Theft is Not a Compliment: Why Companies Steal Photos and How to Stop It

Image theft is rampant and the temptation to steal is high. I am on both sides of this fence. At my day job in marketing, I want a perfect image to go with my copy at the ready, all the time. It’s just a Google image search away! However, I am also a photographer who makes a quarter of her yearly income from art and the thought of some other impatient desk jockey eyeing my work for use with no intension of asking me first makes my skin crawl.

There are tricks companies play to get you to either give them what they want or to stop being mad at them for already taking it:

• Redefining theft as flattery.
• Promises of exposure.
• Blaming ignorance/buck passing.

More upsetting is that photographers have their own rationalizations for accepting theft on any level for any reason. I am going to let you in on some secrets as a company insider so that you’re prepared to tackle this head-on.

People Who Take Your Stuff Are Not Complimenting You

When someone fails to start a dialogue with you about the potential use of your image all admiration ceases to exist. Resist the train of thought that begins with, “I am flattered they thought my image was good enough to use”. Instead, skip directly to the fact that someone took something you created and turned it into a resource for themselves. Know this:  Theft is not about admiring your work. Theft is about getting a job done faster, easier, and with your unknowing help.

Exposure is a Relationship

Photos in exchange for “views” is a kind of currency. You need to have a good relationship with the person or business providing you with exposure. A lot of photographers bemoan this idea of “exposure” but exposure on it own is not an enemy. The real enemy is failing to make sure exposure is actually beneficial. Ask yourself a few questions before agreeing to give away your work to folks like me:

• Are we both getting, basically, what we want from this relationship and are our expectations in line with one another?

• How will my brand as a photographer be represented within the context of this other brand?

• Can I expect this relationship to be ongoing, with growing commitment to one another, or a 1 time deal?

Become an Evangelist of Self Worth

Don’t let people steal your work. Asking first is so absurdly easy that there is no excuse anybody can give you that justifies not asking for your permission. Time is never so precious that a company has to cut these kinds of corners. Being even mildly excited to see your work on display without your prior knowledge needs to stop today.

Don’t Face it Alone

Below is a list of resources to help you respectfully and responsibly approach the problem of unlawful use of your property. Listed also are related sites with stated missions to help curb image theft and abuse.

Lenstag Rescue: Designed to find images taken with stolen cameras, Lenstag Rescue is a Chrome extension that gives you a report of where your images end up online – even if your gear is still safely in your possession.

Photo Stealers: A theft-shaming site that also serves to educate and protect.

DMCA Info: All about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and how to send a takedown notice.

Photoshelter’s Free Photographer’s Guide to Copyright