The digital age has brought us as photographers many benefits, unfortunately is has also brought us a few headaches as well, not least of which is the constant issue of copyright infringement.
Nearly all of us upload our photographs to the world wide web to reach a larger audience, to not do so now is damn near commercial suicide. But uploading all of our latest and greatest works puts us at the mercy of the nefarious types who believe the internet is the wild west. You take what you want, when you want it. It's on the internet so it must be free right? The polite and more diplomatic term for this theft is 'copyright infringement' but essentially it is stealing and it's where other people and companies actually profit from your hard work for free. But how do we find these people? How do we stop them from doing it and how do we get compensated for what they've profited from?
Last week a very kind member of my community got in touch to say that they had seen my work being used by a nightclub and asked if I was aware of it or was the night club using my work without consent. They were right, the nightclub had/was using my work without consent. Just a side note here but I have never worked with nightclubs on creating imagery for them and I do not know of any other photographer ever working for for a nightclub for money either. In my experience nightclubs are the biggest offenders of copyright infringement, they use a shot for a club night that has a specific date in the near future and after that club night has passed they don't need that image anymore and move onto the next one. It's a very quick turnover of images and it makes it very tricky to catch them out. The opposite of this infringement is on a more permanent basis, for example if somebody has used a photograph on a book cover, that has an indefinite lifespan. That book cover image will be used for years not weeks and is far easier to catch and to demand compensation from the infringers.
So how do we find these common thieves? Franky I take a fairly pathetic stance on this copyright infringement as a whole, I'll be honest and say that up until now I've never bothered looking for people who've stolen my shots. My argument has been 'time taken to find image thieves to bill vs. time spent creating new images that will make me money'. I've always just written copyright infringement off as the cost of doing business in the digital age and that my time is better spent creating new content not chasing around after my old work. That may well have been true up until now but thankfully there's now more and more technology on our side to do the work for us. Essentially we now get the best of both worlds, I can spend my time taking new pictures whilst technology hunts down my old pictures and fines the people using them.
Say hello to a little company called Pixsy. www.pixsy.com
Pixsy is an online service that you direct to all of your images on the web and then it searches everywhere else on the web to see where those shots are being used without you knowledge and consent.
Upon launch I directed it to my Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, 500px and my website. But it does also give you a few other options too including Photoshelter and SmugMug for example.
It's probably not a bad idea to also use the 'Add another website' button feature too. The more places you know of that are hosting your images legitimately the less amount of work you're going to have to do in crossing off matches you were already aware of. For example if you have shots on your Model Mayhem, BeHance, PurplePort, all these places are going to pop up in the 'matches' so best to rule them out now.
In about 30 seconds it had scanned through my 1441 shots and spat back out 4801 matches over 193 pages. I had a lot of work to do.
Ok so Pixsy finds all of these matches elsewhere on the web, now what? Well essentially you now have to go through these matches and spot which ones are legit re-posts of your shot or unauthorised ones. for example your images may appear in a news article or blog posts about you or you've personally uploaded those shots to another online service like Model Mayhem for example. Those matches are legit, you know about them or they're legally allowed to be there. The other matches are the ones you have to keep an eye out for. This is actually a lot easier than you think as you simply go to the 'Matches' tab at the top of the site and then scroll down the thumbnails until you spot something you don't recognise. In fact on my very first page I had nice little book cover I wasn't even aware of! Just another 192 pages to go!
So you've found the 'infringer' now what? Once you've spotted somebody using your shot in a context you're not familiar with you can follow the link provided by Pixsy to go see what page it's appearing on. If after you follow the link and you're still convinced that this is an unauthorised use of your shot and you should be compensated for it you simply go back to the Pixsy page and hit the '$ Submit Case' button.
From there, and I quote from their page 'Once you submit a case to us, our licensing team will thoroughly document the unauthorized use. Depending on the severity of the matter and the type of use, we will either contact the image user on your behalf and request a license fee payment or forward the matter to one of our attorneys.'
If they find that the case is worth tackling they'll pretty much take it from there. If you win they take 50% of the fee. That may seem like a lot but you aren't wasting any time or stressing over it, they're doing all of that and they're far better qualified to do so.
It seems like 'no-brainer' to me as I don't waste any of my time chasing the image parasites around the internet and I get some money in the end if they come through. I only signed up last week and I haven't had any results back as of yet but looking around the web I've found some photographers that I respect and trust to have had a few wins through Pixsy and who speak very highly of them.
So should I sell my gear and sit back and wait for the money to roll in from the infringement cases? No definitely not. I've certainly found a few of the vermin online who are happy to use my work for free but I won't be holding my breath on getting any money from them just yet. Night clubs and online book covers aren't going to get you much if anything at all but the infringers you're looking for are the big companies who still make mistakes time and time and time again. Next clothing and Top Shop have both been caught for just grabbing shots off the web and printing them on T-shirts, they were fined an 'undisclosed' amount but it's safe to say that was hefty sum. It's these cases that are worth keeping an eye out for but apart from the money side of things there's also another reason to check your images aren't being used for the wrong reasons.
Whilst using Pixsy I came across around 20 re-uses of my image on Model Mayhem. Upon closer inspection I actually found that somebody had set up an account under the name 'JHicksStudios' and was posing as me online with my images in their port. Now using my images is obviously bad enough but if this guy was setting up shoots with models under my name with work that wasn't his I don't think its a stretch to say that he didn't have the best intentions towards the people involved. As a photographer who works very closely with my team I can think of nothing more damaging to my company and my brand than somebody else pretending to be me and destroying my reputation. It's bad enough that a copycat is running around producing sub-par work under my name but my industry reputation is far more important to me than a few hundred quid for a stolen book cover.
So Pixsy may find some people stealing your images and maybe even get you some money for it. At the very least you can simply keep an eye out for the big name companies who might slip up and get yourself a nice little payout but for me the biggest piece of mind is that I can keep an eye out for the 'JHicks Studios' out there and crush them before they do any real damage. Regarding that I got in touch with Model Mayhem and his account has now been deactivated.
Check out Pixsy for yourself, at present they're inundated with applicants so it took me about 24 hours after applying before I received an activation 'invite' code. All they needed was an email address and they don't take any money from you unless they win one of your cases. It's definitely worth a look and I'll keep you posted if I actually win any cases but please comment below if you've used this service or a different one to win any copyright infringement cases. For that matter just feel free to share your strangest infringement story. Whilst researching this article I actually found a guy whose shot had been used by ISIS for an 'ad campaign/propaganda'. Apparently Pixsy wasn't confident on winning that particular case but they did state 'we sent a number of take down requests for him (Brian McCarty the Photographer) and the picture was removed from the internet. We haven't received any threats yet, so that's good'. Fair play to Pixsy.
Thanks for reading guys, you may also like my articles on 'Adding Copyright Metadata in Lightroom' or 'The Reality of Actually Getting Published by Humans'
Alternatively if you'd like to learn more about how I setup my photographs, the finer details of implementing gelled lighting like I do or how I retouch my photos, why not come along to one of my workshops. http://jakehicksphotography.com/training/