You pull up a website and you see a photo you took. It was used without your knowledge or permission and you feel ripped off—it's a horrible feeling.
Even though no one broke into your office or home, you've become the victim of crime; something has been stolen from you. Luckily, there are some simple steps you can take to have the photo removed and to deal with future thefts more easily.
The instant you take a picture it is copyrighted by you. You own it and you alone determine how and where it can be used [with some exceptions (Fair Use)].
Copyright is an automatic right and does not require the author to file special paperwork, as is the case for trademark and patent; however registration is required to enforce the rights.
One of the many terrific things about copyright is that it comes with a host of exclusive rights that allow the owner to do or authorize a number of things and exercise substantial control over his or her work.
The copyright owner has the right to do four things (called exclusive rights):
Reproduce the copyrighted work;
Display the copyrighted work publicly;
Prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work; and
Distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by sale, rental or lending, and/or to display the image.
Fair use is not the same as free use. Fair use is a legal exception to the exclusive rights an owner has for his or her copyrighted work. Fair use is in place for the greater good, to allow copyrighted works to be used without permission for the benefit of the public. However, there are limits and only a court has the final decision-making ability. Section 107 of the Copyright Act states:
the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.
In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Verify the Photo
The first thing you should do is verify the photograph. It's a small step but there are a lot of similar images out there. It makes sense to take an extra minute to make absolutely sure it is your photo that has been used.
Google enables you to perform image searches on line: https://www.google.com/imghp?hl=en
Just by dragging a copy of your picture onto your browser, Google will search the internet and return images from around the world that are visually identical or closely resemble your image.
Contact the Website
A short and polite letter informing the website that the photo is not free for use is often all that is required for a website to remove a photo.
If contact information cannot be found on the website, you can often find the owner through a domain look-up website such as WhoIs.com.
While you may be very upset, it is important to remain calm in your email to the website. A calm approach will get better results than an immediate threat of legal action.
If you're lucky, they may simply not have known they were in the wrong and you will receive an apology or the photo will simply be removed. Some website owners will respond negatively to your requests. Some will take down the photo but call you names, others will refuse to remove the photo and tell you it is free because "it's on the internet," and in some cases, a few may even threaten to sue you for trying to protect your property.
Don't respond to negative emails without taking a moment to compose yourself; then follow the next step.
Contact the Webhost
Fill out a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_Act) form and the web host will remove the content quickly. This is a link to a sample form to use to send out to offenders: https://www.whoishostingthis.com/resources/dmca/
Seek Legal Help
If you wish to receive payment for the unauthorized use of your photographs rather than them just being removed from the internet, you will likely need legal counsel.
Preventing Future Theft
While there is no way to completely prevent image theft on the internet, there are steps you can take to reduce theft and deal with it quickly when it does happen.