Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
I just found one of my pictures on someone else's web site. In fact, they're using it to make money by showing it and displaying advertising around it, and that annoys me to no end. What can I do?
Welcome to the internet, where technology makes copying and stealing just about anything you see downright trivial.
I'll be honest ... the photo that was stolen was mine.
There are things I can do, but it's not guaranteed I'll be successful unless I haul in a lawyer, and then it starts to cost more than it's worth.
What I should have done is taken a couple of steps to make it less desirable to copy the photo.
But note, I didn't say "impossible".
It's pretty much impossible to make it impossible to steal an image off of the web. I've seen lots of sites that try to disable the browser functionality that allows you to save a picture to disk, but the reality is that anything you display on the screen can be captured, one way or another.
"Prevention" is a misnomer, since as I said, if it can be seen, it can be captured, but there are things you can do to make it less desirable to steal your photo.
First, let me show you the photo of mine that was stolen:
This comes from a page on my personal website.
Cute puppies, eh? Apparently others thought so as well, as I found the photo on a themed photo sharing site:
Perhaps the simplest, and most important thing I could have done would have been to "brand" the photo. Here's what I mean:
Here all I've done is overlaid some text claiming ownership onto the photo using a photo editing tool. It's unfortunate that it's somewhat distracting, but you can see I placed it in such a way that it doesn't obscure the subjects of the photo, and it's a little work to crop out.
This is actually enough to discourage a lot of theft. And for the majority of theft that continues, your "brand" - in my case copyright and URL - travels with it. The down site, of course, is that it's somewhat time consuming to brand all the photos that you post on the internet.
Unfortunately it's still possible for a thief with image editing tools like PhotoShop to crop out the text, or erase it. I know of no way to stop them - all we can do is force them to work for it. And if found, it's then clear that not only did they steal your image, but they took extra steps to remove your ownership indication.
There's another type of image theft that's easier to deal with once caught. In these cases, the thieves don't bother to make a copy of the image on their own server, they just reference it directly from yours. As an example, you'll see that the very first photo in this article is hosted not on http://ask-leo.com, but on a different site completely ... http://notenboom.org. If I didn't own that site, that would be bandwidth theft ... displaying a picture from someone else's website on yours. It's called bandwidth theft because you're using their bandwidth to display images on your site.
Bandwidth theft is really kinda stupid, because once detected, it's so easy to deal with. Make a copy of the image for your own use, and change all your references to that image to be to the new one. Now change the old image to be something else. Perhaps an advertisement for your own site, or an image of text that says "bandwidth theft is bad".
I can't do that with the puppy pictures, because the thief made a copy on his or her own server. This technique only works if they simply display the picture directly from your server with out making a copy.
Dealing With Theft
So what can you do if you find your photo has been stolen?
Step one is simple: contact the site owner. If it's not obvious who that is (as it wasn't for the site I'm dealing with), then check the domain registration for that site and complain to the listed contact. In about 90% of the cases, the owner is often unaware that theft has occurred, and will remove the material on request. These are the good guys who simply made a mistake.
The other 10% get more problematical. There are approaches using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to complain to the website's hosting provider that can result in the entire website being taken down. ISP's apparently take the DMCA very seriously. (Caveat: I am in no way a lawyer, and strongly suggest that you do your own research into copyright law and the DMCA before pursuing this course, including, if appropriate, engaging legal representation.)
In many remaining cases, there's little else that can be pragmatically done. Yes, you could spend a lot of time, energy and perhaps money pursuing the offender. You could even win. In some cases, it might well be worth it. But for the common user - like say myself in this puppy photo case - it probably isn't.
After writing the article above, I followed my own advice. Using domain information for the website in question, I contacted the site owner, and requested that he take down my photo.
He responded very quickly, and indicated that he would do so.
Not surprisingly, the site is a collection of photos submitted by the public. It was a random person, not the site owner, that copied the photo and submitted it for republication. In this situation it's very difficult for a site owner to confirm that a photo (or video, or article, or any form of content) is, in fact, owned by the submitter.
In the subsequent email exchange, rather than taking down the photo, we elected to simply replace it with my branded version, and allow it to be used with my permission. Why would I do so? The branding turns into a little free advertising for me.
And those puppies are darned cute.
You can see the result, on the site http://imreallysad.com.
It's an aptly named site. Feeling sad? It's hard to stay that way after looking at some of the photos there.
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