For a photographer who makes his or her living from licensing copies of our work, it’s frustrating to see just how easily images can be downloaded from websites, shared on social media, or otherwise used without consent or compensation. Even worse, to have one’s personal likeness and photos fraudulently used to create a Fake IDs: Protecting Yourself From Image Theft. I myself have been the victim of image-theft numerous times; most recently I discovered one of my commercially-available images appearing on over a dozen websites, and even published on a book cover… despite never having sold a single license of that photo.
Image theft has always been a concern, but the proliferation of technology has made it really easy to steal images – as easy as copy and paste. To prove my point: I just stole right off the Getty Images website while writing this article. (No need to call the cops… I pilfered my own work.) Getty has copy protection measures in place, and when you hover your mouse pointer over the image, it pops up a larger version with a big watermark over it. I liked the un-watermarked version of the image better, so I just hit the “Print Screen” button on my computer, and pasted a screen shot into my graphics program (heck… a word processor would work just as well). I cropped to the area I wanted and in maybe 60 seconds total… voila! Free content. Probably would have taken even less time if I used my iPhone.
For a generation raised on Facebook and Twitter, image-theft isn’t a crime in their minds, or done with malicious intent… it’s just a normal part of daily life to share and re-share content. The only way to truly prevent our work from being shared to death is to never post it online at all. But that’s not a realistic option in today’s web-enabled, phone-crazy society. So let’s assume a worst-case scenario: you’ve posted your precious photos on the Internet, and some anonymous person out there has maliciously grabbed a copy and used them without your consent. What can you do about it?
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
In the United States, you are the copyright owner of a photographic image from the moment you press the shutter button. This is good news, because Federal copyright laws protect our works from image theft as soon as we create them. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as when a “work for hire” arrangement is in effect and a client is paying the photographer for the copyright to images. There should be no legal gray area in that respect, as the photographer and client would have a formal agreement saying as much.
The bad news is that the copyright automatically granted by Federal Law does not come with all the bells and whistles, only the rights to protect our works and control usage. It does not also allow for remuneration – the right to sue for financial compensation. In order to take a copyright violator to court and ask for money in the settlement, the image needs to have also been registered with the Library of Congress. There is a modest fee, and paperwork to be filed along with copies of the image(s) to be copyrighted… well worth the investment.