Copyright, lawsuits, stolen images, oh my…..

equine photographyI would like to discuss something that has been an issue for quite a while.  Copyright.

This is a long one.  Grab a cup of coffee and contemplate this out.  This is long, but VERY important for businesses, for photographers, and for consumers.

Yes, we know, clients aren’t allowed to use or print photographers’ images unless they have copyright releases, but that’s not what I am going to talk about today.

I’m going to talk about photographers and bloggers and businesses using other copyrighted work.

See this image of my daughter from years ago?  This image is one of the most viral and illegally used images I have.  I posted this image on flickr back in 2006!  I made the mistake of not putting a watermark on it.  Not that it matters – it doesn’t matter if an image has a watermark or not,  no one is allowed to use it without my written permission. No one is allowed to use any photographers’ images without written permission.  Just because it exists online does not make it yours to use!

This image has been stolen over and over and over again.  It has been used by other photographers, other businesses, blogs, and even equestrian retail stores online.  It has been placed in contests and won (by people who do not own the image of course – not by me!).  It has been used as advertisement to sell things (not by me), and it has been defaced countless times with stupid quotations all over it.   Besides for the fact that this is a complete embarrassment to my daughter, it is completely wrong for anyone to take an image, online or not, and use it for their own gain, in any way.  I can file a suit and receive compensation from anyone who is using this image (and be ready, I’m working on this now for this particular image).    So you don’t think you need to pay for an image you are using?  think again – look at this.  HERE….  Yup, I plan to use compensation I receive from this image for my daughter’s college fund.

Businesses/Organizations Stealing:  The problem with businesses stealing and using images is this –  they see an image online and want to use it… they push it out in social media and put their own logos or information on the image, and then it gets shared 10,000 times. They have advertised their businesses to over 10,000 people using an image that I created. They have managed to garner free advertising from an image that they did not pay a dime for. This is not okay. Companies and organizations are doing it all the time now. They need to stop. Recently another company wanted to use this image, and I quoted her an amount for one year’s usage. She said, “No thank you. We can hire our own photographer to shoot it for that amount.” Well good. Do it. I doubt you will get the same image. It can take hours to get a child and a horse to cooperate or connect in this way. It can take hours or days just to desensitize a horse to equipment (why did these two cooperate so well together?  Because they knew each other for months, and this girl has some major communication abilities with animals). Good luck with that. That’s why there are commercial usage fees that apply to using images for marketing/advertising.  A great image sells a product, organization, or business.  A great image is worth quite a bit of money.  Purchase a great image to represent your business, and you, as a business, will see great return.

Let’s change the direction, now that we have discussed that, there’s another layer of this….. Photographers actually steal from other photographers now….. Isn’t that absurd?  Here’s a peek into a recent one.

This past week, someone had recognized one of my images on a photographer’s facebook page.  I checked it out.  It was a new photographer who had taken an image of mine and placed it on a digital promo piece to advertise her business.

1.  This is stealing.

2.  This is false advertisement for your customers.

I confronted her about it.  She responded with a heart-felt apology and took the image down.  Here’s part of what she wrote back to me….

  • When starting out my Newborn Photography, I advertised for babies so that I could build my portfolio, I created an advert and eventually found a few mummies that where willing to give a go as it isn’t a popular item to have done where I live. However, with a month or two as you will appreciate, ‘themed’ photo’s can prove popular at different times of the year ( that are never done where I live etc). So I browsed the web ( I didn’t directly go to anyones blog) and located a twin photo that I thought might be suitable for what I was looking for and only used it as it had no markings as an example for promotion etc . . I simply saw it as showing what I was looking for or what I could do … I never once claimed that any of these items belonged to me. I would always reference the babies names etc of who I am using in my promotions. I probably shouldn’t have used these images at all ( i know that now ). I know its wrong to take someone elses work and claim it as your own but thats not what I did.


That last part  *sigh*

YES IT IS.  This is exactly what you did.  You did not have a twin picture that you wanted to advertise, so you took one from the internet that wasn’t yours in order to draw customers in from it.  Customers look at a portfolio or promo piece and assume, rightfully, that the image was taken by the photographer advertising it.

Even if an image does not have a mark on it, it is not yours.  It is not yours to take, and it is not yours to use to falsely advertise to your potential customers.  Whether you understand that now, but didn’t before or not, it doesn’t change what happened.  There is no excuse as a photographer to take an image and use it that does not belong to you.  Period.


CONSUMERS:  This is happening ALL. THE. TIME.   Check out the PHOTO STEALERS site.  Corey does her best to post what she can, but she is bombarded daily with the amount of reports of photographers stealing or violating copyrights (and meanwhile, they want you as consumers to respect theirs).

So how do you find photographers that are established (although hey, we have seen even established photographers steal or violate copyrights, so this isn’t a fool-proof list)?

  • Really look at a photographer’s portfolio.  Notice if the same faces keep showing up throughout – that usually is a red flag that they do not have many clients, so therefore not established.  That’s still okay, but dig deeper.  Notice whether or not the work is consistent.  Do you see a really bad image and then a really good one?  That is the #1 way that we find out whether or not a photographer has stolen images.
  • Do some digging.  Look at bio pages and see how long they have been in business and whether or not they have some credentials or history of some sort to back them up.  Go on their blog and see how long they have been blogging.
  • Is the photographer trying to give away photography?  Do you see desperation in their posts:  Mini-sessions done every other week, free “casting calls” constantly?  This usually signals that a photographer does not have a regular or full client base and not established.
  • Trust your gut.  If something is too good to be true, it probably is.


PHOTOGRAPHERS:equine photography

What to know if any of your images have been stolen?  Use Google Images or Tineye.  Here’s a quick result from Google Images on my image above:  Yes.  You better believe, I will be sending DMCA takedowns after acquiring screenshots and invoices for payment for use of the images.

282 results of people using this image without my permission.  Here’s a screencap of a few.


BLOGGERS and BUSINESSES:   Don’t think lawsuits can happen to you as a blogger?  They can.  And I encourage photographers to follow up on this.  Check out what happened to Roni, this Blogher,  HERE….


Another call out to this PHOTOGRAPHY industry:  Stop stealing.  Please.  Just stop stealing.  You claim you have talent?  Use it to make beautiful images.  You should not be a business overnight.  It can take YEARS to develop your craft and talent.  Use those years first to practice making beautiful images, and THEN you can consider going into business.  Enjoy the process.  Stop trying to fake it til you make it.  You are hurting yourself as an artist and you are hurting your potential clients.





About Jodie Otte

Maryland Newborn Photographer and Child Portrait Artist, Jodie Holstein-Otte, specializes in unique photography of newborn babies, kids, and families. She works on location in Harford, Howard, Cecil, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and other areas throughout Maryland. She uses both both natural lighting and soft studio lighting techniques.

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