Sunday, February 22, 2009

Stolen Photographs - Battling Copyright Theft



Get Your Money Back

About 20 years ago, when I lived in the UK, I came home in the middle of the day to find that my house had been burgled. A few items had been taken, along with some cash, glass had been broken in a kitchen window and the house was in some disarray. The biggest problem, though, was the complete sense of violation that I was left with - and this seems to be a dominant theme amongst victims of this particular crime.

How dare they come into my home and help themselves to my property! What gives them the right to think that they can treat me this way? These were just a few of the things I said about it - and by and large, they served no real purpose, other than to help me vent my rage. I never got my items back and the thieves were never caught - even though I voiced my view to the Police that they may have been living across the street from me.

Over the last few months, I have been using Google Analytics to track visitors to both my main website and this blog. I can see how many visitors I get in a day (not nearly enough!), where they come from (all over the world) and what keywords they use to search Google - which results in a visit to either of my websites. One particular keyword - the name of a UK-based comedian whose photograph I took about 2 years ago and have on my main website - kept coming up over recent weeks. The first time it appeared, I took little notice but after 3 shows, my interested was aroused. So, I did my own Google (Images) search on the name - and right there in front of my eyes was a link to the website of a London-based theatrical management agency, with my photograph on it.

First things first: I own the copyright of that photograph. I have never been approached by anyone to seek permission for it's use on that website (or any other). It is being used on 3 separate pages - the home page, the "list of artists" page and the page appertaining to the person themselves. When I downloaded the image and looked at the metadata, I saw that all the information that I had included - my copyright info, my contact address and a statement that unauthorized usage was illegal - had been "stripped" out of the image.

This morning, I emailed the owner of the management agency, informing him that it is a criminal offence (in the UK) to do what he did, and enclosed a copy of my invoice for 1 year's usage (back-dated from January 1st 2008) for use of the image on 3 sections of his website. I used my photo agent's pricing calculator to arrive at a total amount owing of €2260 (about £2000 and $2900), to be paid in 7 days. I told him that if he didn't remove the illegally used images, I would send him another invoice for this year's usage (2009 - 2010) next week. I also copied the email to my union official (National Union of Journalists).

I then made screen shots of the places where my photo is shown on the management company website, and also copied the website page to my desktop. I made notes of the name and address of the company and the date that I saw the photographs displayed. Then, I printed all the screen shots out, with hard copies of my letter and invoice and, tomorrow, I will post them to the management company by registered post.

If anyone is interested in reading more about how to address this problem - David Hoffman has written an excellent article about how he recouped £27000 by tracking down the illegal use of just a small sample of his photography - with two night's work.

Unauthorized usage of copyrighted photography - no matter insignificant that usage may appear - is theft. Photography is my livelihood and I can't afford for anyone just to come along, take my property and use it for their own aims without so much as a "May I?" I feel as violated by this "theft" as I did when my house was burgled all those years ago.

Click here to read part II of this item

7 comments:

  1. Why did you invoice them as if they had behaved legally? I would have thought a more direct approach would be appropriate. They broke the law. Your redress should be more than just paying what they should have paid in the first place in my opinion. Otherwise, they pay the bill and are not feeling much in the way of pain for their infringement. Hit 'em hard.

    Rob

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  2. Hi Rob. A section of my letter to the owner of the company reads: "Copyright theft is a criminal offence in the UK, and you been reported to my union (The National Union of Journalists)." However, you will see from other writing on the subject, such as the article by David Hoffman, that I referred to, that proving a criminal offence of this nature is not always easy, and it is certainly always time consuming. I will most definitely be pursuing a legal avenue, but in the first instance I want to recoup the income that is owed to me for the usage of the image, to date. Payment of this fee will not necessarily prevent action against the company for copyright theft.

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  3. I hope you get what you deserve from this Stephen. I've read with interest recently about the Heineken.ie site alledgedly leaching from Flikr and its only right for photographers to stand up for their own rights.

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  4. Would watermarking your pics not prevent such violations?

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  5. Watermarking my images with a large © across the images - possibly with the opacity reduced, so that it is greyed out slightly - would certainly deter a lot of people from snatching an image from a website. I have used that method of watermarking, from time to time - and particularly when submitting samples of my work to potential clients.

    Another method of watermarking is to use a small, neat © Stephen Power in the bottom corner of an image. I think that this method is less of a deterrent, and more of a reminder that I own the image - it's often possible to crop that out without affecting the main image - so it's still usable by others.

    My main reason for not using watermarks on images that are shown on my blog and my main website is that I want to give the best impression of my work to potential clients. From what I have seen, many other photographers avoid cluttering up individual images with © signs. There is a clear copyright notice on the home pages of both of my websites, and should it come to a court case, the law says I would need to show that I had clearly stated my ownership of the images. So, I may rethink the placing and wording of that notice.

    The main course of action I take is only saving images shown on my websites at very small resolutions and small sizes, so that printing is not an option for thieves. But that doesn't prevent them from using the images on their own websites. I am considering investing in "Digimarc" which encodes the images with a tracking code, so that it can be found on the web. I'll need to see if it would be worth the investment. All thoughts are welcome.

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  6. I AM CERTAIN WE IN THIS PROFESSION ARE ALL ABUSED AND PROBABLY NOT AWARE OF HOW MANY TIMES COTYRIGHT IS USED ILLEGALY.
    WHAT CONCERNS ME IS THAT "PHOTOGRAPHERS" ARE NOT HELPING THE SITUATION WHEN I KNOW FOR A FACT MANY ARE GIVING THEIR OWNERSHIP AWAY FREELY.
    IT DEVALUES THE ART AND WORK VALUE AND THOSE WHO DO THIS SHOULD BE BANNED FROM ANY ASSOCIATION RELATED TO PHOTOGRAPHER.Edmund Ross.

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  7. Great article, I know completely how you feel, I've had several photo's stolen. I find this on going trend very fusterating, and if your in the US it's alot harder to actually enforce our copyrights in court from my understanding, so if someone knows enough about copyright law here they just thumb their nose at us and there isn't much we can do about it. Thx for stopping by my blog, have a nice weekend.

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