Photography theft and how to protect your work.

by Peter Zack

  

Go to Google Images to check on possible copies of your work

Update:
We’ve had a lot of interest in this topic and if you have a situation where you hired a fake photographer or had your content stolen, send us the details. Get clear information, screen shots of the site, email and if possible physical addresses and phone numbers. Record any data on professional organizations that they claim to belong to. Proof is key! Send us an email through our Facebook page with the information and any attachments. We’ll create a group on that page and also here on the main page for everyone to see. A public record of these thieves for both photographers and clients to check. Remember, some of your content might be stolen but as in the Meagan Kunert case, she stole from many different ones and by exposing the thief here, you can help the entire community.

Update 2
A colleague has begun a blog post t make these fake photographer’s sites and names known. You can visit it here -Photo Stealers- and if you have something to submit there, just follow the instructions above. I’m also going to add this blog site to our main index so it doesn’t become lost in the archives.
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To follow up from our earlier article on Meagan Kunert’s theft of multiple photographers work that she posted on her web site. Photographers are checking to see if the same thing has happened to them. In my case, I found a wedding planning site that was using one of my images as their own and have had them attribute it to me. Now a colleague has also found a direct and large scale rip off of his work on another photographers site. I’ll show you that further into this article.

First how do you protect yourself? Go to Google images and you’ll see a way see if your published work is posted elsewhere on the web. You will see a small icon that looks like a camera in the right hand corner of the search box. Click on the camera and then you will open a new window where you can check your images. Post the image URL in the search box or upload a published image from your computer. Other than Internet explorer, you can drag and drop the image to check it and use smaller web sized images to speed up the process, just make sure the EXIF data is intact as well.

Google image check step 2

You can do exactly the same thing with a site called TinEye. I would recommend trying both as Google images tends to look for ‘similar’ images and you might get a bunch of green grass shots that look similar to your green grass shot but are not the same. Another tool you can use with Google Image search is here and it works very well.

Second to check text, go to Copyscape and put your web page URL in the search box. It will check to see if your content has been copied. If you are using a WordPress Platform, you can use these various Plagiarism tools to protect your work. You could also use Google Alerts to check for certain content keywords. Yet another would be Digital Fingerprints for WordPress.

Sadly the other partial protection is to clearly watermark your images. It’s not foolproof, as a person who wants to make the effort will remove the watermark if they have the Photoshop skills or recrop the shot if the watermark is only along an edge of the shot. Also put unique keywords in your text. If you have references to XYZ photography somewhere on the page so if it’s copied, it will be more easily found.

Digimarc. If you want to take the extra step to protect your images, you could use Digimarc which is an Adobe Photoshop plugin. From the web site: allows you to embed imperceptible, persistent digital watermarks into your images to communicate ownership and other information, wherever the images travel across the Internet. A digital watermark embedded in your image carries a unique ID and can link to contact information or a website for viewers interested in learning more about you or purchasing your artwork. The watermark stays with your image regardless of the path it travels across the Internet. No matter where your digital image ends up, others will be able to determine your copyright ownership and find you.

Another case of a Professional Photographers work being stolen

Ashton Lamont is a colleague and excellent photographer based out of Reading, Berkshire UK. With all the theft of real professional’s work happening, he decided to check who might be using his work. He used some of the tools I mentioned above. Well unfortunately another photographer based in Victoria BC copied his work and posted it as his own. Really what a dumb move. The photos are clearly taken at old world locations. Victoria BC is pretty far from old world. It’s blatantly clear who owns the work.

The work that was stolen is samples of albums that Ashton has made for his clients. Creating these albums cost a huge amount of money, takes hours of design work for each album and takes time to properly photograph to present in an appealing way on his web site. To just go and rip this off is frankly appalling. What’s even worse is the photographer who stole the work is a member of several professional photography associations. A direct quote from their site:

We take our photography seriously and are bound by standards of practice and performace by being charter members of the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC), Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) and Canadian Association of Photographic Art (CAPA).

So here is the work that’s been stolen in Ashton’s Album section. If you click on his link (it will open in a new window), you will see the originals that are identical to the screen shots below. The screen shots are of the pages from (how ironic is that name) Noble Photography. Now a couple of the really dumb things about this theft is, because Ashton embosses his albums with the names of the bride and groom, the thief has to use the same names in the descriptions. Very hard to hide from that. Second is the quality of the work. Ashton has a solid high quality body of work that is very consistent. If I were to assess the Noble samples, I’d recommend they get a job flipping burgers and sell their gear. They are in no way capable of matching Ashton’s work.

Now, it’s clear Ashton’s work has been used without his permission. The penalty in Canada is $1million and/or 5 years in jail per occurrence. I would hope the aforementioned professional bodies would support Ashton’s claims and strip this thief of any accreditation and also assist him in any prosecution he decides to follow. As has been discussed before, Gary Fong received a $240,000 award in US federal court for a very similar offence. Let’s hope Canada’s copyright act is equally enforced.

I’ll save you a step, share this article on Facebook on the Noble Photography Facebook page here and tell them what you think of these actions.

Yet again, another photographers work stolen.

In this case, not only the photos but the text and 95% of the entire site. Martin Leckie is a multi-award winning photographer (see below) who just discovered his site was stolen. I don’t understand the thinking of these thieves, Martin has a high profile and his site and work would be easily recognized. These people will be found and I hope face either jail time, big fines or both. I guess it’s a case of ‘So you want to avoid all the work and learning of getting to this level? Steal his entire online portfolio and jump the years of hard work it takes to be a professional.’ If you steal from someone with that type of profile, you will get caught, I hope no matter what your profile level, you are not faced with someone stealing your work. We will continue to publish articles like this to help the photographic community find and expose these thieves.

The link to the stolen work is here. Martin is currently taking actions to have this removed and is speaking to lawyers with the intention of further action. So I suspect the site will disappear shortly. Here are some screen shots of the offending site and Martins to compare. You can see more of his work here. Click on the images below to see larger versions and use the back button to return to this article.

You will see identical pages on the fake site, only the background colour and photographer's name has changed.

One for Homer Simpson. Martin's signed photo on Coleen's site. Theives always screw up somehow.

Martin used Copyscape to discover the site and it found the fake site in about a minute. If you think your website host or designer will check if the material you are submitting is stolen, think again. Swiftcreations used this web site as a portfolio example on their site until they were notified by Martin’s lawyers about the stolen content and the example was removed.

Martin’s Awards:
Martin A. Leckie L.B.I.P.P. L.M.P.A. L.S.W.P.P.

Sim 2000 UK Wedding Album Designer of the Year 2009
SWPP 2 Gold Awards for Wedding Photography 2008
SWPP UK Children Photographer of The Year 2007
SWPP Runner Up Overall UK Photographer of the Year 2007
MPA Scottish Portrait Photographer of The Year 2000
MPA Award for Avant Garde Wedding 2007
MPA Gordon McGowan Award for Innovative Portraiture 2004/ 2007
MPA Complete Wedding Award of excellence 2007
MPA 33 Awards of Excellence 1989 – 2007
BIPP Scottish Photographer of The Year 1997
BIPP 17 Awards of Excellence 1989 – 2005

I never ask a reader to do this but I feel this is an issue that needs as much exposure as possible. Copy the article to your blog, post it to a sharing site like Stumbleupon or Digg. Share it on Facebook and any place you think other photographers might see it. We need the community to find out if their work is being copied and go after these thieves.

If you have tried the tools we posted above to protect your work and found cases where someone has stolen your work, we want to hear your story. Please post a comment below. It’s important to “out” these thieves who are not only stealing your hard work but your income and very likely tarnishing your reputation and the reputation of all photographers who do an honest days work (7 days a week!)

Cheers and good shooting
-Peter Zack

  

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Related posts:

  1. Stealing photographers work to start a business – Exposed
  2. Protect Your Photos with TinEye
  3. Bad Photoshop Work – No Wonder the Movie Was a Flop!
  4. Blind Photography
  5. Katie’s Story – Some Very Moving Photography


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23 Comments

  1. I wonder if in some cases web designers are the culprits actually ripping off the other sites, possibly without the site owner’s full understanding.

    • One would know if you actually took the photos on your website. Even if your web design company was dumb enough to steal photos, you would have to be dumber to sign off on it.

  2. Great post. It’s about time these fakers were exposed.

    @AndrewG, I doubt very much that any respectable and honest business person will just leave everything to the web designer without approving the work first. Even if for some reason they missed it upon initial site launch, they would definitely check the site at some point. For someone to leave other peoples work on their blog/website for so long and then claim ignorance is just plain lies.

    • Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s in any way acceptable and don’t know of anyone claiming such ignorance. I’m just pondering whether part of the same mindset that doesn’t “get” the internet & how easy it is to get caught like this might also unwittingly use a crooked web designer.

      We’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill respectable & honest businessperson — we’re talking about someone with one or more defects, possibly a blindspot to the global internet. The cases Peter sited specifically do not seem this way — sound like sociopaths who have graduated beyond simpleton usage of facebook to actually trying to cultivate a larger online presence.

  3. A photographer local to me in Lancashire opened a studio and on his website he posted images allegedly created by him in his studio as examples of what could be achieved buty many of the images were someone else’s including one by Damian McGillicuddy that that still had his trademark signature on it. Another photographer conacted the studio to ask what was going on and the guy’s wife said they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong! I haven’t checked since then but I’m assuming it’s been cleaned up.

  4. I have been dealing with this issue for years. I use Copyscape every month, and literally every month I discover another case of a photographer who has stolen varying amounts of text from my site, ranging from a couple of key sentences to entire pages or (several times) almost the entire content on my site.

    I spent a lot of time when I first built my site learning how to optimize it for the search engines, so the fact that I show up high on the search results in many markets has undoubtedly been a factor in being targeted by lazy thieves who think that by stealing my text and code that they will get similar search results. I also spend a lot of time trying to write interesting text that is relevant to my target audience, so they will want to spend time on and return to my site. I have very little tolerance for this theft of my work, and will now usually just go straight to the webhost of the offending site, file a formal notice of DMCA violation, and have the offending site taken down.

    The amusing thing is how often these thieves leave links on place that link back to my site!

    Recently I have started doing searches for stolen images and have been surprised (and depressed) at how many instances I discovered. Last month I discovered a photographer in Australia had taken ~20 images from my site and placed them in his own galleries; when I contacted him (and his webhost) about this he claimed that the site was built for him by someone else, and he hadn’t realized that these were not his photos! This is typically the excuse given by the thieves.

    I would be very interested in hearing about how this theft of text/photos is affecting other photographers, and participating in anything that might teach the thieves that there are serious consequences for this kind of behavior.

  5. Tom, I would be interested in creating a post here for the sole purpose of exposing these sites and names of these thieves. (See the update at the beginning of the article) A place where photographers and potential customers alike can see whats happening and who they are hiring. So if there is any interest in submitting the names, any photographer that wants to email their situation to us (like us on Facebook and send a message there). We’ll put the list together here as a permanent post and Facebook group. If you do so, I’ll need some proof of you being the owner, what you’ve done and some screen shots before you ask to have the other site remove content or shut down.

    In the cases cited here, we sent this post to any professional organizations listed on the offending sites. I’ve gotten letters back from those groups that they were doing everything from stripping the person of accreditation to taking legal action. Taking information getting email addresses and physical addresses are key in this. You, your lawyer and these organizations need information or these site just go dark and you can’t find them. Noble photography tried this but we had the details on them first with the proof to send to CAPA who is now taking legal action. Don’t just write an email to have the work removed. Get the details and screen shots first, send this to your lawyer if you want to or send a DCMA notice to the web host. Google also has tools for this as well.

    We not only need have these thieves off the internet, we need to make examples of them and the photographers need compensation for the work that has been stolen. It’s most important for the couples and families that would otherwise hire these people. If they think the person has the experience and skill to capture their special (and expensive) wedding day or other event, they will be very disappointed and they will be out the memories and money they thought they invested.

    Clearly it helps our site when you all come to visit us but that’s not my motivation. Every time you loose a client and the thieves gain one, we all loose, including the client. Banding together we can have some effect and discourage this from happening. So I’d like anyone who wants to share this post on Facebook, their blog or whatever way they like, to do so. Get the word out we’re watching and your name will be recorded for the future.

  6. Excellent article on an important topic. Thanks.

  7. Wow, that last one stole the ENTIRE website, right down to the “Thank Yous”!!! So all of those people are being used as well to promote this fraud without their knowledge … horrible.

  8. Thanks SO much for posting the bit about fraud – but especially the ways to search for your image in reverse!!! I’ve worried about this for ages. Also useful to let my Mom, who’s a patent attorney here in New Zealand, know about this. She’ll find it extremely useful. Good old Google! LOL Again, this puts my mind considerably at ease! As a photographer and journalist, I’ve always worried about this, but it’s very hard to track down and prove. I’m disgusted at their attempts – I mean really, if someone was going to steal my hard work, I’d be insulted at the lack of forethought and planning used by some of these thieves!! It’s so hard to get a toehold in this industry – especially when you’re studying full time like me, and doing this part time – I use all my holidays and off hours to push my photography and writing. On the upside, you can get staggering amounts of compensation (in relation to how the business is going, anyway) for thievery like this – always assuming, of course, that the thief can actually pay out… yeah.

  9. I have been battling infringers for the past couple of years, so much so that my blog is almost entirely dedicated to this and gives advice to photographers and also publishes a list of intellectual property lawyers in the US, Canada, Australia and Germany. Website developers have got to be the biggest culprits and really should know better.

    Sheila Smart

  10. Hi Peter. Another muppet has popped up copying my album pics and has not responded to my request to take them down. This is their page in question:
    http://ajstudios.net/6505-2/
    You’ll see that the album pics are copied from here:
    http://www.ashtonlamont.co.uk/albums/index.html
    Much the same as the previous occurance.
    Their contact details are:
    A J Studios Inc
    Photography
    11428 Artesia Blvd ste 6
    Artesia ca 90701
    562 298 2444
    Not sure if this is something you wish to feature on your site.

    Peter Riding
    Ashton Lamont

  11. As GoDaddy is the server, send them a DMCA Notice to abuse@godaddy.com They were very quick to take down three websites who were offering free images (many of them mine).

    Good luck
    Sheila

  12. Try this:

    “This application allows you to sign your images. The sign is added directly to the image data. It doesn’t use EXIF or stream file properties. The sign is invisible. The sign stays detectable after jpeg compression, scaling and cropping or for example PrintScreen&Paste.

    We employ an Image Spider which crawls the Internet looking for signed images. If it finds your signed image, it will let you know. ”

    from:

    http://www.adptools.com/en/signmyimage-description.html

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