Avatar
    LSG

    My picture that I also use as my profile pic and logo has been stolen so many times so I know how you feel. Last time I checked my picture has been posted in a camera magazine in india, a magazine in russia, and a website in switzerland. and many many more by now for sure.

    1. Stefan Avatar
      Stefan

      It is a kick-ass image without a watermark … :D

  3. Shifty303 Avatar
    Shifty303

    This is why I stopped posting my concert photography online.

  4. Amaryllis Avatar
    Amaryllis

    This sucks :/ Now I’m actually curious to see if my photos are getting stolen… probably not though, I don’t think they’re good enough for that :/

  5. Nadav Bagim AimishBoy.com Avatar
    Nadav Bagim AimishBoy.com

    One option I’m currently exploring is is suing using a contingent fee / conditional fee aka No win No fee.
    which, in case you win, the lawyer takes his fee from the the losing side (about 25% of the winning + success fee).
    If you don’t win, you don’t have to pay your lawyer, but you will probably have to pay the court fee and perhaps the other side legal costs( however, you can insure yourself in case you lose..)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contingent_fee

  6. Mike Avatar
    Mike

    Proofreading

    “stilling images” Obviously a Pittsburgh Stillers fan.
    “file a suite” I am not a composer.

    But yes, DCMA is designed to enable large corporations to harass fair use individuals. Individual users are screwed.

    1. udi tirosh Avatar
      udi tirosh

      that was the kindest spelling comment we ever got, thanks for watching our back.

      1. Mike Avatar
        Mike

        No problem. It is unforgettably a compulsion. :(

  7. Sam Dickinson Avatar
    Sam Dickinson

    I had one of mine turned into a Spanish meme. Alas, as you say, there’s not a lot I can do about it. It was watermarked, but that ended up being cropped out (I don’t do it across the middle of the image because I don’t like to deface my art).

  8. Jalan Lee Avatar
    Jalan Lee

    Let it go.

    Stop checking on your images and put your energy into making great art!

    Not fair and not right but you only have so much energy so why waste any of it?

    Actually, it’s a compliment they took your image; not sure any of mine are good enough to steal! Have to remember that all the energy they put into stealing your image could be put into learning how to develop their own talents. Why put energy into litigation instead of your art?

    Only one exception, if a big media company, someone with money and a reputation, steals your image there might be some financial gain worth the time and energy.

    1. judesrphotography Avatar
      judesrphotography

      Or, put another way:

      “You know, if you’ve been raped, just stop worrying about it and let it go. Go back to living life. It wasn’t fair or right, but you’ll waste so much energy trying to find out who it was and trying to bring them to justice. Why waste any energy stressing out about it? Besides, its actually a compliment that they raped you; I’m not sure that I’m pretty enough to have people want to rape me. You know what though, if there’s ever a chance that catching and punishing your rapist might get you money, definitely try and prosecute them then.”

      … ridiculous is as ridiculous does.

      Crime is crime. Crime isn’t something that you should just ‘get used to’.

      1. Jalan Lee Avatar
        Jalan Lee

        Wow!

        1. Lisa Campbell Schaaf Avatar
          Lisa Campbell Schaaf

          I can’t even comprehend comparing someone using a photo that you CHOOSE to post in the internet, KNOWING people can easily right click/screen shot and take it, with a violent, personal violation! And whether it was an attempt at sarcasm or not, it’s just really, really, really poor taste and overrides any point you were trying to make.

      2. JOhn C Avatar
        JOhn C

        Well that escalated quickly. A bit extreme, maybe more like being robbed. But wow

        1. judesrphotography Avatar
          judesrphotography

          This comment was very obviously sarcasm, meant to show just how ridiculous it was to say that a crime, any crime, shouldn’t be stressed about. (Note the ‘ridiculous is as ridiculous does’ statement.)

          Just because you’re helpless with no options as far as compensation shouldn’t mean its something you just go “Well, I might as well enjoy being robbed from! Yes! I’m being robbed from, rock on!”

  9. Peter Avatar
    Peter

    While I am generally lenient about these things when they some idiot posts some cringe-worthy emo poem in rainbow Comic Sans over a neon-sepia-version of my photo on their blog, I have had numreous illegal commercial usages of several of my images as well. Most of these people will only give you absolutely insolent replies even when you nicely ask them to take the photos down. I have even had people take them down and post them again after a few weeks, thinking I wouldn’t notice.

    Interestingly, there are a few images in my portfolio that get stolen all the time, apparently especially those that rank high in Google Image Search for popular search terms relating to my niche.

    Especially when the photos being stolen are of people who have not agreed to that usage, I feel like I have to protect my clients and make sure these images are removed right away.

    There are a few good reasons for not letting these things go:

    1) If there are people in those images, those people have rights as well. I have an obligation to protect my models. Even if something is strictly fair use in terms of copyright (99% of uses claiming to be fair use are not), the subjects in the photographs still have rights, and I as the photographer have to make sure these rights are respected.

    And if that wasn’t enough, if people start saying „don’t work with that photographer, I suddenly found my image on XYZ and he never asked me!“ that’s a serious problem. If I take somebody’s photo, they shouldn’t have to worry about it being used in questionable contexts. This is also why I politely ask people who take my images for more or less personal use to take images down.

    2) The image may be under exclusive license. If a client paid for exclusivity, meaning they paid extra so they can have unique images to represent their brand that only they have. The illegal usage drastically reduces the value that image has for my client. Also, if it is an image that is currently not licensed to anyone, I can no longer sell an exclusive license if somebody is using it illegally.

    Similarly, if an illegal use gains popularity or even goes viral, that image will become worthless since everybody will recognize it as „that image“. There are upsides to that as well, but for the most part, that is not a good thing if it happens uncontrolled.

    3) The client I shot the image for will be associated with that usage. That’s especially problematic if it is something like a porn blog, or a site affiliated with a competitor of my client. For porn bloggers, I now pretty much instantly file DMCAs when I find something like that since I found that they all tend to ignore polite messages.

    4) If the images are not watermarked (mine are not), they will be orphaned, i.e. no more credit will be associated with them, usually leading to a wave of further violations from people (wrongly and unjustifiedly) assuming the images are in public domain.

    5) Surprisingly many people hotlink to images, taking away server traffic you have to pay for. There are ways to block that, but they also have their downsides and it is not always practical or possible.

    6) I no longer have control over that particular image. If in 5 years, I am a much better photographer, that image will still be out there, possibly even with my name on it (be it a watermark or good intentions on the part of the offender), representing me all over the internet. I have also heard of someone posting a composite where they forgot to turn a particular layer off, and somebody snagged it before they could upload the right version, and now a version of the image with a glaring mistake is making the round on the internet, alongside the official ad campaign from that person’s client.

    Since things are not getting better and polite requests to take down images more often than not only result in incredibly impudent replies, I am currently strongly considering the services of a company like http://www.imagerights.com to go after the most audacious US-based violations (if anybody has any experience working with them or similar companies, I’d love to hear your take on it).

    If people refuse to take down images (citing fair use fully knowing it is not, flat-out insulting me, not responding at all, etc.), that is probably now going to be the next step for me. I don’t want to extort statutory damages from some individual who made a mistake and reblogged the wrong kitten, but when a large organization steals an image, uses it for commercial purposes and refuses to take down the image or pay for a license, trying to hide between fair use, I’m just not inclined to let it slip like I used to.

    1. Stefan Avatar
      Stefan

      Thank you Peter, some really good points

    2. Stefan Avatar
      Stefan

      some very good points here, thank you Peter!

  10. David Lewis Avatar
    David Lewis

    When it comes to this type of thing, it usually isn’t worth your time to try to sort out the legal odds and ends because the money you would receive for doing so won’t cover the legal costs; however, if they are generating a sizable amount of revenue that you can connect to your work, it may be smart to involve a lawyer.

    When it comes to using a lawyer, you shouldn’t contact your friend or just any law office. You should find a lawyer who specializes in that specific type of law (IE copyright infringement as it pertains to international law, or German law and copyright infringement). These types of lawyers will be able to make an valid assessment as to whether it is worth it to pursue a legal battle.

    Also, lets face it, your probably not taking pictures for national geographic, so when a picture is stolen, and there is nothing you can do about it, you should take it as a compliment.

  11. PEN Avatar
    PEN

    Someone stole my images and hid them on an inaccessible page on his website. like a voyeur. i no longer have a website and do not post images on social networks.

    I worked for several years for an art gallery. I quit when I found them stealing images off the internet to use in their email newsletter. They didn’t even remove the digimarcs, and casually admitted to theft as if it were no big deal. the exec dir didn’t care.

    I have a friend (USA) whose artwork was copied in China. her agent took care of it at minimal expense, but it still took up her time and emotional energy.

    reflecting on another comment here, rape is a lot worse than having your artwork stolen.

    1. Stefan Avatar
      Stefan

      Yes. I would not say rape has the same amount of criminal energy and/or the same effect as image thievery.

    2. judesrphotography Avatar
      judesrphotography

      You missed the point of the comment. The comment did not say that rape was the same as having artwork stolen; That would be a very stupid sentiment. The comment was obviously sarcasm, meant to show just how ridiculous it was to say that a crime, any crime, shouldn’t be stressed about or cared about or tried to be made right.

  12. John T. Fowler Avatar
    John T. Fowler

    I chase ’em – to the grave if necessary. And they better not make even the tiniest mistake in our communications.

  13. BruceF99 Avatar
    BruceF99

    In addition to writing about it yourself, you can always send it to http://stopstealingphotos.com/ This site is mainly focused on other photographers stealing others work and pretending it to be their own.

  14. texpayne Avatar
    texpayne

    Thank you for ‘fighting’ for the rest of us who only support you by a commit: “Thank you!”

    1. Stefan Avatar
      Stefan

      Well… I am not really “fighting” :D

  15. armageddon Avatar
    armageddon

    Aren’t sites 2 and 3 in your examples the same?

    1. Stefan Avatar
      Stefan

      yes, you are probably right.

  16. Claudio Grieco Avatar
    Claudio Grieco

    Hi,

    first of all let me say that your photo is really beautiful.
    I understand why you care about it but IMHO the first case is different from the other two as bloggers usually don’t mean no harm… unless they are photo bloggers, they really shouldn’t do so to their peers.

    In this case, for example, we have an Italian blogger who “simply” took a quote from a book she was reviewing and put it over your photo because it suited the theme from the book: a man meeting again the daughter her wife took away with her when they broke up. She surely shows bad taste in the Photoshopping, in the lettering and in the choice of colours, but she’s not a photo professional, she’s just a random girl/woman who loves books and writes about them. I do not know her, but being Italian myself I can translate and prove her bona fide.
    She writes in the Contacts section of her blog that the images are used only for informational purposes and she doesn’t mean to violate any copyright so that if someone protests her she will remove them… like she did with your photo.

    Finally, let Italians and Germans be friends, we’re not overseas ;)

    Best regard
    Claudio

  17. Alex Avatar
    Alex

    Ouch! Greta Booklovers blog’s a real punch in the stomach.