data mar., sept., 2022

How to Check If My Photos Have Been Stolen

by Roberto Cruz Artcile avtor
An inspector checking if some photos has been stolen using a camera and AI

Photos make up a huge percentage of the content on the Internet. For many photographers, posting photos online is fun and rewarding. But for professionals, it can be a nightmare. Confusion around copyright licences and laws makes the Internet a bit like the Wild West – people can get away with illegal activity simply because it’s difficult to handle for the police.


Copyright infringement causes many problems for photographers, including:


  • Loss of potential income.
  • Loss of control over the images.
  • Loss of time spent chasing copyright infringements.
  • Damage to reputation.


In this post, we’ll look at how to check whether photos published online have been stolen and what you can do about it if you find that you have been the victim of photo theft.

Why do people steal photos?

There are lots of reasons why people use photos that are not their own. These reasons fall into two categories – people using stolen photos because they’re unaware of the law, and people using photos because they simply don’t care.

People in the first category aren’t generally being malicious when they post stolen photos. They might even think they’re doing the photographer a favour! This type of copyright infringement is called ‘innocent infringement’ and can result in compensation payouts of up to $30,000. This group seems to be the majority of people who steal photos. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, 91.4% of people prosecuted in the US for copyright infringement had little or no previous criminal record.

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who know stealing photos is copyright infringement but just don’t care. At best, these people behave this way because they’re reasonably sure no one will challenge them. At worst, they’re using the stolen photos for nefarious activities such as scams. This type of infringement is called ‘wilful infringement’ and can lead to payouts of up to $150,000.


Why does photo theft matter?

The real crime in copyright violation is not the making of the copies. It's the expropriation of the creator's right to control the creation.” - Brad Templeton (software engineer and entrepreneur)

Photo theft is like any other kind of theft. It causes loss of potential income for the photographer and takes the artist’s creation out of the artist’s control. Some people view copyright infringement as a minor issue, but that’s probably because they’ve never experienced it or thought adequately about the implications and consequences.

When someone uses a photo that they don’t own the copyright to, they are preventing the original creator of the work from receiving the money and credit that they deserve. Stolen photos are also often used for other kinds of illegal or immoral online activity, from catfishing to identity theft. This can damage the reputation of the original creator of the work, as they could be confused with the scammers.


What does copyright law say?

Copyright law is very clear on this issue. Put simply, the person who creates the work (whether that’s a photo, song, piece of writing, or anything else) owns the copyright. The very act of creation also creates the copyright – there’s no need to register the work with any formal body or take any other action.

When we look at the different options available for controlling how images are used, things get more complicated. There are several different types of usage rights, each appropriate for different situations. Then within those, there are several different types of licences.


The different types of photo usage rights.

How a photograph is licenced (or not) affects how it can be used. These are the options:

  • Fair use: Fair use means that the photo can be used by anyone for personal, educational or research purposes – never for commercial reasons. Although this might sound simple, determining what is and isn’t fair use can be a challenge.
  • Public Domain: Photos in the public domain are free for anyone to use and are not subject to copyright. It might still be necessary to credit the creator though.
  • Creative Commons Licences: There are six main Creative Commons licences, each allowing for different types of use. All require attribution, some are for noncommercial use, and one allows for commercial use.
  • Paid Licences: If a photo is under a paid licence, anyone who wants to use it has to pay for it. Many of the stock photo platforms use these types of licences. 

So, how can I check if photos are stolen?

There are several ways to check whether photos posted online are stolen.


  • Check the metadata: Metadata is recorded at the time of taking the photo and contains information like where, when, and how the photo was taken, the creator of the file, and more. It’s not foolproof though, as metadata can be removed easily.
    It’s simple to use a computer to check a photo’s metadata, and the information can help determine whether a photo has been stolen. For example, if the creator’s name is different from the name of whoever is using the photo, that’s a red flag.
  • Perform a reverse image search: A reverse image search lets you see where on the Internet a photo is used. It’s possible to find the original creator of the work, although it’s not always easy.
    Compare the dates posted, the reputations of the sites where the photos are published, and the resolutions of the different files to work out who has used stole photos. There are lots of reverse image search engines out there, with Google’s being the most popular.
  • Use PhotoClaim: Checking whether your photos have been stolen is time-consuming and labour intensive. PhotoClaim makes the process much simpler.

    After registering with us, all you need to do is upload the photos you want to check. Then, our advanced AI system scours the Internet for your photos. We then send you the findings in a report, and you can choose to begin a claim. Our specialist lawyers deal with all the legal stuff, so you can sit back and relax.

What can I do if my photos have been stolen?

“I think that the use of copyright is going to change dramatically. Part of it is economics. There is just going to be so much content out there – there's a scarcity of attention. Information consumes attention, and there's too much information.” - Esther Dyson (Investor and author)

If you find that your photos have been stolen, there are a few things you can do.

If you live in the US, one option is to file a DMCA notice. With a DMCA notice, the copyright holder (that’s the person who took the photos) files the complaint with the service provider hosting the stolen content. The service provider then usually notifies the person who is suspected of infringing the copyright, who can file a challenge if they disagree. Similarly, if you live in Europe you can send a copyright notice instructing the service provider to remove your content.

Another option is to use a service such as PhotoClaim to simplify the process of enforcing your copyright.


What are the benefits of using PhotoClaim to enforce the copyright on my photos?

Although the existence of DMCA notices makes it easier to claim copyright than in the old days of the Internet, it’s still a time-consuming and often confusing task, particularly if you want to claim for lots of photos.


PhotoClaim makes enforcing your copyright easy. The process goes like this:


  • Fill out the form: Registering with us is simple and only takes a few steps.
  • Upload your portfolio: Whether you want to check hundreds of images for copyright infringement or only a handful, our AI system makes it a breeze. Once you’ve uploaded your photos, we do the rest.
  • Receive your infringement report: After a few days, we’ll send you our findings. Our Case Researchers, with the help of AI technology, will find all instances of your photos online, then you tell us which are being used illegally.
  • Start your claim: If you decide to go ahead with a claim, one of our specialist lawyers will be assigned to the case. They’ll take care of requesting the removal of the photos, the payment of compensation, and any necessary further action.
  • Get your money: Once our lawyers reach a settlement or court proceedings have ended, you receive your money via PayPal or bank transfer. We take a 45% success fee, and the rest is yours.


Photo theft and copyright infringement are insidious problems that can affect any photographer, leading to loss of potential income, loss of control over the work, and a possible loss of reputation. Although it can be a challenge to find out for sure, it’s possible to do a few things to help determine whether a photo has been stolen. These include:


  • Check the metadata
  • Use a reverse image search
  • Check dates posted, photo resolutions and site reputations
  • Use a service like PhotoClaim


Unfortunately, it’s difficult and time-consuming to keep on top of checking whether your photos have been stolen. And challenging someone who has stolen your photos is another complex, lengthy process.

PhotoClaim makes it all much simpler, and our AI-supported technology works more quickly and thoroughly than even the biggest team of humans ever could. With PhotoClaim, you tell us which photos you want to check, and we handle the rest!


Do you still have more questions about your photo copyrights? We know the answer! Write to us at:


You can submit your photos to start monitoring them and get a FREE report to know where and how your works are being used online. Click the link below.


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