I went a little Momma Bear on the internet a couple days ago, and I want to tell you why (and what you can do about it if it happens to you!).
If you’ve been living under a rock (or hiding under one to avoid my rampage), let me sum it up: some SUPER SHADY Chinese companies stole this beautiful photo of me nursing my baby girl, erased my watermark, and put it up on at least four different copycat websites purporting to sell the top I made out of custom knit (find the original blog post here )
A very thoughtful person in a Facebook group I’m a part of came across the ad, and alerted me to the situation. I immediately pulled my husband out of his bedtime routine and demanded that we figure out how to remove it. Like RIGHT NOW. Before he could get google loaded, I did what any (semi) sane momma bear would do: I Free-Speeched that shit, with a furious plea for help and not a few three letter words.
You might be sitting there, shaking your head right now. I mean, c’mon, I put it out there, right? Shouldn’t I have known that one of my images was bound to get stolen? As one free-speecher said “I practically gave it to them” or “right click save, it happens”. Here’s the thing folks: It does happen. And it sucks. Big time.
But let’s be clear about one thing: I DID NOT GIVE IT TO THEM, and THEY HAVE NO RIGHT TO PROFIT FROM IT. No more than parking your car in a lot gives a thief the right to steal it.
From the moment the shutter closed, I had a copyright on that image (ok, hubby does too since he’s the photographer around here), according to the Federal Copyright Act of 1976 (if you’re reallly bored you can read the entire text here). Without my permission, no one can reproduce it, display it, or post it for sale. Deliberately editing out my watermark and claiming to sell a garment using my image is not only clearly unethical, it is ILLEGAL. I don’t even have to register the copyright to claim it- a process that takes on average 8-13 months and costs money. A registered copyright makes it easier to prove it’s mine (though that’s pretty obvious in this case, since I’m in the photo), and would enable the holder to collect damages and fight a legal battle (more on that later).
OK, now that we KNOW it’s illegal, what am I going to do about it???? Chances are, if you have a blog, are thinking about starting a blog, or post photos to Facebook or Instagram, you are also at risk. I’ve tried to gather all the information I can about how to deter and fight these infringements, and I thought this post would be a hell of a lot more important than my latest neckband tutorial (but don’t worry, I’ll do one of those soon too).
Let’s divide this into Offense and Defense, shall we?
The easiest and best way to deal with this, is to discourage it. Just as you lock your car doors and install an alarm system in your home, there are a few things you can do to discourage photo-stealing (other than shutting yourself out of the digital world entirely).
- Watermark your images. Not in a pretty, subtle, way. In an obvious, just bordering on obnoxious sort of way. I’m working with this, and trying to strike a balance between keeping my images safe(r) and preserving the artistic nature of the photos. While we used to have all our photos watermarked in exactly the same location, exactly the same size etc (it was done automatically), I am now spending an extra half hour placing the watermark exactly where it should go for maximum impact. We are still working on getting this right, but here is an example:
- Copyright your images (if you have time, see above for the benefits of registering a copyright). The US Copyright office also has more specific information.
- Search your images regularly. There are some sites that will do this for you. Google image search is free, but not comprehensive (it only caught two of the five sites my photo is on). That way you can catch it quickly when they fall into the wrong hands.
- Disable “right click save”. This won’t deter everyone, but it makes it harder to simply save your images by right clicking. Wordpress has a plug-in for this- Read more about it HERE along with some other very helpful information on how to prevent image theft.
- Add a DMCA badge. DMCA stands for “Digital Millennium Copyright Act” and was enacted in 1998 to protect digital copyrights. There’s a lot of legal mumbo jumbo here, but essentially by adding a DMCA badge to your site you send a message that you can, and will act to address any stolen content. More information on the DMCA is on wikipedia here.
- File a DMCA Takedown Notice. You can do that for FREE on this website. You will have to file one for every site your image appears on. Make sure to take a screenshot of each as well, in case the thief tries to remove the photo.
- Find out who hosts the content and file a complaint. You can check that for any website HERE. While the companies that stole my image are in China, their hosting services are not. Amazon, CloudFlare, etc. do NOT want to host illegal content and often act quickly if you contact them. Even if these turn out to be a “reverse proxy” or CDN (delivery networks that forward content for faster service) they should forward your complaint to the original server.
- Check Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for your stolen images. If you find them, report them immediately to those social media sites- they responded very quickly to me. You can also report any ads containing your image. Again, remember to save the URL and/or screenshot the image as it appears there.
- Contact the company directly. While some may not care, others may not know that they are sporting a stolen image. One person told me about a very prominent fabric company that had a stolen several of their photos from their blog- when she brought to their attention they made excuses (they were US based). Edit: Emboldened by this post, she decided to tell her story- read about it on her blog HERE
- Use the power of social media. All together, we are a force to be reckoned with, and we can and should use any tools at our disposal to address these thefts, or they will continue to happen, and with more audacity. One reader told me about a shower curtain she ordered. In the photo, the curtain had a watermark, and when it arrived, the actual curtain was watermarked with a photographer’s logo! The image had been stolen, and the company didn’t even bother to edit out the evidence! With a large number of people sharing your post, and messaging the company, they may decide they don’t want the trouble of keeping the image on their site.
- See a lawyer. We looked into this, but ultimately decided against it. While there may be some that would take the case pro bono, we live in a small town and accessing the right people would take time, energy, and possibly money that I don’t want to waste. But it’s an option. Or, if you’re a lawyer and want to offer your services, I’m all ears!
- Send a “Cease and Desist” Letter, demanding that the company take down your photo immediately. You can do this with or without a lawyer.
- Send a bill! No, really! If you’ve ever hired a family photographer, you know professional images don’t come cheap. It’s not uncommon for commercial photographers to charge thousands of dollars for their services- so send a bill! Sometimes, this will get the company’s attention. One reader told me that a photo of a cake made for a national holiday was stolen. That photographer sent out an invoice for $1000 to 22 companies that used the image without permission- and was paid by 15 of them! Now that’s a lot of fabric money!
- Ask for credit. This wasn’t a viable option in my case (I know they aren’t gong to give me credit for the image, since they deliberately stole it), but in a different situation, this may be appropriate. Sometimes a designer or other blogger, service, etc. may use your image without permission but be happy to give credit where it’s due once you let them know this isn’t OK.
- Do Nothing. This option sucks. But sometimes, you have to weight the pros and cons of sinking a ton of time into this, given the possibility that you may come up empty handed anyway.
Regardless of how you choose to handle image theft, know you are not alone, and that there are things you can do to discourage future violations. This website was helpful to me in deciding.
All in all, I want to say that I’m amazed, and quite touched by the generous outpouring of support and assistance from the people who saw my post and responded (even at 12AM). Your ideas and encouragement have been greatly appreciated. While this was a serious blow to my self confidence, I’ve decided that (along with the right offense/defense team) I will continue to post photos and blog about my sewing adventures- and I hope you’ll continue to follow along!
If you want to spread the word about the companies that stole my image, I have a public post on my wall HERE. You may also write comments/reviews Belle Lily, Chic Grace, Vessos.com, and Fairy Season websites or comment on their facebook pages.
Most of the existing reviews on these site indicate that they are likely scammers as well. If you see an ad with my image on it, please report it to Facebook or the blog/website owner! I’m sure they won’t want stolen content appearing on their site, regardless of how it got there.
You can “Like” My Page on Facebook to stay apprised of my adventures (assuming my hideous watermarks don’t drive you away) or subscribe to my blog here. I’ll have a fun tutorial to share with you tomorrow!