Archive | Copyright

How a TX Business Almost Got Away With Copyright Infringement


As an artist and photographer I like to display my work and have it be seen by people all over the world. One of the mediums in which I display my art is the internet. I upload hundreds of photos each year to photo sharing sites such as Flickr. Being that the internet is such a diverse and “free” medium it is important to protect the images I upload, which is why I register all of my photographs with the US Copyright Office. I also routinely search the internet for my photos to ensure they are not being misused.  By misuse, I mean used by a corporate or commercial entity. If you are an individual and wish to use my photographs for your personal use, please go right ahead, I have absolutely no problems with that. In fact, I license all my photographs with a Creative Commons NonCommercial License, which states to use my photographs for personal use all you have to do is attribute that photo to me, and provide a link back to either or my flickr page.

tx-business-blog-postOn June 21, 2011 while doing one of my routine searches for my photographs online I came across the blog of a Texas based business.  In the blog the company used two photographs I took while vacationing in Charleston, SC.  The blog post clearly stated my photographs inspired two of the company’s products. Under each of my photographs is a product with a similar color palate which the company intended to sell elsewhere on its website.  The company did not get prior permission to use these photographs on its company’s website or blog.

Shortly after noticing the infringement I sent the company’s owner an email containing what I call a “notice of copyright infringement.”  Other photographers or copyright attorneys may call it a “demand letter”, but it’s simply a letter stating: their use of the image(s) is considered copyright infringement, they must discontinue using the image(s), a bit of info about copyright infringement and the penalties for committing such a crime, and an offer to settle this matter out of court.  In this letter I offered to settle with the company for $500 or $250 for each image the company had used unlawfully.

The next day the company owner responded stating that the company didn’t intend for the images to be viewed as its images, and that it obtained them from other blogs. The company owner then offered to either remove the images, or to offer credit. Nowhere in the response did the company owner offer to settle the disagreement monetarily. Soon after the first email, the company owner sent another saying that the company had taken the images down. I responded with a request for an address so I could send an invoice, the company responded stating that they felt $250 wasn’t reasonable to them. In cases like this, my next step is to typically offer to settle for a much reduced amount if they are willing to write a blog post about copyright infringement. In this case, I was willing to settle for $250 for the use of both photographs if the company would write such a post. The company declined, and informed me that they would consult an attorney. I responded saying that it was a wise move and I’d be more than happy to speak with their attorney.

A few weeks later I reached out to see if the company’s attorney had provided any advice.  In response, the company owner said that their attorney would be in touch with me shortly. At that time I had gone out of town for a few days to visit family, and upon my return home I had a (not so) nice letter from the attorney accusing me of extortion (among other things), and stating that he advised his client not to settle with me.

At this point I knew I would have to obtain an attorney of my own.

This entry describes the beginning of a copyright dispute I had with a Texas business. The matter has been resolved pursuant to a Confidential Settlement Agreement.

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How To Find Stolen Photos

how to find stolen images online

I often get asked how I find my stolen photographs online.  I generally use two free tools, TinEye and Google Image Search to find my stolen photos online. In this post I’ll explain a little about each tool, how to go about using these tools and why I use them.


Before I get into how to go about using the tools, let me explain why am I interested in finding out who is using my images:  By default all my photographs come with a Creative Commons Noncommercial license.  That means that any and all of my images may be used for personal, noncommercial use, all you have to do is link back to me.  I use these tools to help me discover any commercial entities that may be using my image in violation of the Creative Commons license.


tineye reverse image search

TinEye first came about in 2008 as a way to search for similar images online.  TinEye allows you to upload an individual file, or to enter the URL of an image if the image is already online and publicly visible.  Once your file is uploaded or the URL is submitted you get back a list of results. TinEye also has plugins available for FirefoxChrome, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer which allows you to right-click on any image and “Search Image on TinEye”.


TinEye Results

For each result you will see two links, one that takes you to the page where the image is displayed, and the other is the actual image file that is on the server.  If the stolen photograph is stolen again, and then used elsewhere it will show up under the “master” result for that image (if that makes sense).  For example, if someone stole your image and gave it rounded edges and then uploaded it to their server, and then a second person came along and stole the image with the rounded corners and posted it to their server, it would all be shown as 1 match, even though it is being used on two different websites.

From the results screen there are also options to compare the stolen image with the image you supplied and to get a permalink to the result to share.

As you can see, TinEye found 10 matches for my most popular stolen photograph on 11 different websites.

Google Image Search


In mid-2011 Google announced a new tool similar to TinEye.  They call it “Search by Image” and it allows you to search Google’s massive catalog of images by an uploaded image or a URL. Google also has a plugin available for Firefox and Chrome, which allows you to right-click on any image and “Search Google with this image”.


Google Results

The Google results look just like any other Google search.  You’ll be most interested in the section that says “Pages that include matching images”.  Clicking on the thumbnail image to the left will take you to the stolen image as it is stored on a different server.  Clicking on the title link to the right of the thumbnail will take you to the web page containing the stolen image.  Unlike TinEye, Google does not group similar sets of stolen images together.  Instead, it lists every single version as a separate entry.

Google produces many more results than TinEye, however I have found that the results can be wrong from time to time.

Google’s Search by Image was able to find 105 matches for my most stolen photograph.


TinEye and Google Image Search aren’t the only ways of finding your stolen images online.  There is at least one pay service that I’m aware of: Digimarc.  Digimarc works by embedding an invisible watermark into your photograph.  Once the photograph is online you can then search for any images that contain your watermark from their search interface.  If there are other alternatives let me know!

Have you had any success using TinEye or Google Image Search?  If so, share your results!

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How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

Registering 2010

Registering your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office is one of the most important things you can do as a photographer.  Doing so allows you to assert your rights over your photographs and defend them in federal court, should you need to do so.  It is common knowledge that your photograph is copyrighted the moment you click the shutter, however you don’t have the ability to protect and defend those copyrights in court until your photographs are properly registered.

The copyright office provides several ways to register your photographs.  The quickest, easiest, and most cost effective is to use eCO.  There are several good resources available on how to register your photos using eCO. Registering your photos with eCO costs $35, however it has limits to what can be registered.  It works fine for unpublished photos, or published photos “contained in the same unit of publication and owned by the same claimant”.  I’ve asked several lawyers about the “same unit of publication”, and the consensus seems to be that a “unit of publication” is a book or magazine.  The definition is rather ambiguous when it comes to defining “unit of publication” for online use.

Due to the ambiguity of the “unit of publication” definition, I choose to play it safe when registering my photos.  In other words, I register my photos as a “group registration of published photographs” using the old paper forms.  It’s a little more expensive ($65), but I know it works.  This is going to be changing soon, though.  Earlier this year the Copyright Office launched a beta program to test group registrations of published photos using eCO.  Presumably, this means that we’ll all be able to start doing group registrations of published photos using eCO within the next few months.

So, without further adieu, here is how to register your photos using paper forms:

Step 1. Prepare your photos to be sent to the U.S. Copyright Office.  The photos don’t have to be very big.  I export mine at 500px on the long edge.  Give them meaningful file names that will also serve as the titles.  For this batch I titled mine “CM-2010-Published-Photo-X” (where X is the number of the photo).  Create a text file that will be an index for the photos.  In the text file put the title and the date published.  I use the date I uploaded the photo to flickr as the date published.  Burn the photos and the index file to a CD.

Index File (click to embiggen):

Step 2. Download Form VA from the U.S. Copyright Office.  This form is for registering visual arts works.  This is an editable PDF, so you can type directly into it and print it when you are finished.  You won’t be able to save it unless you print to a PDF.

Step 3. Edit your downloaded Form VA.  I’ll guide you through it, section by section.

Section 1 (click to embiggen):

Title of This Work: This is what you want to title your submission.  I name mine based on the date range of photos I am registering.  In this example I’m registering all of my 2010 photos that I uploaded to Flickr/SmugMug, so I went with “CM 2010 Published Photos”.

Nature of This Work: We’re registering photographs, so we’ll put “Photographs” in here.

Previous or Alternate Titles: This is basically a description, however it must be worded in a specific way, eg: “Group Registration/Published Photos: Approx. X photos”.  Change X to the number of photos you’re registering.

Leave the rest blank, unless you know what you’re doing.

Section 2 (click to embiggen):

Section 2 has two parts for two different authors, if applicable.  If you only have one author (yourself), you only need to fill out part “a”.

Name of Author: Put your name here.

Dates of Birth and Death: Put in your “year born” and leave “year died” empty if you’re still alive.

Was this contribution to the work a “work made for hire”?: Answer accordingly.  Pay attention to the note in the left column if the answer is “yes”.

Author’s Nationality or Domicile: For photographers that are U.S. citizens living in the U.S. put “U.S.” on both lines.

Was This Author’s Contribution to the Work Anonymous or Pseudonymous?: Answer accordingly.  This may have implications to how you fill out the rest of the form, so read the instructions carefully if you choose one of these options.

Nature of Authorship: We’re registering photographs here, so check “Photograph”.

Section 3 (click to embiggen):

Year in Which Creation of This Work Was Completed: This is the year in which your work was published.  In this example I was registering my 2010 photos, so I put “2010” here.

Date and Nation of First Publication of This Particular Work: If you’re registering your work as published (as I do), fill out this section.  For month, put in the published date range using the first and last month/day in your index.  For me, this was 3/30 and 9/25.  You do not need to fill out the day or year boxes if you’re inputting a range of dates.

Section 4 (click to embiggen):

Copyright Claimant(s): Put in your name here.

Leave the rest of section 4 empty, unless you know what you’re doing.

Section 5 (click to embiggen):

Previous Registration: Check “no” if this is the first time these photos are being registered.  If you need to check “yes”, consult the instructions on how to fill out the rest of section 5.

Section 6:

Leave section 6 blank, unless you know what you’re doing.

Section 7 (click to embiggen):

Correspondence: Input your name, address, telephone number, fax number and email address for the Copyright Office to get in touch with you if there’s a problem with your submission.

Section 8 (click to embiggen):

Certification: Check the appropriate box.  Since I’m the author, I chose “author”.

Typed or printed name and date: Type your full name, and put in the date you filled out the form.

Handwritten signature: Don’t forget to sign this line before mailing in your form.

Section 9 (click to embiggen):

Certificate will be mailed…: Put in the name and address you’d like your registration certificate to be mailed to.

Step 4. Print and sign your Form VA, throw it in a box with the CD containing your photos and a check or money order for $65.  Send the box to the Library of Congress at the address listed on Form VA.  I send mine via USPS Priority Mail, which is trackable.  This is so I know exactly when they’ve received my submission.  The Copyright Office suggests you use USPS over UPS or FedEx as processing UPS or FedEx deliveries may take additional time.

That’s it!  Congratulations, you’ve successfully prepared your photos for registration with the U.S. Copyright Office!

Your photos are considered “registered” on the date that they get delivered to the Copyright Office, even though you may not receive the registration certificate in the mail until 6+ months later.

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