We won’t get much into the specifics of what is going on with the recent Virginia Federal Court case, but in short, the court ruled that using images found online can be constituted as fair use. Chances are you have heard about this already. If you haven’t, a simple search can give you all of the information about it quickly. What we wanted to do is talk about what you can do to combat this blatant infringement, since the courts are apparently unable to sufficiently protect you.
Really, the only true and sure-fire way to prevent this infringement on your rights as a photography and copyright owner is to practice abstinence; don’t upload your work online and you won’t run into this problem. If that idea caused you to gag or scoff, you are not alone. Much like abstinence-based sex education (which in theory sounds good), it is simply an unrealistic method for protecting yourself in today’s world. Teens are going to be having sex, and photographers are going to be uploading your images online. So here are some of your options to protect yourself from this sort of problem. Ideally, you should be doing a combination of these.
It is such a faux-pas among photographers these days, and at the least, it can be a really polarizing topic. But watermarking your images, in some way shape or form, is an excellent way to display ownership over your images. It removes any doubt about who took the image and (ideally) where to likely get in touch with the owner of that photograph.
Yes, a watermark can be cropped out, or cloned out if someone really wanted to spend that time. But most people stealing images for these sort of things aren’t necessarily going to take that kind of time. Either they will crop the image to remove your watermark, or they will upload it with the watermark, or better yet, they won’t use your image at all because they don’t want to fuss with removing the watermark/cropping it.
Whatever the case, they can’t use the excuse that they didn’t know the image was copyrighted or who the photographer was. So really consider watermarking all of your images going forward; it doesn’t need to be obnoxious, but it really can be a useful deterrent. Think of it sort of like locking your car, sure a determined thief could just bust the windows and steal your stuff anyway, but the majority of people will see the door is locked and move on.
Set your Image Metadata
This is one that many of us neglect to do, but it can also help. Set your image metadata and fill it with your copyright information. When someone uses that image and fails to check that information, you can point to that as another way in which the offending party could have known you owned the photo.
Remind people that your work is copyright in your captions, all of them.
This one may seem a bit overzealous, but another thing you could do is throw a little disclaimer at the end of all of your captions when you upload your images online to places like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 500px, or wherever else. That, in combination with the other two methods above, could go a long way towards deterring lazy image-stealers. But even if it doesn’t deter them from using your image without permission, at the very least it will act in your favor when proving that you took steps and did everything in your power (short of not uploading) to make sure viewers knew that the image you uploaded to xyz website was copyrighted and that those warnings/signs were ignored by the offending party.
Stop uploading your images at such high resolutions
Now this, on its own, may not deter someone from using your image without permission. But it can, and will, limit the potential uses for an image that is being used without your permission. If you upload your image large enough for viewers to enjoy, but small enough to make it look bad for a billboard or magazine or flyer, then you are limiting the potential uses for your image.
This option, of course, is a bit of a double-edged sword, because people these days expect to be able to see images at high resolution. So, if you are not uploading that way, then you risk people not being as attracted to your work because they are unable to see its true glory.
How you end up deciding to protect your work (if at all) is up to you. But the above methods are some things you can consider as potential methods to combat the illicit use of your images online; not only on the front end before it is used, but also on the back end, should you discover use without your permission.
Do you have any other ideas in regards to protecting your images online? Share them in the comment below and help your fellow photographers out!