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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
How a photograph is licenced (or not) affects how it can be used. These are the options:
There are several ways to check whether photos posted online are stolen.
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.
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:
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:
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.