Nobody wants to be plagiarized or ripped off, but it’s often a fact of life when you taken pictures and post them to sites like Flickr, Instagram, or Facebook. Heck, it can even happen in otherwise professional business relationships where trust has eroded between you and your clients. As a photographer, there isn’t much you can do to stop others from taking your work and using it (although, you have some options), so what can you do once the deed has been done?
Don’t worry about it!
I know that sounds counterintuitive to some, but most people who rip off your images are the scum of the Earth. They’ll never become successful in photography, and even if they try to somehow make money on your images, there’s a pretty small chance they’ll ever make enough for it to be worth the time you spend pursuing them.
Here are the questions you have to ask once you spot an offender:
- Am I dealing with a profitable business like a magazine or influential blog?
- Is this person making any amount of money with photography?
- Is this person located within my country or legal jurisdiction?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” don’t worry about it. You’re dealing with a small fish that’s unlikely to make any money from your photography. You can still win in court, but you probably won’t see your money. As they say, you can’t get blood from a turnip.
When To Do Something
There are times when it’s worth going after someone. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, you might get some money from it.
Now don’t go suing your pants off just yet! Most big magazines and website have a lot of respect for their photographers. They would never steal someone’s work, and if it were to happen, it would be a gross oversight on behalf of some staff member. First, send them a polite email saying you are the photographer and you have proof, there’s a good chance they’ll apologize profusely and pay your licensing fee.
A lawsuit is only an option when you get no response from a company that has used your image to make money. In such an extremely rare scenario, you could stand to gain a handsome return on your legal efforts. Most companies will probably settle out of court or pay your licensing fee before it ever comes down to this. They don’t want the bad publicity.
Beware Of What You Share
It’s also worth considering which licenses you’ve setup for your images. If you post your images to Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution License, anybody can use your image so long as your name is attributed to it. Before you go shooting your mouth off at the person who stole your image, double check to make sure you have the “All Rights Reserved” license on your image.
If you don’t specify any kind of license for your image, it is assumed that you are operating under All Rights Reserved. This goes for photos you share on Facebook, email, or any other online platform. If someone uses you work without paying you or at least attributing your name to it, you can sue. (The real issue is whether it’s worth your time to do it).
Create a Watermark
Adding a watermark to all your images is another alternative, although I personally don't do this. For more information, read an article I wrote previously about watermarking your photos.
Should you sue for personal use of your photos?
What if a client gets hold of one of your images and refuses to pay you for it? You could go after that person, but it will probably cost a lot of money, and you won’t be able to get it when the time comes. People who have money are much more likely to pay you for your work. People who don’t have money might be more inclined to take your work without paying. Therein lies the problem. The only people you’re likely to want to sue are the ones who aren’t worth suing. Just let them have the one photo and get on with your life. From personal experience, it's not worth the worry and hassle that legal proceedings add to your life.
Besides, I usually give at least a few of my photos away as a sample to all of my clients. It keeps them coming back for more. The real business isn’t built on one particular transaction that goes through. It’s built on all the referral business I get from happy clients who can’t stop talking about my work.
In the end, you could spend your time on lawsuits or you could spend it taking more photos and perfecting your craft. I’d much rather worry about the quality of my work than worry about who is trying to steal it from me.
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