Protecting Your Photos & Images Online

October 8, 2014
What to do when someone steals your photo or image

Recently a client discovered some of their photos on a competitor’s website. The situation prompted some great questions: Isn’t our entire website copyrighted? Isn’t stealing photos illegal? What can we do about this?

Quick disclaimer

Copyright law is a massive subject, and no one at Digett is a lawyer. Consult an attorney if you have questions or issues that go beyond the occasional instance of image “borrowing.”

Isn’t our entire website copyrighted?

Once you hit the “Publish” button, drop the flyer in the mailbox, or otherwise make your idea public, it’s considered copyrighted — even if you don’t put the © symbol anywhere.

This automatic copyright gives you the power to send cease and desist letters, file Digital Media Copyright Act (DMCA) notices, and otherwise demand that those using your content (photos, text, videos, etc.) either give you proper credit or stop using it.

It gets more complicated if you decide to take someone to court — in the U.S. you have to register your content before you can sue anyone over it.

Want to learn more? Here’s some more details on copyright myths.

Isn’t stealing photos illegal?

According to what I’ve read, yes and no. It’s a violation of copyright, but successfully prosecuting someone for committing theft is unlikely if you don’t register your work.

What I am certain of is that “borrowing” someone’s photos without permission is unethical, and makes you look bad. Even more so when you consider how easy it is to find images for your content, many thousands of them for free.

What can we do about this?

Fortunately situations like the one experienced by our client are generally solved with a simple phone call informing the other party that they’re using images without permission.

Depending on who actually makes the changes to a website — like a marketing agency or freelancer hired by the company — it’s possible the owner might not be aware that the images were borrowed. Sometimes all it takes is a quick, “Did you know…?” to resolve the issue.

For an extra level of protection, consider putting a watermark or small logo on all the images you publish to the web. This can add quite a bit of time to your normal publishing routine, though, so don’t leap right in without doing some cost/benefit analysis.

You have the right to protect what’s yours

You don’t have to be rude about it or immediately escalate to having an attorney draft a cease and desist letter, but you should feel empowered to give the “borrower” a call.

Your images and other content are yours; you have the right to require that others get your permission before using them, and don’t pass them off as theirs.

More on protecting your content

[photo credit: elhombredenegro via photopin cc]