Previously, I wrote about how this photo was misappropriated on Pinterest and credited to another photographer. Originally, I posted the photo on Dec. 16, 2009. In online image searches over the past few days, I found numerous instances of this photo (and more than 100 other copyrighted images) being used without permission or attribution.
Among other instances, the typewriter photo was used in a Canadian company's website; a web page banner; a blogger's banner; a Twitter avatar; in several blog posts and apparently, an ad in China. Thus far, only the company (above) responded to my request to take down the photo (blaming their web designer for unauthorised use of my photo). On Friday, the web page owner (below) said she would remove the photo, but as of this writing, it's still up. (As one of my Twitter friends pointed out: ah, the irony: she's a copywriter and this is a copyright issue).
I also discovered that the Bing search engine in particular - by generating hundreds and hundreds of copyrighted photos from my blog - appears to allow numerous instances of photo theft by counterfeit sites, advertisers and scraper or phishing sites. It's an international problem, with photos hijacked, then posted on sites from the US to Europe to Asia to the Middle East to South America.
Whenever I could find contact information, I sent polite emails or tweets to copyright violators, asking them to remove my photo(s) from their sites. Most responses were apolgetic; a few were argumentive and even threatening.
A website administrator in Spain first emailed and said he would look into the matter, blaming "hackers and spammers" for my photo being on his site. Then he emailed a second message, accusing me of hacking into his website and adding my photo as spam! He sent a third message saying "Why would we want to put your **** photo's on our website. We will now put a complaint into Google for you hacking our site." And then a fourth message: "You hacked our site with your photo's to gain an advantage. Why would we put your photo's in the middle of a Spanish site, in English about stairs, when it is a site about helping people with Anorexia??? We will be reporting you to the authorities."
And a fifth email from the same guy: "...The logical way to view this and Google will look at this, is you had someone do this to promote your photo's at the expense of us, because you are a spammer or you have employed spammers to promote you." He also threatened to sue me! Tellingly, he removed my photo by the second email, but kept harassing me with more messages, even after I asked him to stop. Madness! This is a screenshot of my photo (originally posted here) that either he or an affiliate - or possibly a third-party spammer - "lifted" for his website:
Many people haven't bothered to respond to my requests, either by email or "tweets." One woman "favoured" my tweet asking her to take my photo down, but hasn't removed the photo. The owner of an ultra-extremist "rapture/end of days" website that used a photo of one of my French Madonna crowns, claimed my photo "had come with the article." He said he took it down, but no apology. He replaced my photo with someone else's image, undoubtedly without permission (lesson not learned, apparently).
A common response from people using my images is "my web designer found the photo and I didn't know it was ripped." Really? Someone is creating a website, but doesn't think to ask where the photos they choose originated? Then this response: "Apologies. I had no idea it was yours. I got it a few years ago off a blog and it didn't have a photo credit." Of course she didn't bother to inquire about the photo source.
After such checkered experiences - rather than try to deal directly with these people and their ridiculous excuses, denials and unfounded accusations - I have filed numerous formal DMCA takedown notices via their site hosts and/or Google and Bing.
Still, many of my photos remain on dodgy advertising and spam sites of suspicious origin. I would need a full-time assistant just to track down these multiple copyright abuses. And that's what these spammers, hackers and thieves count on - that no photographer or visual artist will take the time to search the web and take legal action to claim their original work. Often these sites will close and shift to another host, so the search process must begin again. And don't think a watermark deters these shifty operators. In almost every instance of my photo appearing on a dubious advertising or phishing site, my watermark was clearly visible.
What's the solution?
What's the answer? Until site hosts begin taking more principled stands against copyright infringement - rather than encourage it - perhaps we should not only watermark our photos, but begin "shrink-wrapping" them. Skinny Artist helpfully offers a tutorial. Do you have any tips for preventing photo theft? Do tell!
And here is a cautionary tale for bloggers, as well as Pinterest and Tumblr users. It's simple, really: just don't use other people's work without permission! Show the same respect for other people's work as you would expect for your own creations. It's not just a question of good manners; it's the law!