The web is amazing for multimedia journalists – it allows us to easily upload and share our work with editors, viewers, and potential employers. Unfortunately, it also makes it easy for that work to be stolen.
Image copyright violations are rampant and perpetrated not only by individuals, but also by major publications: just look at this lawsuit against Buzzfeed or the recent outcome of Haitian photographer Daniel Morel’s case against Getty Images and Agence France-Presse.
So what can we do to protect our images online? Sadly, the only foolproof method is to avoid putting work on the internet in the first place. Since that’s not really an option, the best way to proceed is to make it more difficult for someone to take your image. The longer it takes for a thief to appropriate the image and make it look presentable (by removing watermarks, etc.) the less likely they are to use it.
Here are our tips to prevent people from stealing your images online.
1. Copyright Your Image
While you technically have copyright over your work the minute you create it, registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office can afford you extra protection. When a photo isn’t registered prior to copyright infringement, the owner may only recover “actual damages,” normally calculated based on your standard license fees or industry standard, as well as any lost profits. Since this is generally a relatively small amount, it’s not worth pursuing when you consider attorney’s fees.
If you have registered prior to the violation, however, you can seek “statutory damages” of up to $150,000 for willful infrigement, as well as attorney’s fees. So go register your work!
2. Make Your Ownership Known
It’s become acceptable to use images online without giving credit that oftentimes, someone copying your work online won’t even think twice about downloading or screenshotting an image. By using copyright metadata and linking to a usage license, you can make it clear to the user that you’re serious about enforcing your rights.
A copyright notice has three parts: either the word Copyright, its abbreviation “Copr.”, or the copyright symbol, then the year the work was first published and the name of the owner. For example, Copyright 2014 Jennifer Dev. Always include this information in the metadata of your images. Then, also put your copyright notice either on or next to each of your images. It serves as a reminder that your work is protected.
Posting a copyright notice along with your images has an added benefit: the violator can’t claim the infringement was innocent, which lowers damages to a minimum of $200 per work. In a courtroom, it’s more likely that the infringement will be found to be willful, allowing the maximum in damages.
The U.S. Copyright Act makes it illegal to remove copyright information from an image, either in the metadata or on the image itself. When it does happen, fines can be anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000, plus attorney’s fees and damages. So make sure to include your copyright data in your metadata and on a watermark on your photo.
3. Add Hidden Layers to Your Image.
Also known as “shrink wrapping,” this method involves placing the image behind a transparent foreground layer. The image will appear normal online, but when a user attempts to right click and save it, the transparent file will be saved instead. The hope is that by the time the person realizes this, they will have long since moved on.
To learn how to shrink-wrap your image, check out this online tutorial.
When used well, watermarking an image won’t prevent viewers from enjoying it, but will deter a thief from copying it since the work involved to remove it would be too much. It also makes it more likely that you’ll receive credit even when the image is used without your permission.
When watermarking, the trickiest part is placing the watermark in a place that doesn’t distract from the composition, yet not in a place that it can easily be cropped or edited out. It’s not appropriate in all situations, so consider who will be viewing the photo before adding a watermark.
Any photo editing program such as Photoshop or Lightroom has a way to add watermarks fairly quickly, and many photo portfolio sites also have that option. Check out this tutorial to learn how to Watermark images in Photoshop, or this one to learn how you can add a watermark for free without Photoshop.
5. Take Action
If you find your images used without your permission, take action. Too many people think they are allowed to use any photos posted online – or even worse, that they won’t be caught when they do. However, photographers are often hesitant to prosecute unauthorized uses because of the time and effort it takes, not to mention an uncertain outcome.
If there is any hope of ending the cycle of online image theft, it lies in photographers enforcing their own rights. The more photographers go after copyright violations, the more this issue will become apparent and hopefully, the less it will occur.
In an upcoming article, we’ll cover what steps to take when you do find that your work has been stolen or your copyright infringed. Stay tuned!