I thought on this post I would tackle a subject that I think most photographers are either aware of or been subject to, and that is ‘image theft’.
Its fair to say that over recent years there has been an influx of these stories, it has even resulted in webpages such as stopstealingimages.com. To be honest I usually read these articles and feel like that its only ‘big time’ photographers that get hit by this trend, so to somewhat balance that out I would share my experiences.
It started with Flickr: A long time ago, I started the notion of photography projects, I was at the time into a designer toy phase and started photographing “toy portraits”, for nothing more than a bit of fun at the end of the day. I started putting them on Flickr and before long I received an email from someone pointing me in the direction of another photographer who had “copied” a number of my shots, character for character, image for image and even down to the titles. A couple of searches later and I found that a number of my photos had been taken off Flickr and posted all over blogs. Well, that was that for me. I deleted Flickr.
That might seem an extreme reaction, but this was a growing trend and it left me feeling uncomfortable that my work was being taken without my knowing it, even if they were only a hobby shot. As a result I didn’t post to online photo sharing sites until 500px came along. Fresh, different, professional… I thought it was worth giving it ago, this time tailoring it a bit more towards work images and travel shots. After a while, I figured it didn’t really work for me, so I deleted the profile.
Last year, a company got in touch with me to ask where I had photographed a staircase and if I could give them details of the staircase build, they had seen an image on a website called Pinterest. The only thing I knew about Pinterest was, my friend was a fan and that was about it. I set up an account did a search and found a slew of my images all ‘pinned’, mostly from 500px.
Now to those that don’t know, Pinterest is essentially a mood board, if you come across something you like you “pin it”, you can set up various categories such as architecture, cats, cake or whatever your interest happens to be. Now in theory, because the image has been pinned directly from a website it should link back to the original source, right? Wrong.
I had found a whole host of my photos ranging from Interiors to random shots on blogs and Tumblr. I was able to get in touch with some to get them removed, some never replied, some websites were so old that they probably weren’t operational anymore. But one image in particular stood out:
Several years ago I shot that BMW car, I posted it on 500px and thought that was that. But this image without my knowledge has been pinned on Pinterest countless times, then reblogged on Tumblr blogs hundreds and hundreds of times and often without my name or website on it, It has then appeared on various peoples blogs and websites etc. In researching this blog post I image searched it and lo and behold it had appeared on a designers website just the other month and in fact out of the 6 Google pages it turns up on my name as the original photographer doesnt turn up once!
I hope this finds you well. I email because I was about to write a blog about Pinterest and in particular an image of mine that had been pinned, reblogged all over Tumblr and then, all without my consent "stolen". Anyway I was doing some research and have found that you also appear to be using it on your website. As a working photographer every image is a potential revenue stream to me and while, if I am honest it has lost any value as a 'unique' shot thanks to the internet, I would like to ask you to kindly remove from your website. "
It has since been removed, as in the countless other times that I have done this and usually, and sadly, most of the time they don’t apologise at all. In fact a couple often argue that they “didn’t know” and that “it was on the internet so its ok”. Here’s the thing, I don’t have the time to constantly Google search and email all these people, I work and I also take hundreds of images a day. It’s a losing battle and it leaves me very suspicious of Pinterest. As it stands I now post only on my website, Stocksy and anything that goes on Twitter/Facebook is usually a low-res screen shot or an image I don’t care about just so that I (hopefully) can keep a tighter lid on it all.
I am not unique, I am not a ‘big time’ photographer, this is happening all over the Internet and it could be happening to you. Its frustrating that we have to think hard about how we share images that we create, education doesn’t seem to help and its not just our field that this happens in. So, how do you tackle it? And what’s your story?