Chasing Infringements

Posted on 8/29/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

No one likes to see their images used without compensation, particularly if the use is on a site that generates revenue for the user. PicScout, a company that searches the web for images found in the collections of professional image distributor, says that 85% of the images they find on commercial sites are unauthorized uses (either never licensed, or used beyond the license). This data is based on searches of commercial sites, not personal blogs which are probably bigger offenders. (PicScout doesn’t even bother to spider personal sites.)

However, identifying and pursuing infringers can be very time consuming and not necessarily an economically productive use of a photographer’s time. In the United States photographers should start by registering every image created with the U.S. Copyright Office before they are published of offered for sale. (If the paperwork is filed within 90 days of first publication it has the same protection as if it had been filed prior to publication.) This makes it much easier to pursue an infringer in U.S. courts if you later discover an unauthorized use. Registration is not necessary in other countries.

The problem for photographers with the registration system is that it is necessary to develop a system to register thousands of images that will never by used by anyone on the outside chance that a few unauthorized uses will eventually be discovered. In other creative endeavors registration is not so burdensome because the creators tend not to produce as many unique creative works as photographers do. For more about U.S. Copyright registration see Peter Krogh’s site.

A few photographers are able to earn several thousand a year chasing infringements and there are occasional big settlements, but the vast majority of image producers choose to spend very little time trying to protect their copyright.

Once an image has either been licensed for any use, or even in an online catalog where it can be viewed, the next step is to gather evidence of unauthorized uses. Google Images and Tineye are two places you can go to upload your images - one at a time - and search the web for exact copies for free. Once an online use is found make sure you get a screen grab of the image and keep a record of the date the use was found. The image may later be removed from the site and the fact that it is no longer there may affect the settlement.

Another resource where it is possible to upload an entire collection and have the web searched periodically for uses of any image in that collection is PicScout. There is a charge for this service.

Once a use is identified the photographer needs to determine if the image was legally licensed. This may be a relatively simple task if the photographer is the only one licensing the image. But, most photographers have their images with several distributors. In such cases, if the image has ever been licensed it is often difficult to track who licensed the image and the terms of the license. Often the licensor was a design firm that created the web site where the image was found and the design firms name does not appear anywhere on the web site.

Assuming it is possible to locate a use that has not been properly licensed the next step is to locate the users contact information. Go to Enter the URL of the site into the Whois Lookup at There you should be able to find administrative and technical contact information for the individuals in charge.

Contacting The User

At this point you need to decide whether to turn the information over to a lawyer or contact the user yourself. If the image was not registered with the U.S. copyright office (required only of U.S. residents) prior to the use, it will be very difficult to find a lawyer to take your case.

I am not a lawyer and the following suggestion should not be taken as legal advice, but I would recommend that you start by personally contacting the user with a written communication something like the following:
    Dear Sir:

    It has come to my attention that you have used an image of mine on your ( I have attached a screen grab of the image.

    According to my records use of this image was never licensed. Would you please provide me with evidence that you licensed use of this image.

    If you have not licensed use of the image, please remove it from your site immediately. Also, please provide me with information as to the length of time the image has been on your site so I can calculate a retroactive license fee for the usage. Also, please advise if you have used this image on any other web sites, in print media, or in any other manner. If you would like to continue to use the image, I can quote a fee for such use.

    If I fail to hear from you in 15 days I will be forced to file a “copyright removal notice” with Google. Such a notice may have a negative impact on the order in which your site appears relative to the sites of your competitors when customers search Google for the services you provide.

I would not quote a usage figure in the initial communication. You need more information about the usage and the user before you can quote a fee. Keep the letter as friendly and unthreatening as possible. The goal is to open a line of communication and get a sense of whether a quick, reasonable settlement is possible.  

See this story on why new moves by Google may encourage those who have made unauthorized use of an image to try to find a quick solution to the problem.

Once you have established communications then you can decide if you want to try to negotiate a settlement, or hire a lawyer. In many cases the quick settlement for a modest amount may be preferable to pursuing legal action in hopes of a much larger settlement considering the time and expense involved in the latter.

For a lawyers opinion of what to do when your work has been infringed see this article on Carolyn E. Wright’s blog.

There is also a very useful article by Simon Crofts entitled “Stolen Photographs: What to Do?” that can be found on the Editorial Photographer, UK web site.

Also check out "Protecting Image Copyright Worldwide" for some other thoughts on a better system for protecting copyright.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Paul Melcher Posted Aug 29, 2012

    You forgot pro active measures like Stipple ( By claiming your images as yours, not only there is much less need to track infringement but you also get image analytics and monetization.

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