Last Thursday I got an email from a blogging client and friend. It read, “I have a situation where somebody has already stolen a photo from my web store. What should I do about it? There is no question it’s my photo.”
Cathy had followed a pin on Pinterest that featured her photo…but ended up on someone else’s blog.
I took a look at the blog she pointed to and – sure enough – it was a photo from Cathy’s web store. I had just finished working on the site and still had the high-res version of the photo in question on my desktop. The Photo Thief had obviously googled her subject and just decided to take the first photo that appeared, for use on her own blog. There was no link to Cathy’s web store, no mention of where the photo came from. It wasn’t this blogger’s property, but she took it.
If you’ve ever had a photo from your blog published elsewhere without permission, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Anger isn’t the right word: it’s infuriating to see your work on someone else’s site, when you pour hours of every week into creating original content and original photos for your blog.
So what did we do about it? Keep reading.
Maybe if it was 2007, people could use the excuse, “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t know!” But folks, we all know it’s not just inconsiderate to take other people’s published work; it’s illegal.
Luckily, three fabulous designers got together and created a flowchart to help us break this down. It’s been passed around Pinterest plenty, but here it is for your reference (BTW – please don’t Pin this. I didn’t create it. If you want to pin it, go to the post where it was originally published):
If you EVER have a question about whether you should use someone else’s work, the best thing to do is ask. Because really, how hard is it?
A few months ago, I was working on an article on how to convert your blog’s visitors to subscribers. Because I wanted to use one of her photos, I sent an email to Kara from Rockin’ Granola. I wrote,
This is Jeni Elliott from Biz Mavens. I’m putting together a post about how to keep visitors (esp. from Pinterest) on your blog when they’ve only come in to see a single article. I’d like to use one of your sidebar images (probably the brainfood one?) as an example of great content showcasing. I think you do an amazing job of giving your readers (even ones who just arrived!) ways of exploring your content and connecting with you, and I’d like to offer your blog as an example. […] Would you allow me to do that, and link straight to your blog in several places? I’d sure appreciate it!
And with that kind of a question, what do you think her response was?
What a kind thing to ask! Certainly you may use my images. Thank you for thinking of Rockin’ Granola. Do you want to grab it from the page, or do you need me to email you the image?
I’m looking forward to reading the article.
There. Easy as pie. I was allowed to use her image, she got blog traffic from me, I got blog traffic from her…everyone wins.
(visit Rockin’ Granola here.)
When you’re surfing Pinterest and follow a pin of your own photo that leads to someone else’s blog, all logic goes out the window. A million things go through your head, but they’re all clouded by emotion. Your first impulse might be to threaten them with a lawsuit, but I’ll remind you that unless you’re a giant corporation, telling someone “Take it down or I’ll sue you” probably won’t work. It’s an over-used threat, and the Thief is betting that most people probably wouldn’t follow through with a lawsuit. But in this case, we had another ace in our hand:
The blogger was using WordPress.com (not self-hosted WordPress) as her blogging platform.
If you know anything about big companies like Google or WordPress, you know that they don’t like to get tied up in messy things like lawsuits. That’s why they have terms of service you have to agree to in order to use their blogging platforms. In this case, the Photo Thief blogs on WordPress.com…and their Terms of Service clearly state,
By making Content available, you represent and warrant that:
the downloading, copying and use of the Content will not infringe the proprietary rights, including but not limited to the copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret rights, of any third party…
So basically, if you are going to blog for free, you’d BETTER NOT STEAL SOMEONE’S STUFF.
And it’s not just WordPress, either. Blogger has a well-known reputation for taking down people’s blogs for a number of reasons, but they’re really serious about Copyright infringement…so much so that if someone is stealing your photos, content, or other copyrighted material, Blogger has a form to report it to them.
The actual owner of the photo asked her to take down the photo, right there in the comments of her blog post. (This tactic is actually recommended by the good folks at WordPress.com)
There were a few back-and-forth comments between the blogger and Cathy at first, but when the blogger demanded that Cathy “show proof” that she had taken the photo, that’s when I stepped in.
I pointed out the WordPress Terms of Service and advised her to take a look at the flow-chart graphic I reproduced for you above. I was amazed that even though this blogger was clearly aware that the photo wasn’t hers, she would demand for anyone else to “show proof of ownership.”
(If you know you didn’t take a photo and are approached by anyone who claims the photo is theirs, the best response is one that will help make things right, not challenge the owner of the photo.)
In the end, the blogger took down the photo…which was the whole point, and I’m glad it worked out. I’m sure that she (and hopefully anyone reading this!) will start taking her own photos before she publishes a post instead of afterward.
I wish you could see the article – I really do – because of the fallout in the comments. You’d be amazed at the number of people who replied back with, “It’s the internet! Everyone takes other people’s photos!”
We’d like to think that people who steal other bloggers’ photos or content are doing so “accidentally” and give them the benefit of the doubt, but if they’re ignoring your requests to give proper credit for your photo or to remove your photo from their blog, there’s something deeper going on here. If the blogger is using a free service to publish her blog, you’ll be happy to know that both Blogger and WordPress.com have ways of reporting copyright infringement. You can find Blogger’s form here and WordPress.com’s form here.
By submitting a report to the company that hosts a free blogger, you’re taking it to the next level, so be prepared to back up your claim to be the creator of the photo in question.
Unfortunately, if the blogger is self-hosted, neither WordPress nor Blogger is going to leap to your rescue. And since this is foreign territory to me, I’m going to refer you to an incredibly thorough article (written in 2006, but still completely relevant) that breaks things down step by step.
At a certain point, it’s not worth the energy anymore. You can feel good about the fact that you stuck up for your rights. But in the end, some people are just scumbags. Just know that they’ll be in for lots of trouble in the future. Because if you’ve been through all this and they still claim that your photo is theirs, it’s a habit. They’ll do it again, to someone else. And eventually, it will catch up with them.
And then it’s time to focus on:
There are a number of steps every blogger can (and should) take to protect themselves from photo theft:
I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on this topic, since people’s opinions are so different. Have you had any experiences with photo theft? Do you think it’s wrong, or just a “given” in the age of Internet publishing?
Please share this post, then leave a comment below and let’s discuss.
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