Image Thieves – Copyright Violations

A few days ago I was on Facebook and looking at the stream of posts when one of a bird popped up that caught my attention. I knew the bird, I knew the wooden post it was on, I knew the specific location where that bird had been photographed. I was stunned because the image had been altered, a quote had been placed on the image and I knew for a fact that the image did not belong to the person who posted it, I knew exactly who it belonged to and I also knew they did not have permission to use, download, make a derivative work from, reproduce or redistribute the image.

Sure, it wasn’t my image but it made me plenty mad, especially because the image was used on a Facebook page where the person makes a profit from it and was shared with hundreds of individuals.

That person is just one of the thousands of people who steal copyrighted images and that is illegal and in violation of Copyright Laws.

The moment we take an image it is copyrighted and belongs to us, period.

What do these four images have in common?

Well, they were all taken in Utah, they were all taken by me, they were all posted on either my web site, my blog or a local birding web site. Two were taken in the same county, the other two in two different counties. Three are birds and one is a mammal. I hold the Copyright to all of the images.

What they also have in common is that they were stolen from me, used on a local commercial web site that made (makes) a profit from advertisements used on the web site that was created to drum up business for the owner. The owner of the business did not have MY permission to use the images and they were in violation of Copyright Law.

I was very angry to find that my images had been stolen, even more so because the web site was commercial and they were making financial gains.

I hired a local Intellectual Property Attorney who on my behalf filed suit against the owner of the business and after a few months that business agreed to a settlement, agreed to remove my images and never use them again plus I was compensated for the illegal use of my images.

A few weeks ago I went back to that website to make sure that my images were gone and that they had not stolen any other images of mine and placed them on the site and to my surprise I saw that they had stolen another local photographer’s images and placed THEM on their web site even after having to pay me for the illegal use of my copyrighted images. I contacted the other photographer and let them know that their images had been stolen and was informed that they had not given the company permission to use or license their images either.

Images thieves who should have known better since on their website they claim to be “Copyright experts”. If I had walked into their place of business and stolen their personal property they would have called the police and reported a theft so how can they justify stealing my work?

You might ask how I found the stolen images. I routinely do images Google searches to see where my images are. I check to make sure they are on the server where my web site and blog are hosted or on web sites where I post them to and have authorized image use.

search-pelican-google1

In the Google search screen capture above I used the key words “mia mcpherson pelican” because I had recently seen my images being used without my permission on a site called Fansshare.com, three of my juvenile Brown Pelican images have the Fansshare logo across them, when I ran my cursor over the images it tells me on what website the image is located. Did I give permission to the Fansshare member(s) to use my images and post them on this web site?

No, I did not.

Fansshare.com doesn’t make their TOS (Terms of Service) easily reachable, if you click “register” you see in the registration box “By registering you agree to abide by the Fansshare rules as set out in the terms and conditions”. But guess what? There isn’t a clickable link to those “terms and conditions” that can be viewed PRIOR to becoming a member and as far as I am concerned that should be illegal. Why should anyone agree to terms and conditions when then can not see what they are? That is just plain stupid and stupid isn’t a word I use often.

Fansshare.com does have a page titled Copyright, http://fotos.fansshare.com/network/copyright/#axzz2Cb6DOqmQ that explains how to start the process of a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright ACT) Takedown Notification to them because they are the “service provider”. If the hosting/service provider does not act on the Copyright Infringement within a reasonable period they can be held liable  for the Copyright Infringement as well.

There are other sites that allow their members to upload images to be displayed on their websites, Pixadaus.com is one of them. Their TOS (Terms of Service) are easily accessible, http://pixdaus.com/pixdaus/help/policy/ and the section that applies to Copyrighted materials is quite easy to understand:

By making Content available, you represent and warrant that:

  1. 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;

There are several things about Pixadaus.com that tick me off.

  1. They have advertisements on the site that is generating the owner income.
  2. They have both free and paid memberships
  3. If you are not a paid member you are only able to view 12 images per page and that makes it extremely difficult and time consuming to track down and ascertain IF any of your images are being used illegally and without your permission.
  4. The images are uploaded and stored on the Pixadaus.com servers.

I know my images have been posted to and are showing on Pixadaus.com. What is even more difficult for stolen image location is that when member(s) post new images to Pixadaus.com they are placed at the top of the pages which then pushes older images to the bottom thus if I were to find one of mine today on page one and 15 people post new images to their “tag” section birds it would then be on the THIRD page. A week later it might be on the 25th page.

Does this tick me off? You bet it does and I believe that sites like Pixadaus.com and Fansshare.com should be shut completely down unless they stop giving people who steal our images second, third and more chances. They are making money because of the “draw” that images like mine and thousands of other copyright holder images bring to their websites. Think about it, if they did not have those images on their sites they would go broke.

There are also issues with Flickr.com; a well known photo sharing site, where some members ignore the TOS there. Again, Flickr.com’s TOS are easy to locate, http://www.flickr.com/help/guidelines/ and state those terms in plainly written language:

What not to do

Here’s the deal: We like to give second chances. However, stepping across any of the lines listed below may result in account deletion with or without warning.

  • Don’t upload anything that isn’t yours.
    This includes other people’s photos, video, and/or stuff you’ve copied or collected from around the Internet. Accounts that consist primarily of such collections may be deleted at any time.

Their page for policy on Copyright/IP Infringement is at the bottom of every page, http://info.yahoo.com/legal/us/yahoo/copyright/en-us/

 stolen-black-crowned-night-heron2

This is an example that shows one of my stolen images, a Black-crowned Night Heron in flight, that has been illegally used on the Flickr.com site and placed there by a member named [blank].

What ticks me off: 

  1. The page states “This photo belongs to [blank's] photostream” – It does NOT belong to [blank], it belongs to ME
  2. By placing my image on Flickr.com he has violated their terms of service
  3. Also, please note that my stolen image also appears in the Heron Conservation group and they do not have my permission to use the image either.
  4. The page also states © All Rights Reserved and that is horribly misleading, anyone reading this page might think that [blank] owns the copyright when in fact I do.

stolen-chukar2

I had a Chukar image stolen and placed on the Flickr.com site and filed a DMCA Takedown Notification through Flickr and once they saw the same image on my own website and ascertained that it does indeed belong to me they removed my image and placed a graphic stating that the image had been “removed due to a claim of copyright / IP infringement”.

Way to go Flickr.com, it shows that the person stole my image.

Flickr.com does state that you can contact the offender by the email icon shown on the member’s page, I do not and will not do that because if that person is showing a pattern of stealing images and placing them on the Flickr site emailing them personally will not be notifying Flickr or making them aware that the member is a repeat offender so I go straight to Flickr.com

Sites that really make me angry? Free W a l l p a p e r sites that steal images from all over the internet and offer them for free download and many of those sites are earning income through advertisements on the pages.

wallpaper-crap

While doing a Google image search on myself or my web site I came across one of those w a l l p a p e r sites, (see image above, a dot com site) and at first located two of my images of a Least Sandpiper and a Western Sandpiper. Did they have my permission to use or redistribute my images?

Hell no.

I did a Whois is Lookup (I’ll get to that later) and found out where the website site was hosted and sent them a DMCA Takedown Notification. While I was waiting to hear back from the hosting provider I did a broader search on the site and found that they had nearly 30 of my images being offered for “free” download. Talk about ticked off.

I also discovered that this website steals bandwidth by hot linking to the images they steal. That can cause a high load on the server that YOU are paying for.

Look above my sandpiper images and notice the “Hot Link” graphic above them. The owner of this website had hot linked to those two images, which presumably were on the owners domain or other location where they had authorized image use. The owner must have spotted the stolen images and replaced them with a “Hot Link” graphic on their own server so that their images do not show on the offending website.

So I sent in another DMCA Takedown Notification to include the newly discovered illegally used and illegally redistributed images.

By the time the hosting provider was able to look at those Takedown Notifications the owner of the website had switched hosting providers so I very quickly got in touch with the new hosting provider, sent in the DMCA Takedown Notification and the owner finally removed all of my images but I decided to keep a close eye on them.

Recently I did a search on the same website for “sandpiper” and did not see any of my images but while going through them I found 2 images of another photographer that I know, contacted him and let him know. He had not given them permission so I explained how to go about writing and sending a DMCA Takedown Notification to the hosting provider.

The owner of this website has NO right to display my images, they do not have a right to offer my images or MY work for free download.

There are many other w a l l p a p e r sites that do this and I believe that every w a l l p a p e r site that does not offer their own “work” (some actually do and are legitimate) and steals other people’s work should be shut down permanently either by their hosting provider or by allowing the Domain Registrar to deny them registration of their domain names for repeated violation of Copyright Laws.

A Whois Lookup:

 

You can do a Whois Lookup on GoDaddy, NetWork Solutions or any other site that provides domain registration. This is one I did on the website this morning and guess what? They have changed hosting providers since I emailed my friend about his images being stolen two days ago.

The graphic above shows the Current Domain Registrar which is where they purchased the domain name.

wallpapercrap-whois02

This is another part of the results of the Whois Lookup, the current hosting provider is shown at the bottom under “Domain servers listed in order” and that is who needs to be contacted when sending a DMCA Takedown Notification.

It sickens me that there are so many people who think that just because an image is posted on the internet that they are free to use them as they please. Sure, some of it might be ignorance but I bet the biggest part of it isn’t, it is theft.

A few tips on what can be done:

When assigning a file name be sure that your name is in the file name. For instance: red-tailed-hawk-your-name.jpg

Be sure to add your copyright information to the EXIF file of the image.

Use a copyright mark on the image.

Do searches for your images on Google or other search engines, find out where they are located.

Know where you images are posted with permission.

If you find stolen images send a DMCA Takedown Notification to the hosting provider. Be prepared to send a link of where YOUR image is located on your site or other authorized site.

If you find your images on a site that is generating income of any kind, talk to an IP Attorney.

If possible disable “right” click and or imaging dragging on your website. It won’t stop everyone but it can slow theft down.

If you own a website or a blog or both makes sure that every page has a copyright disclaimer on it.

I’m sure there are many more steps that can be taken.

Sites to follow for Copyright Information, both sites discuss how to go about registering your images with the U.S. Copyright Office:

U.S Copyright Office

Photo Attorney – A Photographer who is also a Lawyer. There is great advice and tips on this site and I have added it to my RSS feed so I know when a new post is published there.

There are programs that can be used to search for your images, one of those is TinEye.com, I have never found one of my images though by using it. There are also paid services that add an invisible code to your image so they can be tracked on the internet, Digimarc is one of those. For me though that could be very costly because of the high volume of images I take.

I am not an attorney nor is what I have written here to be construed as legal advice it is my own personal opinion and thoughts. I am a photographer who is really sick and tired of Image Thieves. I am disgusted with people who do not consider that our photographic “work” is valuable and belongs to us. We would not tolerate someone walking into our homes and stealing our personal belongings and we definitely need to stop tolerating Image Thieves!

Mia

 


A sample DMCA Takedown Notification that has worked for me:

 

I am the copyright owner of the [Description or image title] photograph being infringed at:

http://www.url-to-photograph ( use actual link to the image or page on the site that has the stolen image)

Link to the photograph that has been infringed have been included to assist with the removal from the infringing websites.

 

On my website: (place url link to your copy of the stolen image hosted on your web site here)

 

On my blog: (place url link to your copy of the stolen image hosted on your blog here)

On a site where you have authorized image use: (the url link to any site where you have posted the image, for instance Flickr, a blog where you are an author, an image hosting site where you are a member, etc.)

This letter is official notification under the provisions of Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) to effect removal of the above-reported infringements. I request that you immediately issue a cancellation message as specified in RFC 1036 for the specified postings and prevent the infringer, who is identified by its web address, from posting the infringing photographs to your servers in the future. Please be advised that law requires you, as a service provider, to “expeditiously remove or disable access to” the infringing photographs upon receiving this notice. Noncompliance may result in a loss of immunity for liability under the DMCA.

I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of here is not authorized by me, the copyright holder, or the law. The information provided here is accurate to the best of my knowledge. I swear under penalty of perjury that I am the copyright holder.

Please send to me; at the address noted below, a prompt response indicating the actions you have taken to resolve this matter.

Sincerely,

Your name
Your email

Your mailing address

Your phone number


After completing the DMCA Take Down letter email it to the abuse or copyright infringement email address on the hosting provider site.
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37 comments to Image Thieves – Copyright Violations

  • Hi Mia, you’ve done a lot of research and some great follow-ups with your image thefts. People are posting Facebook copyright statements which are being declared erroneous by Snopes (http://www.snopes.com/computer/facebook/privacy.asp). I was wondering if you had any objection to me posting a link to your blog post, Image Thieves, for folks to get some good information as well as your tips to protect themselves. Your photos are beautiful, by the way!

    Take care,
    ~ Sue

  • Mia, thanks for all of the helpful information. What a shame that photographers have to go to such lengths to protect intellectual property. The world is full of people who have no qualms about taking what does not belong to them.

  • Veronica Curtis

    Hi Mia.
    You are so generous to share your photos with us all. They are so beautiful. I hope one day to get similar shots myself maybe with more practice. It is horrible that people steal them.
    I haven’t forgotten my promise to send photos from our 3 month caravaning holiday around most of Australia. We have had a few health issues since we returned. Should have been bright and bubbly but it didn’t turn out that way.
    I often think about you while I am taking my photos and picture you sitting in the water getting your shots.I have done that with dragon flies in the summer.I’d love to be your side kick if you come to Victoria in Australia
    Ronnie

    • Ronnie, I’m sorry to hear about the health issues but I do look forward to seeing your caravaning holiday images. I’d love to caravan around Australia for three months!

  • Great post Mia and thanks for all this useful information. It has happened to me also, but the person kindly removed my image when I emailed him. I’m beginning to fancy the idea of simply writing my copyright mark right across the image with a very slight opaque layer. I know this disturbs people who truly like to appreciate the images at their true resolution without any visual barriers. At least the image thieves will be reluctant to go through the work it takes to remove these.

  • Celia Lewis

    Mia, this happens in other fields as well. Many geneabloggers have been having amazing amounts of their blogs and details stolen and used by others … an ongoing battle. Jerks everywhere, I guess! What a huge drag.
    But your article is excellent on the process of how to check, and what to do, in details. Cheers for a great post. Lovely photos, by the way!!

    • Thank you Celia, it is amazing how much “intellectual property” does get stolen. I’m sure for some it is because of ignorance about copyright laws but for some it is just plain laziness or they don’t care that they are stealing from other people. Those kinds are jerks.

  • A while back I found one of mine stolen and published in an Irish flying (aircraft) magazine. It was easy to tell where they got it, because the one they used was cropped *larger* (from my photo site) than the “public domain” one they took from my blog. No, it wasn’t public domain at all. I got an admission of their error, but not that an employee stole it. It was resolved to my satisfaction without an attorney, but I’ll likely use one next time.

    Thanks for the great write-up!
    -Dale

    • Thanks for sharing your story of your stolen image Dale. I am amazed that the editor of the aircraft magazine didn’t ask to see proof of permission or licensing. They should.

  • Jennifer

    Mia I am awed by this thoughtful and informative post. Before I picked up a camera last May, I had no idea this was an issue. Since then I have taken an estimated 20K pictures of wildlife and landscapes. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt I would recognize every single one. I am going to implement your suggestions from now on. Thank you for this great info.

  • Nicole

    goodness!!! what a bunch of jerks…. is there anyway to put a “lock” on each image or a bigger water mark over the photo? urk!! go get ‘em!

    • Nicole, Digimarc can track image use (or misuse) on the internet by a code embedded in the actual file, but it can be cost prohibitive when you have a large number of images on the internet. I’m going to keep on tracking down the thieves sending the DMCA takedown notifications and hope that more photographers will do the same.

  • This is awesome Mia. Thanks for taking the hours to sit down and write this one. Good tips.

  • Jim Hackley

    Thanks for taking the time to post this, very informative and helpful advice on what to do.

  • Thanks for a very informative article. It’s hard to believe how frequent the problem is.

  • Sorry to hear your images were stolen, I had no idea that the theft of photos is so common. Your post is very informative and helpful, even to a non-professional like me. Many thanks Mia

  • Very helpful and informative. I haven’t checked for where my photos have been illegally used; I probably should do that. I have, however, found my photos in other people’s galleries on Google Plus. Very irritating. Funny thing is, if they just asked, I’d probably give them the photo.

  • Mia, thanks so much for the detailed descriptions … very helpful. I’m always stunned at how people think you won’t recognize your own photo. Of course, so many people these days don’t even understand the concept of copyright. When I worked at About, a common excuse was “but it was on the interwebs!”

    I was recently contacted by someone working on a wildlife issue. They said, “I saw your photo on a brochure promoting the slaughter and hunting of non-native Anatidae. Did you intend for your photo to be used this way?” I absolutely did not, and anyone who reads my blog (which is where the photo was taken) would know my feelings about that. The usage was done under the auspices of a legitimate natural resources department in another state, and when I contacted them, I could tell they were “anxious” (would that be the word?) to correct the situation. They offered a number of remedial measures, including a reprint of their brochure. I opted not to force that outcome, feeling that the money could better be used toward wildlife conservation programs. They did remove the photo from all other usages and from the next printing, etc.

    Beyond the obvious legal and ethical violations, pragmatically speaking, it’s so dumb to do this. There are enough places people can get free, Creative Commons pics or inexpensive stock photos if they don’t have the character to ask the photographer. I hear from my teacher friends that plagiarism straight from the ‘net is way too common, as well.

    • Ingrid,

      Thank you for sharing your story about how your image was stolen and used without your permission. It would be even more shocking to find out that it was used to promote something you do not believe in as yours was. I worry that my Coyote images will be found on those Coyote slaughter sites, sorry, I can’t call that hunting.

      Image theft has to be stopped and I think that filing DMCA takedown notifications is just one way of making people aware that they are stealing another person’s work.

  • Rachel

    I’m sorry your images were used again. Great post on ‘how to’ remove images that are inappropriate posted. With major brands encouraging viewers to pin their product images on pinterest and share on FB it’s an uphill battle to get viewers to remember that all images are copyrighted.

    • Thanks Rachel. I hope that my post helps other photographers whose images might have been stolen. I don’t post many images on facebook for that reason, they are too easy to use. Seeing images where it says “photographer unknown” makes me leary, because they have been shared so many times that the photographer is no longer given credit.

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  • [...] s.parentNode.insertBefore(po, s); })(); Last month I wrote a detailed post on Image Thieves – Copyright Violations and in that post stated: Sites that really make me angry? Free w a l l p a p e r sites that steal images [...]