Protecting your photos online
Is this a distant concern, do your really need to worry about people appropriating your work? Unfortunately the answer is that it happens every day. I hear reports all the time of people finding their work on other people’s websites. Indeed there are whole websites that not only post stolen images but provide tools to make it easier for their users to take images.
There is a tool, in beta at the time of this writing, which will search some of the web, for your images. It is called TinEye .
TinEye will scan for your image across the part of the web that it has so far indexed. The number of indexed sites seems to be limited right now but hopefully it will expand. The service scans for a digital fingerprint of the image not for the image title.
In the US and many other countries your photos are copyrighted the instant that you press the shutter button. And even though they are copyrighted, the images are essentially unprotected since there is no enforcement mechanism in place to protect your rights. Copyright violations are a civil matter in almost all cases. And being a civil matter; that means that it is up to you to protect your own rights by bringing a suit in court.
The problem is this. Most of the time people who steal your images will not be living anywhere near where you are. They will often be in a different state and sometimes will be in a different country. That means a trip down to your local small claims court won’t get you anything in your pocket or force them to stop using your image. And in the state that I live in, it can cost well over a $100 to file in small claims court. So your next step involves getting a lawyer to do the suing for you.
No surprise, but lawyers like to get paid for working. And unless you are going to pay one out of your own pocket, and that can easily amount to thousands of dollars, they want to see some profitable result at the end of the process. That would mean they need to see a big judgment ahead that they will split with you as payment for their efforts.
However with the type of copyright that attaches to your images when you press the shutter button, all you can expect to get from a court is your actual damages. You have to prove that you lost money by someone taking your image. That is fine if you are a well known photographer who gets $10,000 to take photos of some celebrity. But for the other 999 out of a 1000 photographers that means you would only recover a pittance, chicken feed and chump change. You could spend $1000 in legal costs and recover $25. Not so good.
There are a several things you can do to protect yourself. None is perfect but they can improve your chances of stopping theft. Or possibly you could even profit from the theft. I’ll cover those starting in the next post.
Let me post the obligatory I’m not a lawyer notice. I’m not one and you are always better of paying one to advise you. Poorer but better. Unless you hire Huey, Dewie, Cheatum and Howe.
Someone mentioned in a comment that PicScout is available to search the web for your images. I took a look at their site at:
However for photographers it seems to be limited to commercial sites only and costs $15/month for up to 500 photos. Their site makes it quite difficult to figure out exactly what they are offering.
Digimarc has been around for a long time, Photoshop users used to get a free plugin and short subscription to the service:
Digimarc seems to be more powerful than PicScout, but since I’m not quite sure what PicScout offers, that could be wrong. Digimarc embeds a invisible watermark on your images via a Photoshop plugin. They track where your image appears on the web and users can read that info via a utility. Again this is a paid and quite pricey service. Neither of these makes any sense to me, except for people who are making quite a bit of money from the sales of their work online. Probably you would have to be making thousands of dollars to see a return on these services.
Another update: I lost all the comments after upgrading WordPress so the comment with the suggestion has vanished