Unless you protect your photos, they will become worthless! Every time a photo is used without the photographer’s permission, a copyright infringement takes place. In many countries, this is even considered a criminal action.
As a photographer, this is what you can do against it:
1. Find out if you’re a likely target for image theft
At PhotoClaim we have discovered that your photos are very likely to be stolen if:
a) you run a blog and give your photos names such as “Berlin-TV-Tower-Sunset.jpg”
b) you’re successful on Flickr (making it to the daily “Explore” pretty much equals an invitation for copyright infringements).
Well, for both points you have valid reasons, and we don’t want to encourage you to stop SEO optimizing your blog or to stop using Flickr. Quite the opposite, as those two points also have a huge impact on getting clients who are actually willing to purchase your works.
2. Track your portfolio
It is important that you track your portfolio! This is what we do and we may help you with that. Sign up with PhotoClaim and we will search for your photos on the internet. Once we’ve discovered a potential infringement, we will notify you and you can verify whether the use was licensed or not.
3. Keep track of your clients
You guessed it: you need to keep track of your license sales. Make a list of the companies that purchased them from you and it would be the best if you can ask them for the URL on which they’re planning to use your photographs. Tell them, you’re curious to see the final result of how they used your photo. Trust me, this will make your life and fight against copyright infringements much easier, and you’ll never be in a situation where you send unfounded demands to a client of yours.
4. Stop Microstock
For certain types of photography, microstock can be a good business model. Unfortunately however, especially young, talented, but maybe not-yet-recognised photographers sign up with microstock agencies to make a few bucks on the side. If you don’t expect to make a 4-digit monthly income from your microstock activities, you may reconsider. Here is why:
With almost all microstock agencies, you lose control over who is licensing your photographs. That puts you into an awkward situation, since you can’t know for sure if a use of your photograph is actually licensed or not.
Unfortunately, we cannot help with that either. We tried to get a list of licenses for one of our clients from Fotolia or at least let them confirm whether a certain use was licensed or not. Fotolia never even responded to us.
Again: If you have thought of running a business through microstock, it can work! However, if you are just starting out and you can afford it, resist the temptation of microstock and retain the value of your photographs for when you’re more recognized and can achieve higher prices.
And by the way, this also includes the 500px marketplace.
5. Protect the value of your clients
If you’re at the point that you sell via macrostock or even have your own licensing possibilities such as PhotoShelter, it is even more important that you protect your photography. You want your clients to pay a fair price for your photographs, and you want your clients to be happy.
How do you think your clients would feel if they see photos they bought for a decent price popping up everywhere on the internet? And why should they buy from you again, if others can simply steal them?
Think about it for a second and also consider how the so-called “post-use licensing” services are harming photography. If the only “penalty” of a copyright infringement is that you pay what you would have paid in the first place – then why purchase a license? After all, chances are that the photographer doesn’t find out about it.
6. Be considerate
Making our tool available to you, we also ask you to be considerate. Not every stolen photo is harming you in the same way. If a school class uses your photo to accompany an article about their recent class trip to a certain place, then that’s something different than if a professional newspaper uses your photo to lead an article.
That’s why at PhotoClaim we only pursue infringements that give a financial benefit to the site where the photo was used. If a private person shares your picture, it might just be a way of showing their admiration for your work. At PhotoClaim we believe in those cases the person should link to your website (and therefore you have SEO benefits) or delete the photo, but have a possibility of doing so without paying any fee.
7. Register your copyright
No article about photography protection would be complete, without bringing up the issue of copyright registration. Please note, that in most countries, a registration of your copyright is not necessary. If you are from the US, this might be new to you: if someone steals your photograph in Europe, you can claim damages, whether your copyright is registered in the US or not.
Nevertheless, we recommend you to register your copyright in the US, whether you’re a US citizen or not. You can do this online. Unfortunately, the worldwide copyright legislation varies from region to region and for a single photographer it is almost impossible to know the respective law of each country.