(What to Do) When Another Blogger Steals Your Photos

What to do when someone steals your photos | A Post by The Blog Maven

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):

How to Credit an Image Source

Image Source: http://www.designsponge.com/2011/03/how-to-credit-just-check-the-poster.html

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,

Hi Kara,

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!

Warmly,
Jeni Elliott

And with that kind of a question, what do you think her response was?

Jeni,

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.

Best wishes,
Kara

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!”

Ugh.

So what should you do if someone steals your photos for their blog?

  1. Before you do anything, double check and make sure they don’t have you cited as the source of the image.  You’d feel silly if it was there, but you just overlooked it.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

What to do when a blogger steals your photos | a Resource from The Blog Maven 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.

25 Comments • Leave yours below!

  1. says

    I actually just had a reader email me last night saying that one of my Alphabet Glue photos was on a popular clothing website in their header for a particular post. I quickly sent a super polite email just saying that the site is lovely but that I really needed credit for my photo or for it to be removed. They emailed back right away, apologized, and then updated the site to reflect that the photo was taken by me. *And* they are sending me a little free gift. I think it was a definite honey vs. vinegar situation and I am so glad that I decided to be really nice in tone of my email because it set the whole thing up to be a pleasant interaction instead of a contentious one.

    • says

      I agree. The attitude you approach it with can set the tone for the whole interaction. I’ve definitely learned that the hard way before. I think it’s especially hard to approach it with kindness when you’ve had people repeatedly use your photos without permission…but I’m glad it worked out for you in the end. (and aren’t we thankful for those alert readers who tip us off to what’s going on?)

  2. says

    Great article. I appreciate all of the information. I had an experience where my blog content was being taken and published by another blogger… I was so pleased to see how quickly Blogger responded when I reported it.
    Kate recently posted..Banana Blueberry MuffinsMy Profile

    • says

      It’s really nice to know that Blogger takes care of things so quickly. I know photo/content stealing are things that have been going on for years, but it’s easier to track those people down now – especially with Pinterest and so much other social sharing going on. Glad it worked out for you in the end!

  3. says

    Excellent, well explained advice! So often there’s misleading or flat-out incorrect information published on this topic, but this post is perfect. I’ve had to deal with infringers a number of times for my two companies over the years (pretty much the only time I’ve used my J.D.). This is an excellent summary for those who don’t have the benefit of three years of law school! I’ll be sure to bookmark and share it.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Nikki. Unfortunately, I think everyone is going to run into this situation sooner or later. Better to prevent it from happening in the first place, but there are always people who’ll go out of their way to steal other people’s intellectual property. I think it’s useful to have a plan *before* it happens so you don’t do something rash because you’re angry.

  4. says

    This is becoming quite a problem I think for bloggers and pictures and fresh visuals are becoming more important for grabbing and keeping people’s attention. One helpful website for stock images a colleague of mine recently sent me to was http://www.photopin.com. On their website they detail how to use legally use a free stock photo and how to properly site and give credit to the one who took the image. A really great resource for a word curator/editor like myself!

    Thanks again Jeni for this great info!

    • says

      Hi Natalie, thanks for pointing out that resource. I was familiar with Wylio, but Photopin is new to me. I’ll be sure to mention you if I create a post out of this info. :)

  5. says

    Jeni,
    Thanks for writing this article. I like your advice.
    I saw someone started following me on pinterest, so went to follow them back. Their main pinterest picture was a flower photo from my blog. Seeing their name, they were a regular reader of my blog. In that particular case, I decided not to do anything about it, but each circumstance is different.
    Thanks to this article, I feel I’ll have the tools if I am ever in a situation where I feel I need to act.
    I love how you help empower people. Thanks!

    Love, Taryn
    Taryn Kae Wilson recently posted..YarnAlong: my mossy hat & the motherMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Taryn, thanks for your comment. I agree that every case is different. Unfortunately, there are people out there who are just too lazy to take the photos themselves, so they take the shortcut and use someone else’s. Your blog falls into the unique category of “inspirational,” so I can see where (especially on Pinterest) readers might think it’s okay to use your photos for their own (and other people’s) inspiration. I think the best thing to do is come up with a policy for how other people can use your photos. It will help make some gray areas less gray. :) I appreciate you taking a moment to leave your note. Happy Fall!

  6. sassygeogirl says

    I don’t have a blog, but do appreciate the time that goes into producing the content. I actually had an experience with a local community newspaper. They asked for a photo I took to use with an article and I clearly stated that I would provide the photos as long as they gave me credit. They published the paper and didn’t credit me. At that point, all they could do to rectify the situation was print a follow-up note in another issue way back in the paper where nobody would really see it. It’s sad that there are people out there that just don’t care about copyright.

    • says

      Wow, what a crummy thing to happen! And you’re right – those retractions written by newspapers aren’t even noticed. I’m sure you’ll think twice about letting a newspaper use your photos again. I just hate that there’s an exploitation side of this: whether it’s a newspaper or a blog, people are using other people’s property to get more traffic, or to make themselves look better…or because they’re just lazy. Ugh.

  7. B says

    As informative as is this article, I should point out that using the “thief blogger” who actually cited the link where she “stole” the said photo is a little unprofessional. You should have used an example created from your imagination rather than picking on someone because she “stole” one of your clients or friends. The professional thing to do would have been an anonymous example and end the disagreement when the photo was removed and sorrys where said. As other people saying “is the internet, get over it”, we need to understand not all people is literate as others are in the copyright and plagiarism areas, and about some other sarcastic or insulting comment, well you and Cathy decided to get in the internet, and with that comes people being not nice to others. You should move past that and take a more professional and ethical approach next time.

    Respectfully,
    B

    • says

      Hello B, I appreciate the respectful tone of your comment. I’ve gone through this post and tried to make sure there are no “specifics” mentioned that would point to where this took place. In fact, the only people who will make a connection at all are the people who come over from the comments of that other blog…and I’ve let the blogger know she’s free to just delete those comments if she wants to. The tone of this post is exactly the same as in all the other posts I’ve written; people who are regulars of my blog are used to my matter-of-fact style of writing. As I mentioned in my comments on that other blog, I’ve definitely learned some things about how “best” to approach this situation – and I’ve tried to carry over some of those lessons in putting together this post. The #1 thing I’ve learned, though, is to let other bloggers handle their own issues. Cathy is like a grandmother to me, so I approached the matter differently than I would have otherwise. I hope that the result of this post is that (1) ALL bloggers will be more wary of surfing Google Images for their post photos, and (2) when people discover their photos on other people’s blogs, they’ll be able to consider all their options (and the tone in which they approach things) before deciding on how to proceed. Thanks for your input – I appreciate you.

  8. Susan says

    Jeni- This is a great post. There is never a justifiable reason to take a photo off another blog and re-post it on your own without permission. Bloggers spend hours photographing and editing their images. As more and more folks seek to make an income (even a small one) from their blogs, copyright issues are becoming even more critical. Taking a blogger’s photos could truly be taking hard-earned money out of their pockets! Not OK. Thanks for shining a light on this issue.

  9. says

    Great Article! I haven’t had this happen (that I know of) but it’s good info just in case. I am trying to get better about remembering to add a watermark. Hopefully your workshop will give me some tips on making the process faster/easier. I have a hard time making it look consistent throughout my pics, when I’ve cropped them different sizes.

    Interesting point about the image quality too. I just always assumed I needed to choose the highest quality possible to make them look good, but I’m probably overdoing it!
    Andrea recently posted..Pug PartyMy Profile

  10. says

    Hi, I totally understand how frustrating this is when you have taken the time to create and edit the photo. Stealing images off the Internet is not new and not just bloggers do it. In my day time job we have an online store. About 10 years ago I had a company not only use my images but instead of just saving/stealing the images they actually linked directly to my image so was stealing bandwidth too. I noticed this through my stats that I had lots of new visitors from another country. I had just finished selling these items so I could not help myself. After deleting it from my store I Photoshopped a new bright red images with the text saying you are trying to view an image that does not belong to the site you are viewing and saved them with the same file names and put them in the same file location. It took them a number of weeks for them to realise the image had changed. They then hosted their own, probably stolen but not mine. Great article. Fran
    Fran recently posted..Great Wall of China – The Bears BeggingMy Profile

    • says

      That is about the cleverest way of dealing with this issue I have ever heard! Good for you.

      For whatever reason, people don’t seem to think stealing images is “as bad” as stealing other people’s words. It’s still hard for me to believe some individuals think this is okay (even in public school, I was taught it was wrong – and illegal – every single year)…but when a company does it, it’s a whole other level of disgusting. Thanks so much for your comment!

  11. XY says

    While there are no “specifics” in your article regarding the case in point, your name is attached to the blogger’s comment section. I easily followed the link here so obviously I can put 2 and 2 together and ended up here, reading the positive comments you chose to publish while knowing firsthand that you haven’t published those from readers who happen to disagree with your passive-aggressive approach to this whole mess. Apparently you have taken it upon yourself to play the surrogate role of internet police instead of letting WordPress.com take care of their own TOS violations. While your intentions may certainly be noble in your own mind, it’s my impression that you have used this situation to promote your blog and expound on your misplaced sense of self-importance. And no, I would not like to get updates from the Blog Maven.

    • says

      Hi “Sally Sunshine” (your email address, since you didn’t leave your real name) – I don’t make a habit of policing other people’s blogs. I was protecting my client’s intellectual property and giving the blogger who “borrowed” the photo the opportunity to remove it from her blog so it wouldn’t be reported to WordPress.com. In my mind, this issue was over the moment the blogger took down the stolen photo; it has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved – and you’re not involved. I would hope you have better things to do with your time than restarting old battles that are clearly over.

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