This is probably my first ever rant…
Have you ever stumbled across a photo you took being used without your permission?
You’re not alone. In fact, in the last 4 years I have caught 2 Government Organizations using my own photos without permission. That’s 2 Government Organizations too many and if anyone should know better, it’s a Government employee right?
There’s also the occasional small business owner or blogger that think that no one will mind. Maybe if I just add a credit they’ll be ok with it. Wrong. Ask the photographer first.
It doesn’t matter what its for and if its not for profit. The image isn’t yours to use on anything unless the photographer gives you permission to do so.
How to protect your images from improper use
It’s a difficult topic to discuss because once your image is out on the web, it’s online for good and it’s pretty hard to stop it from being used anywhere and everywhere. There are a few things you can be mindful of before and after you decide to upload your images.
Before You Upload & Share
Use your image EXIF data to its maximum potential
I just spent several hours going through the latest images for my website and on every single one of them I applied new EXIF data. This included Copyright information, a filename with my own name and the date the image was taken as well as approximate GPS coordinates of where the image was taken. Your name and copyright info is key here. On most images you can pull that data even after it has been saved to another computer and re-uploaded to the internet. While the GPS Coordinates won’t help you much for improper use, it can sure help with image SEO. So why not add it too.
Prepare yourself for an argument
What I mean by that is have all of your ducks in a row so you can make an argument that you run a business and your images are not free. Create a price sheet with a breakdown of how you charge for use of your images. Add information to your website about licensing photos from your collection and make it easy for someone to contact you about it. This will help reduce the possibility of image use without consent if the person is trying to do their due diligence to find out if they can just use the image without asking.
Watermark…Please Don’t Do This, You Shouldn’t Have To!
I don’t watermark my photos and I probably never will. Some will argue it is necessary but I feel that it just takes away from the image. Why should we have to go to the extent of partially ruining a nice photograph just to protect ourselves? It is a viable way of protecting your images though and it is entirely up to you if you want to do it.
After You Upload & Share
Do you ever google yourself? I do every now and then just to see what comes up. Doing this is actually how I have discovered my photos being used without permission on Government documents and websites. Try different variations with your name just to make sure you’ve covered everything.
Search for your images on Google
Have you ever tried the Google Reverse Image Search? It’s pretty amazing! Just click on the camera icon and either upload an image or add a link to it, then see what you find. Other than your own name this is probably the best way to keep track of your photos you upload to the internet.
Reaching Out to the Culprit
So someone has used your image without permission, they’ve literally stolen it. Now what?
You’re probably angry, frustrated and maybe even pretty furious that this has happened. It’s ok, but don’t act on it. Not right now.
Do your best to find out who you should contact about the issue at hand. Keep in mind that whoever decided to use your image was probably an employee that just didn’t know any better. Harmless mistake in their eyes and maybe it was. In the end you’re probably only going to find a general information email address to send through your inquiry about the photo in question. So be polite, to the point and make sure you include as much info about where you’ve found your image as possible. An angry email will get you nowhere and most likely ignored.
This might be common sense, but be sure to include a phone number and email address and request that they contact you about the issue. This puts the ball in their court. Don’t ask for them to let you know who you should be contacting about it, that will just run you in circles. Be mindful that they may not understand that you run a business and part of your income is licensing photos. If you feel you need to then explain this to them.
Think about the near future, perhaps there is an opportunity to work with this company in the future. The right way with a pay check at the end! So even though they are obviously in the wrong and very bad people, don’t burn your bridges and be nice about it. This could potentially pay off in the end without a big fight.
Do you request payment for the image, or just let it be?
This is entirely up to you and how you feel about the situation. I usually put a wager on the scenario and if I feel that I could have actually benefited from my photo being used I won’t push for payment. Instead I will include a price sheet of what I charge for stock photos and let them know it is for future reference. This way you’ve made nice about the situation, hopefully accepted an apology and indirectly put your foot in the door for future work.
Educate Yourself So You Can Educate Others
Read up on what rights you have as a photographer and be sure to spread the word about proper image use.
Have you had a similar experience?
I would love to hear your comments!