Last Thursday I got an email from a blogging client and friend. It read, “I have a situation where somebody has already stolen a photo from my web store. What should I do about it? There is no question it’s my photo.”
Cathy had followed a pin on Pinterest that featured her photo…but ended up on someone else’s blog.
I took a look at the blog she pointed to and – sure enough – it was a photo from Cathy’s web store. I had just finished working on the site and still had the high-res version of the photo in question on my desktop. The Photo Thief had obviously googled her subject and just decided to take the first photo that appeared, for use on her own blog. There was no link to Cathy’s web store, no mention of where the photo came from. It wasn’t this blogger’s property, but she took it.
If you’ve ever had a photo from your blog published elsewhere without permission, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Anger isn’t the right word: it’s infuriating to see your work on someone else’s site, when you pour hours of every week into creating original content and original photos for your blog.
So what did we do about it? Keep reading.
Using Photos without Giving Credit is ILLEGAL
Maybe if it was 2007, people could use the excuse, “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t know!” But folks, we all know it’s not just inconsiderate to take other people’s published work; it’s illegal.
Luckily, three fabulous designers got together and created a flowchart to help us break this down. It’s been passed around Pinterest plenty, but here it is for your reference (BTW – please don’t Pin this. I didn’t create it. If you want to pin it, go to the post where it was originally published):
If you EVER have a question about whether you should use someone else’s work, the best thing to do is ask. Because really, how hard is it?
Playing Nice: an Example
A few months ago, I was working on an article on how to convert your blog’s visitors to subscribers. Because I wanted to use one of her photos, I sent an email to Kara from Rockin’ Granola. I wrote,
This is Jeni Elliott from The Blog Maven. I’m putting together a post about how to keep visitors (esp. from Pinterest) on your blog when they’ve only come in to see a single article. I’d like to use one of your sidebar images (probably the brainfood one?) as an example of great content showcasing. I think you do an amazing job of giving your readers (even ones who just arrived!) ways of exploring your content and connecting with you, and I’d like to offer your blog as an example. […] Would you allow me to do that, and link straight to your blog in several places? I’d sure appreciate it!
And with that kind of a question, what do you think her response was?
What a kind thing to ask! Certainly you may use my images. Thank you for thinking of Rockin’ Granola. Do you want to grab it from the page, or do you need me to email you the image?
I’m looking forward to reading the article.
There. Easy as pie. I was allowed to use her image, she got blog traffic from me, I got blog traffic from her…everyone wins.
(visit Rockin’ Granola here.)
Back to the Stolen Photo…
When you’re surfing Pinterest and follow a pin of your own photo that leads to someone else’s blog, all logic goes out the window. A million things go through your head, but they’re all clouded by emotion. Your first impulse might be to threaten them with a lawsuit, but I’ll remind you that unless you’re a giant corporation, telling someone “Take it down or I’ll sue you” probably won’t work. It’s an over-used threat, and the Thief is betting that most people probably wouldn’t follow through with a lawsuit. But in this case, we had another ace in our hand:
The blogger was using WordPress.com (not self-hosted WordPress) as her blogging platform.
If you know anything about big companies like Google or WordPress, you know that they don’t like to get tied up in messy things like lawsuits. That’s why they have terms of service you have to agree to in order to use their blogging platforms. In this case, the Photo Thief blogs on WordPress.com…and their Terms of Service clearly state,
By making Content available, you represent and warrant that:
the downloading, copying and use of the Content will not infringe the proprietary rights, including but not limited to the copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret rights, of any third party…
So basically, if you are going to blog for free, you’d BETTER NOT STEAL SOMEONE’S STUFF.
And it’s not just WordPress, either. Blogger has a well-known reputation for taking down people’s blogs for a number of reasons, but they’re really serious about Copyright infringement…so much so that if someone is stealing your photos, content, or other copyrighted material, Blogger has a form to report it to them.
So what did we do?
The actual owner of the photo asked her to take down the photo, right there in the comments of her blog post. (This tactic is actually recommended by the good folks at WordPress.com)
There were a few back-and-forth comments between the blogger and Cathy at first, but when the blogger demanded that Cathy “show proof” that she had taken the photo, that’s when I stepped in.
I pointed out the WordPress Terms of Service and advised her to take a look at the flow-chart graphic I reproduced for you above. I was amazed that even though this blogger was clearly aware that the photo wasn’t hers, she would demand for anyone else to “show proof of ownership.”
(If you know you didn’t take a photo and are approached by anyone who claims the photo is theirs, the best response is one that will help make things right, not challenge the owner of the photo.)
In the end, the blogger took down the photo…which was the whole point, and I’m glad it worked out. I’m sure that she (and hopefully anyone reading this!) will start taking her own photos before she publishes a post instead of afterward.
I wish you could see the article – I really do – because of the fallout in the comments. You’d be amazed at the number of people who replied back with, “It’s the internet! Everyone takes other people’s photos!”
So what should you do if someone steals your photos for their blog?
- Before you do anything, double check and make sure they don’t have you cited as the source of the image. Not that a citation makes it okay – but if the blogger has at least made an effort to give you credit, then you should use a little more grace when approaching the blogger than if she said, “Look at the photo I took, everyone!”
- Ask yourself if this is really important to you. Don’t go cracking the whip behind photo thieves “just because The Blog Maven said to.” But if you know you’d feel badly for not sticking up for your rights, then don’t waste any time, either. Take action quickly so you don’t have to feel bad for very long.
- If it looks like a simple error (e.g., they mentioned your name but forgot to provide a link to the blog post they got it from), email them and kindly ask them to fix that. Go the extra mile and send them the URL of the post it should be linked to.
- If it looks like the blogger has a habit of stealing other people’s work (as was the case here), all bets are off. Leave them comments on the post. Ask (nicely) for them to remove the photo. Just as there isn’t any etiquette about how you should ask a house breaker to give you your jewelry back, there’s no etiquette that governs approaching photo thieves, either. You may even choose to contact your blogging friends to support you. But just remember: anything you do publicly on the internet will stick around and reflect on you. So if at all possible, give them the opportunity to make things right, and keep your cool.
What if leaving comments/emailing doesn’t work?
We’d like to think that people who steal other bloggers’ photos or content are doing so “accidentally” and give them the benefit of the doubt, but if they’re ignoring your requests to give proper credit for your photo or to remove your photo from their blog, there’s something deeper going on here. If the blogger is using a free service to publish her blog, you’ll be happy to know that both Blogger and WordPress.com have ways of reporting copyright infringement. You can find Blogger’s form here and WordPress.com’s form here.
By submitting a report to the company that hosts a free blogger, you’re taking it to the next level, so be prepared to back up your claim to be the creator of the photo in question.
Unfortunately, if the blogger is self-hosted, neither WordPress nor Blogger is going to leap to your rescue. And since this is foreign territory to me, I’m going to refer you to an incredibly thorough article (written in 2006, but still completely relevant) that breaks things down step by step.
And if they still won’t take down my photo?
At a certain point, it’s not worth the energy anymore. You can feel good about the fact that you stuck up for your rights. But in the end, some people are just scumbags. Just know that they’ll be in for lots of trouble in the future. Because if you’ve been through all this and they still claim that your photo is theirs, it’s a habit. They’ll do it again, to someone else. And eventually, it will catch up with them.
And then it’s time to focus on:
Protecting your Photo Rights on your Blog
There are a number of steps every blogger can (and should) take to protect themselves from photo theft:
- Watermark your images with your name and/or logo. If you don’t know how to do this, I’ll be teaching it as part of my Photoshop Elements for BLOGGERS workshop next month. I know of some cases where other bloggers have stolen photos and cut off the watermark, but all I can say is, make it as prominent as possible without making your photo look bad.
- Don’t use any full-sized images on your blog. Only make them as big as you need them to be for that post. At least you’ll know that people can’t use your photo in any larger of a space than where you’ve placed it on your blog.
- If you’re worried about people taking your photos and selling prints of them, use a program like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to change the photo quality to 72dpi. This resolution is high enough for the web, but it isn’t high enough to give good quality for printing.
- Even though your photos are automatically copyright protected by law as soon as you publish them, it’s a good idea to state your copyright policy right on your blog. If you don’t want people to use your photos at all, just say so. If you want them to ask first, just say so. If there are certain conditions where people are free to use your photos, then spell it out. Be as clear as possible so there’s not any question. (By the way – if you don’t mind sharing your photos, here’s a handy guide to Creative Commons licensing).
- [Advanced] Use your photo software to edit the image’s EXIF data. This attaches a copyright notice to the image file itself, which discourages people from stealing it…and gives you proof of ownership if someone asks for it. If you have a camera that’s fancier than mine, your camera itself may allow you to add your name to the EXIF data for all your images automatically.
What do you think?
I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on this topic, since people’s opinions are so different. Have you had any experiences with photo theft? Do you think it’s wrong, or just a “given” in the age of Internet publishing?
Please share this post, then leave a comment below and let’s discuss.