Who is using your photos without permission?

We all knew the day would come when we could search the internet with more than just words. Recently Google launched the ability to search the internet using photos and thus offering a tool for photographers who publish online to track their work.

We all publish photos and share them online via flickr, 500px or our own blogs. Many of us add our photos to flickr groups with the hope others will like them enough to publish them in related websites to that flickr group but what about beyond?

Whether it is simply curiosity or the desire to pursue those who use your work without permission Google image search offers a simple way to track usage.

I decided to take an image that I have published on flickr and is part of the Getty Images collection. I selected this image as I thought at least Google will find the Getty listing and I was absolutely shocked to find the scale and type of use of the photo.

Here is how :

Head to flickr and view your images all sizes. When the image loads right click to and “copy address of image”.

Now click the little camera icon on the search bar and then paste the image url into the search field.

The results are pretty accurate, I found the photo used with Roxette “It could have been love”, blogs and someone has even gone as far as using it as a background to a series of quotes.

It was interesting to find that some of the uses even retained the Getty Images copyright watermark.

So how do I feel?

To be honest I don’t know how I feel? flattered people like the photo so much they want to use it? Should I feel something in particular? Most of the use isn’t resulting in any profit as a result, does that matter?

What is the point of having the photo on Getty if it’s existence on dozens of blogs dissolves it’s value? In addition I feel that pursuing such sites would only end up in mental suffering and stress.

I would love to read your experiences, opinions and thoughts on this topic, have I insulted every photographer out there and demeaned the art form? Perhaps it is simply better not to know?

The original photo can be found here.


  1. says

    It took me about an hour to figure out my reply. Part of that is because I’m not a professional photographer. Perhaps that’s why my approach is different.

    I’m not particularly concerned. Every group of photographs that I’ve shot for others, whether individuals or events, I’ve put on a CD along with a release to use those photos any way they want, providing they correctly attribute the photos.

    They don’t always attribute them, granted. Still, that’s within my expectations. That also applies to any photos I make available over the internet. The way I see it, if I put it online, I can expect others to take it and use it either with or without attribution. I would, of course, prefer attribution, but this is not a perfect world. There are ways around that: watermarks, degradation and using a representative picture rather than the real one, only putting out pictures of a size that can’t be decently blown up, and other such tricks.

    The problem is finding the balancing point: where do you draw the line between showing your best work in the best way possible and protecting your photos?

    I don’t bother going after the people that use my photos without attribution. If I see one, I simply leave a comment stating it’s mine, I have the original, and that while they are using it would they mind attributing it properly? Sometimes I go back to see, other times I just move on.

    There’s really no one answer. It’s some money down the drain, perhaps, but a lot less than you’d pour down the drain trying to force them to comply. On top of that, you probably won’t want to go after all unauthorized use of your photos, so how do you determine which? Would the choice be the same tomorrow? In a week? Month? Year?

    As I mentioned at the top of my comment, I’m also not a professional photographer. I don’t make the minimum % of income from my photos by choice. so my perspective is from that viewpoint.

    • says

      I absolutely agree with Bill B. I’m still new to the world of photography, but I feel quite strongly that if someone stealing your images online is a concern then you simply shouldn’t put them on the internet. If you had a Ferrari you wouldn’t leave it in the driveway with the keys in the ignition, right?

      Ok, I know this is extreme and the internet is a great way to reach a broad audience. So for argument’s sake we are not taking our images offline. Why not add a watermark? Or on your website take some precautions to prevent others from grabbing your images by disabling the right click option? There are countless other tricks you could use in the war against stealing online content.

      I can relate to anyone who finds their content appearing on another site without permission. It is, essentially, stealing. However I don’t see a feasible way to regulate this so I think the creator should bear in mind that there are risks when his/her work is published online.

  2. says

    You regulate stealing by going after those who steal. Register the copyrights to your images and pursue (by legal means) the infringers, just like you would the guy who steals your car.

    And btw, if I leave my car in my driveway with the keys inside, that still does not give ANYONE permission to take it–it just makes it easier for them to do so. I’ll still send the police after them and you would too! Same thing with your images!
    They have VALUE or no one would take them. You as an artist should be compensated for that loss.

    There are lawyers who will go after even small infringements on a contingency fee basis. Often these cases are settled and don’t end up in court. There are also companies like PicScout who take care of that for you (tracking and enforcement).

    Finally, creative commons licenses are bad for commercial photographers because if you use one you can never, ever license that work with any kind of exclusivity to any client down the road. Might as well throw away that image. You can permit others to use your work for free or however you want without using CC.

    Now, I am a lawyer, but NONE OF THE ABOVE IS LEGAL ADVICE. I’m only posting the information for educational purposes.

    • says

      You bring up very good points! I understand that if someone steals your car it’s still illegal, but my point is you wouldn’t leave your car so easily available. I’m saying you should take the proper precautions for your images as well (such as registering the copyrights as you are suggesting). My overall point is that if you just put an image on the internet without trying to protect it, you shouldn’t be surprised to see it elsewhere.

      I certainly do not side with anyone who uses an image without permission, and as a professional web developer I have battled this same argument in designs and graphics in the past. There are people who think that anything on the internet is fair game for use anywhere.

  3. Jony says

    I have listened to a photographers opinion on this matter quite recently. He, like you, has creative commons licences on all of his shots, so people can use them for free on an individual basis..etc etc.

    His thoughts, and I suppose I agree, were that there will always be a number of people who will try to get anything for free. These people are very hard to stop, but the majority of people will play by the rules and pay for the image.

    I suppose you could liken it to movies and songs. There are plenty of people that download these illegally, but the majority of people will pay for them, whether from a shop or downloading it.

    It is one of those things that we won’t ever be able completely eradicate, but I guess the ability to check gives us a little more control.

    Just my two cents….


  4. Stephen Barnes says

    I came across this yesterday on a professional forum, and immediately searched for a few of my images to try to find out who had bought licences for legitimate use. One image that was licenced by Time Magazine has also appeared on a number of blogs. I’m a bit miffed to say the least, so I’ve contacted the owners and asked them to remove the image.

    The reason is simple: in the world of Copyright infringement you have to be seen to be making an effort to get people to desist. If you don’t, then you don’t have a leg to stand on if you do decide to take someone to court.

    The capability has been around for a few years through TinEye, but Google has a much better algorithm and a much larger database of images.

  5. says

    As a writer, who is profoundly offended by the idea of plagiarism, I either use my own photographs (LOL, not ideal), get them from creative commons and credit them properly, or directly ask the artist/photog for permission. When I go directly to the photog or graphic artist, I tell them that they can send me a short bio with 2 links that I will include with the piece. I like this because I can promote talent in areas other than writing and I get wonderful photos for my articles. It’s a win-win.

    • says

      I disagree: it’s not a win-win. Artists can’t eat credit lines and links never amount to anything in the way of paid work. You shouldn’t work for free or let your work be used for free and neither should you ask other artists to.

      Of course, it is MUCH better than stealing the work–no question–but the best option is to pay a negotiated usage license fee, even if it is a small one.

    • says

      but promote talent to who? somebody somewhere has to pay the piper to play otherwise we can’t eat..wouldn’t it be at least polite to offer some part of your payment to the photographer..Or could i perhaps suggest you write some articles to go with my photographs ..i would of course give you a credit..

  6. Mike says

    As someone who has experienced theft of my images for someone else’s business overseas, I can almost certainly guarantee you that it is not worth pursuing. Registering your images in the U.S. is utterly meaningless, especially if the user of your images lives in a place like the Ukraine (in my case). Even if they lived in say Canada, it could be a long, drawn out, expensive proposition to sue someone for using one of your images on a website. Using it in a magazine is a whole different ballgame, but I have found the courts still do not take image theft on the internet seriously. I have changed my attitude all together about it. I really do not care any more. I liken it to someone scanning one of my old images from a print magazine. Copyright infringement is not new, and unless it’s being used in a high profile campaign by a company or individual who’s reputation will suffer if you go public with the theft, just forget about it and keep shooting.

  7. says

    I just have given up – people – image thieves have no respect – like a monkey at your dinner table. I pity those without scruples – their lives, in general, will always remain a glass half full – so sad. Even worse are the people who steal your art from where it hangs upon public walls – happened to me in New York and Texas. I guess I’d rather be stolen from on the net – rather than the wall… – Brad Michael Moore

  8. says

    it just drives me bats! If I went into their home and stole a picture off their wall, would they find that flattering? This country desperately needs punitive damages for copyright abuse, we have arrived at a ‘catch me and I might pay’ situation. there seems to be no downside to stealing imagery. Most importantly how will the creators of the future be able to afford to create?

  9. says

    As an amateur photographer I gave this issue a long thought. At first I didnt like the idea that pther people would use my photos without my permission or knowledge. But after reading the e-book Going Candid by Thomas Leuthard (www.85mm.ch) I decided to use the Creative Commons license for my photos and not be bothered anymore. But I don’t have to make a living with my photos so I can understand that other people don’t want to use the CC.

    If you really don’t want your photos stolen then don’t put them on the internet. I know that is a bold statement but it is the only solution. Download protection (like on 500px) is not really a solution. I can still make a screenshot of the photo and use it on a blog, website etc.

  10. says

    There is vibrant and vigorous debate about posting works on-line and sharing of images.

    Some photogs and artists don’t want works shared, some do, some see it as free marketing.

    There is no right or wrong answer, it is up to us.

    The DMCA is there for us to use and the courts if we need too.

    There is really no way to stop people from copying the works.

  11. Mikeal St. Ayre says

    “If I went into their home and stole a picture off their wall, would they find that flattering? ” No. Because that is breaking and entering. It’s also likely to get you shot around here.
    I am an amateur photographer, a professional audio engineer, web/print designer and other things. If you are hoping to make a living from your photographs in an commercial art sense, then do not post them to the interwebs in any but the most obfuscated ways. If you are looking to get hired or respected as a photographer, then watermark your images and let them free.
    But that’s my 2 cents. The only time I get pissed is when someone claims my work is theirs – that they took that picture, or designed that graphic. Then they have a fight.

  12. says

    Small Claims for Copyright

    “The Copyright Office has been asked by Congress to study the obstacles facing small copyright claims disputes, as well as possible alternatives. Specifically, the Office is to undertake a study to: (1) assess the extent to which authors and other copyright owners are effectively prevented from seeking relief from infringements due to constraints in the current system; and (2) furnish specific recommendations, as appropriate, for changes in administrative, regulatory and statutory authority that will improve the adjudication of small copyright claims and thereby enable all copyright owners to more fully realize the promise of exclusive rights enshrined in our Constitution. The initial notice of inquiry seeks comment on how copyright owners have handled small copyright claims and the obstacles they have encountered, as well as potential alternatives to the current legal system that could better accommodate such claims.”


    Comment submission form


  13. says

    I sometimes tkae the time and search for my flickr name via google and even then I always end up finding photos of me (in particular of me as a person!) used on job blogs, wellness sites etc. Honestly, I am always furiuos. Sure, part of me is kinda flattered but not flattered enough to not mind, esp. since most of them are copyright me. A lot of people seem to take flickr as a sort of free base for using photos of others as long of they connect them to your account! I wrote flickr an email about this some time ago but they did not really care much or at least they did not have a solution. Many times, I simply wrote to the respective website and asked them to take them down immediately, esp. since it was mostly sites that bothered me. I am good with seeing them on regular blogs but everything else is a no-go for me.

  14. says

    I can’t say I understand this.

    If you search the image address you surely find hotlinkers but using picasa and flickr clearly leads to re-posting. Nothing stops anyone taking a screenshot and you’ll never find those.

    On the wider point, if I wasn’t getting blogged and re-blogged I’d have little to show my prospective clients.

  15. Nik says

    I believe in the old-timers saying, The artist belongs to his work, not the work to the artist. You do not want it to be used, do not publish it. It’s a client’s work, give it to them, and let go. You should know there is NO way of protection through Internet. In anyways, I’m proud I can still prove it’s my photo, since I have the originals!

  16. says

    Thanks. I found that the Flickr url doesn’t work, but if I select one of the sizes of one of my images, I can drag that onto the search box. I’ve found a bunch of infringers. It is important to protect one’s ownership.

  17. susan says

    it would be better if flickr didnt have right click ability. in fact flickr promotes the theft of images by not giving contributors the option to switch off right click. perhaps everyone should petition flickr and other social networking sites to ban right clicking?

    and indeed, images should not be there for others to steal unless you have a creative commons licence and therefore by default agree to the so-called theft. it seems too many want something for nothing in this digital age and if it keeps up creativitiy, whether it bein the form of images, music or books will eventually die a lonely death.

    most countries have copyright by default, but it doesnt help much because few have enough money to take those ‘thieves’ to court and prosecute, as one has to prove how much the said thief made from one’s image etc. very difficult, costly and timeconsuming. in the meantime i would suggest using a very low resolution and small pixel size on your images so as to make it difficult to use them other than as a near-thumbnail.

  18. Mitch Labuda says

    Once we place any content on the web, there is the chance for mis-use.

    Right click does not prevent scraper sites from linking too or taking the low resolution files.

    The new darling of social media is the pinning sites, like Pinterest. The Terms of Service there, grant ownership of all member content, even likes to a photo sharing site.

  19. Linda Pollock says

    I just went to flickr and tried to do as you suggested. When I right clicked on a photo, a message popped up saying ” This photo is all right reserved”. I’m not able to copy the address onto google. Will be sure to try other sites I’m on for sure.

    Facebook announced today that they are taking this sort of thing very seriously, and have began a wide search. Already a few “sharing” groups have been shut down.

    I am dead set against stealing photos, more so any of mine. I am not flattered that they would be used in some forum that I have not given permission. As a photographer, it is not a case of going out with a little point and shoot, and taking a picture of Aunt Mary. This is my living. This is how I support my family, feed my babies. There is a great deal more then clicking a camera. It is a business, and business’ cost!!

    Take from my babies, and see how quick this woman becomes a mamma bear.

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