You’re a savvy blogger who knows that it’s important to share not only words on your site, but photos as well. Visitors will be more likely to engage with an article that catches their eye with a great photograph, infographic, or drawing than they will with a wall of text.
A wise blogger knows that you can’t just use any random photo you find online, so perhaps you’ve purchased some stock images or used Creative Commons photos on your blog.
But what about the opposite scenario? What if you’ve posted your own photos and you have this gut feeling that folks might be taking them or using them elsewhere?
Should You Care?
Before diving into how to police your images, it’s worth considering if you want to spend time doing this. Most interesting images that end up on the internet stand a good chance of being repurposed, reblogged, swiped for a personal blog post, or stolen for some other purpose. Technically most of these uses constitute copyright infringement and in theory the offender is liable for damages, but it’s also worth consideration if policing the web for unauthorized image use is the most productive use of your time. There’s no right answer to this question, but consider what you feel is the harm caused by a potential infringement versus the other work for your business that you could do in the time needed to monitor the usage.
Okay, Let’s Go Photo-Hunting
If you’ve decided it might be interesting to track some of your more interesting photos, there are a couple sites/services that I can recommend.
The leading service in this field is TinEye, which allows you to search for an image on the web from a variety of sources. In the example here, we’re curious about your photo that you originally posted to your website or photo sharing service. You can either upload the image to TinEye, or give it the source URL for your photo as a starting point. TinEye performs some analysis on the photo and then returns a list of results where it thinks it has found that same photo being used elsewhere on the internet. You can browse through the results and see which uses are legit and which might be the result of someone “borrowing” your work. In addition to ad hoc queries, TinEye offers commercial services if you’ll want to search for large amounts of your work on an ongoing basis.
Another good option for the occasional search is Google’s Search by Image feature, which allows for searching the web with the power of Google, except instead of starting with a text query, you start with an image. Much like TinEye, you can start with the image URL, a direct upload, or even use a browser extension to enable easier searching. Google then presents a Google search results page including other copies of the photo with contextual information about where it is being used.
Once you’ve found an offender, you can contact the blogger, webmaster, or even the web host and request either that the image be taken down, linked and credited, or licensed.
Do you police for your content elsewhere on the web? Do you consider the occasional image theft a cost of doing business? Do you use another service that folks should know about? Please share in a comment below.
Thanks so much for the great information, Aaron. This is definitely bookmarkable stuff 😉
Thank you! I have just emailed a Copyright Infringement Notice to Typepad, Inc. requesting the removal of one of my photos. Your post gave me the initiative to get something done about a photo of mine that is being used without my consent.
A company such as TypePad should be well versed in dealing with these situations – my guess is that they’ve already taken care of the problem. Did you get a positive response from them?
Thanks for your reply, Aaron. I haven’t heard back, but checked the status of my ticket with Typepad today. Status shows I filed the complaint 4 days ago, and my request is “being processed”. Hope to update you with good news soon.
Success! My photo has been removed from the offender’s blog. Thanks again!
Hey Aaron, this post is a valuable resource and something I am going to keep bookmarked. I cannot tell you how many times photographers, pro and amateur alike have asked me this question. Now I have a place where they can start : )
Myself, I found one of my images via a google search once and contacted the websites owner. It’s amazing how many times they say “my webmaster was the one that put it on my site” … so passing the blame. Good advice for anyone, if you hire someone to do your blog or website, also ask about where they got the photos, and don’t assume they weren’t snagged from somewhere else.
Yeah, the “my web guy did it” excuse is a common one. As you note it’s important to make that scenario clear in the relationship between clients and designers/developers. The problem can go both ways – I know some developers that include a clause in their contract that indemnifies them against issues for client-provided photos and artwork.
@Bob Sometimes clients are just as bad 🙁 I’ve been contacted by photographers who have taken photos of clients and the clients have used the images in their blogs… the client thought as they were in the image, that they could use it failing to understand the image actually belonged to someone else.
@Aaron, great resource. I’ve a friend who found her pregnancy pics being used for a weight loss site, she (like the rest off us) was horrified but eventually managed to get it taken down.
Watermarking images doesn’t mean they won’t be stolen, but it does mean the thief has to work a little harder to use that image.
Sarah, very true. And honestly, the clients are even less educated and don’t understand the implications. As far as the web designers, they ought to know better (face smack) : )
One thing which is very clear with this step is getting free backlinks… If you are using orignal image and someone is copying it… Reverse image search (Google image search), the one you mentioned is pretty useful….
One might not like to get the images removed..instead use it for getting free credit links to your site…
That’s an interesting point I hadn’t considered, but most of my experiences with folks using photos improperly is that usually they just swipe the photo and don’t link back to the source. That said, as you point out if there is a link back, one might consider if there are SEO benefits.
Aaron – This is the a great post; very useful to those of us out there who are considering posting original images to our blog.
Out of interest, is there a correct, standard way in which one should credit images, whether they be it their own or someone else’s? For the record, I tend to use Shuttlecock images, but I just credit that site rather than the artist or photographer (as the individual is not always cited).
If a source specifies how it wants to be credited, that’s always best. For Flickr images or when it’s not specified, I usually just put a credit line at the bottom of a blog post that says “Photo by [name], used via Creative Commons” (or whatever license arrangement is in effect).
I’m not familiar w/ Shutterstock’s licensing agreement, but usually if you’ve purchased usage for an image you’re not required to provide credit when used – as always, check the terms for the photo.
most of my experiences with folks using photos improperly is that usually they just swipe the photo and don’t link back to the source. That said, as you point out if there is a link back, one might consider if there are SEO benefits.