Dealing with Illegal Uses of Images

One thing that photographers often worry about is the illegal misuse of their photos. They’re scared and for that reason many people don’t put their images online. When they read about it, we all panic.

Let’s start with the basic truth that I learned a while ago: in order to genuinely be scared of your images being used illegally, you need to first create work that people want to steal in the first place.

Let that sink in: consider that millions of images are created each day and there are so many of them out there. The higher you are in the food chain of creativity and capturing, the more likely you are to be pecked at. And that’s what I found out recently with my series “The Secret Order of the Slice.

Be Real

Chris Gampat The Secret Order of the Slice You and Me on the Couch, Now (1 of 1)ISO 2001-13 sec at f - 2.8

So when someone steals your images consider the two big options here:

  • Commercial use: meaning someone is ultimately getting money for using your photos
  • Non-commercial use: no money is being made.

Some schlub on Instagram sharing your photo to be part of their curation with no further business plan? Their harmless.

Buzzfeed on the other hand: a multi-million dollar publication is doing it to rake in page views and get money to pay people.

Pizza hut? They’re a corporation and everything that they do is for a commercial reason. So first start out by identifying who is infringing on your rights. The really small guys you can sometimes just let go because your time and energy are often best spent doing other important tasks.

Is it right? No way. Is it hurting you? No really. In the case of your images being used commercially, then yes it is.

Know What to Type into Google

Chris Gampat The Secret Order of the Slice Waiting for the Bus, Have Pizza (1 of 1)ISO 4001-30 sec at f - 5.0

What I always tell everyone is to specifically name and keyword their photos. You can sit here wondering why or you can check out these three workshop videos that I worked days on prepping for, but I’m not going to give that specific info away for free.

But to make a long story short, I was redundant and typed in “The Secret Order of the Slice Chris Gampat” into Google knowing that publications or companies would specifically use the images and I’d be able to track it via Google search or Google Image search since all the info syncs up.

The videos really explain why redundancy is key.

Send Emails

Chris Gampat The Secret Order of the Slice The Secret of Life is Cheese (1 of 1)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 2.8

After this, you generally should go about sending email notices stating the infringement. Here’s an example that I did:

Hi (person),

My name is Chris Gampat and I run the Phoblographer. I’m also the subject of a single blog post you made yesterday: (link)

I never contacted you to give you the permission to share my project; and so from a creative blog owner myself (with commercial intent), I’m quite shocked that you think you had the rights to share it. You’ve done so unlawfully. Anyone else that has shared it has has my initial contact or they’ve talked to me about it.

I’m contacting you in good faith to talk to you about this to see if there is a way that we can settle and make this more beneficial for both parties.

With that people will usually take down their usage. But the alternative is to just send them an invoice for the illegal image use that many photographers actually end up doing. And when it isn’t paid, then a lawyer can get involved. Most people and companies will try to settle and pay.

It’s not always the nicest thing to do but to be fair, they weren’t nice to begin with.

Follow Up the Next Day

If they haven’t responded, then follow up. If they did, then make sure that they’ve taken down the content in full.

Chris Gampat The Secret Order of the Slice Just me and Bae and Kitty (1 of 1)ISO 1001-80 sec at f - 4.0

Turn it Into Your Advantage and Leave on Friendly Terms

Here’s where you can negotiate some sort of compensation. You can get paid but in some cases you can also demand more coverage from a publication to get even more exposure and people coming to your website. It also ends up helping you out when it comes to people searching you and your company out on Google.

For other commercial companies that aren’t publications though, you’re sometimes best off figuring out a way to make it work out better for you depending on the situation.

Example: I’ve got a lot of discounts on pizza now.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.