The simple rule is, if you really don’t want your photography stolen, abused, plagiarised or copied don’t post it on the Internet! Ironically if you want people to see your work, that’s exactly where you need to put it.
Copyright law is on the whole pretty clear in most countries and is based on the principles of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works which grants you copyright automatically to your own work (assuming the country in which the work originated is a signatory to the treaty). There’s no point me cutting and pasting the whole treaty here – but I do strongly suggest you look it up and have a good read as it is the foundation of copyright law throughout much of the world.
The law is pretty simple. If you made it, you own it, it’s yours and nobody has a right to copy it. The reality is different, it always has been, but this is even more so in the digital age. It’s easy to copy and use your work. Many copyright thieves will assume you won’t find your copied work, or they won’t care because they think you may not have the knowledge or funds to pursue them through legal channels. Additionally there are a lot of very stupid people out there that are still completely ignorant of the principles of copyright!
So what do you do if you don’t want to run the risk?
- Don’t put you images on any website anywhere including your own, keep them locked away and never show them to anyone – ever!
There is no number two, because that’s the only way to be certain nobody will breach your copyright. It’s that simple!
However, you can minimize the risk in a number of ways by taking some sensible precautions and the application of a bit of common sense.
- If you’re putting your photographs on your own website or blog disable right clicks to make copying more difficult. It doesn’t stop it, but having to capture a screen grab and crop down to the image may put people off. Thieves have a tendency to be very lazy!
- When considering uploading to popular websites read and understand their terms and conditions. Often they are not as bad as they sound. Read carefully though!
- Only upload low-resolution, scaled down images to social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, this makes them less useful to any potential copyright thieves.
- If you upload a lot of images use a service like Flickr which offers much better privacy and security options compared to the likes of Facebook.
- Know where your pictures are! Don’t upload to any old site – personally I stick to a limited numbers of sites. Knowing where the copies come from can help you prove ownership should you need to at some point. Upload to too many sites and you will forget where you put them, making it harder to identify the origin of any copy.
- In reality the chances of you finding copied images is pretty remote, though every now and then it doesn’t do any harm to run some searches through the likes of TinEye.
- Watermark images, I tend most of the time not to because I think it’s ugly, but if you must something discreet in the corner (which will possibly be cropped off by the unscrupulous thief) doesn’t look so bad. You can go for the massive watermark option – although with will stop any theft. it’ll probably also stop anybody looking at your pictures at all!
But, what can you do when you find someone has been copying? Here’s a few suggestions that have worked for me in the past. I would add though, Read up on the Berne Convention and national laws to ensure you sound like you know what you’re talking about (you can get all you need to know from Google in a few minutes) before taking any of the following steps
- Email the offender politely and point out the error of their ways. If you get no response follow up with something stronger, threatening legal action, even if you know you can’t afford to actually employ a lawyer. As mentioned earlier most of the type of people who might disregard your copyright are either lazy or stupid – just the threat may make them back off.
- If the ‘offence’ is on a social network report the breach of copyright. Before doing so check through the terms and conditions and quote back their own rules that apply to their users not being permitted to post copyrighted work. It’ll be in there somewhere.
- If it’s on a third party website, lets say your image has been used to illustrate a guest article on a blog, contact the site owners, again politely, but follow up with something stronger if you don’t receive a response.
- Still getting nowhere? Check out the whois information on the domain, you may find the site owners name and phone number to speak to them directly.
- Additionally, it can be worth finding out who hosts the website. It varies from company to company but breach of copyright could be covered in the terms and conditions of their hosting company. Some take this kind of complaint seriously, some don’t.
- Got a blog? Name and shame the offenders and tell the story of how they’ve wronged you. Nobody likes seeing evidence of their infractions in black and white!
- Finally, if all else fails – and you have deep pockets – talk to a lawyer!
I’ll say it again: If you don’t want your work copied don’t put it out there as sooner or later it will be. If you do, and it is copied PUT UP A FIGHT, not just for yourself, but also for everyone else who has been or will be wronged in the future!