Unfortunately this happens often. People find their stolen images or plagiarized text on another website. New photographers or even other unrelated businesses lack the creativity, money and ethics to create/purchase work of their own, so they steal others. Others’ images, written text, html code, mission statements, etc. I’ve even seen whole ‘about’ pages copied- arguably the most personal part of a website. Plagiarism specifically has become a huge problem. People seem to think that if they ‘find it online’, it’s theirs for the taking. How wrong they are. YOU own all of the material on your website- not just the images, but the text as well. If it came from your brain, you own the copyright to it. Even if someone takes your text and modifies it it’s still a copyright violation if it falls under the ‘substantial similarity’ law.
Needless to say, when creating text for your website, DO NOT COPY THE TEXT ON ANOTHER WEBSITE- don’t even look at it and ‘sort of’ copy it and modify it for your own use- not only will you seriously piss off the photographer you copied, but Google will most likely penalize you for having duplicate content and won’t rank your website very high (more on this below). And it goes without saying that you don’t take images that aren’t yours, but I think everyone reading this is smart enough to know that.
So what gives me the authority to write on this topic? Somewhere around six years ago I started finding my web copy and images popping up on various websites, and since that time, I have had *lots* of experience dealing with it. I’ve learned the best, most efficient and most effective way of dealing with this, and the least- and most frustrating way of dealing with this.
First, let’s talk about what not to do– the most frustrating and least effective way to deal with it.
1. Contact the infringer directly by phone or email.
Why? Because they will say one or all of the following things:
- My web designer did it. (Or assistant, or business adviser/fill in the blank other person).
- It’s placeholder text/images that are just there while I’m building the site.
- It’s your fault. (Somehow they will turn the finger of blame on you. Weird.)
- And/or most laughably: “you copied me”.
I promise you, contacting the infringer directly is a HUGE waste of time and emotional energy. TRUST ME ON THIS.
I have come to this conclusion about people who steal images and/or text and html code:
- They lack ethics, so trying to reason with them about right and wrong is a complete waste of time and falls on deaf ears.
- They will rarely if ever admit their wrongdoing. And even if they do it’s a small consolation for their theft.
- They will be defensive and angry.
- They are incapable of understanding how you feel.
- It is my personal opinion that they have some sort of personality/social disorder that mean that they don’t operate in the same world that most people do. Logic and reason doesn’t work and as much as you try and understand their motives, unless you are like them, you won’t understand them, so don’t even try. It’s possible that they are just lazy, but hey- I’ve been pretty lazy in the past and it didn’t mean I resorted to stealing other people’s stuff.
2. Get your attorney involved, unless it’s a substantial violation that the normal steps don’t resolve (more on that below). This will only cost you money and time, both of which are in short supply when you are a photographer. It’s not worth it. With one exception. (See below).
3. Lose sleep over this or sacrifice a day’s (paying) work to deal with it. It can be infuriating to find your stolen images and/or text where they don’t belong, but if you learn to channel that energy into getting work done for your clients, and/or vent it in the forums you belong to it won’t affect you so negatively.
1. Do a Whois search on the domain name to find out who hosts the website the infringed content is on. You simply type in the domain name (the website address), without any characters, like this: crappyasscopier.com, into the search box on this website:
This should tell you both who the domain name registrar is, as well as who hosts the website. It’s often not the same company, so y0u want to be sure you have the host’s name. If the site above doesn’t work, you may need to do a Google search for another Whois site:
Then, once you find out the name of the host, say- GoDaddy for example, you simply do a Google search for the host company name and ‘DMCA’ to find their copyright policy page and how to report a violation. So you’d Google ‘GoDaddy DMCA’. You can always visit the host’s website and try and find their copyright pages but it’s a huge time drain as those websites are impossible to navigate, so just Google it instead to get right to the page.
2. Once you find the DMCA/copyright policy page on the web host’s website, simply follow the directions on the page to report the violation. Sometimes they will have an online form you can complete, but it’s always a good idea to send an email through your email client instead so that you have verification that it went through (you will usually receive an auto-reply confirming receipt of your email), so look for an email address you can use, which often looks something like this: firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.
The section on ‘copyright claims’ is what you are going to look for on the web host’s page.
It’s a good idea to have a template email drafted to use when these situations pop up, to help save you time. When I find a violation it takes me 5-8 minutes to locate the host through a Whois search, customize my drafted email and send it. Quick and easy.
Here is a copy of my DMCA email draft that you can customize for your own use. You are welcome. You can send donations to firstname.lastname@example.org. 😉
(Subject) DMCA Notice of Alleged Infringement (“Notice”)
I am the creator of text/images that have been plagiarized/stolen by another photographer/company on a website hosted by you: http://www.websiteaddress.com
My copyrighted text/images that was/were infringed is/are:
“copied text” or direct links to images *with descriptions of the images or text being infringed*, like “smiling black lab running toward the camera in a grassy field”, or “top 3 paragraphs on the about page”
And can be found on my homepage/page(s) here:
My plagiarized text/infringed images can be found on the infringer’s page here:
I am the creator and copyright holder of this text/images. I did not authorize [infringers name] to use or modify this text/images for any reason.
My mailing address is as follows:
My mailing address
My phone number is: 123-456-7890
My email address is email@example.com
I hereby state that I have a good faith belief that the disputed use of the copyrighted material is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law (e.g., as a fair use).
I hereby state that the information in this Notice is accurate and, under penalty of perjury, that I am the owner, or authorized to act on behalf of the owner, of the copyright or of an exclusive right under the copyright that is allegedly infringed.
Thank you for your prompt attention in this matter. The signature below constitutes my full legal signature.
Your full name
Your email address
Your phone number
3. THEN, once you have sent the email reporting the copyright violation, the web host will nearly always ‘disable the infringed content’. Depending on who the host is, this could be:
Simply removing the image or text
Disabling the entire website. (Woohoo!). THIS IS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL.
I’ve seen the latter done more than the former, with the exception of with Blogger (a Google product), where they just remove the text or image but leave the rest as-is. It seems to depend on the extent of the violation. If you are talking about multiple images and/or an entire page of plagiarized text, usually the site gets pulled down.
Usually within 48-72 hours of receiving your DMCA take-down notice, the host will have
opened a can of whoop-ass on their customer addressed the situation. You get the email saying the content has been removed, you visit the link to confirm it, you breathe a sigh of relief and move on. I guarantee this is the best feeling you will get when this happens. There is no better lesson to infringers than having their website taken down. This is far more effective than anything you can say to them, and really what you want anyway. It’s important to note here that the email you send to the host gets forwarded to their client, so the photographer or business will be reading everything you say. I recommend sticking with the facts like in the email above, and leaving any emotion out of it.
Why should you care if your content is stolen?
1. When it’s on a server you control (i.e your own website), you have control over where it ends up. Once it’s on another website’s server, it’s out of your control and can end up anywhere. You may have a robots.txt file to prevent Google from indexing your images in their ‘free image catalog’ as I like to call it, but crappyasscopier probably doesn’t, so they are going to allow Google to index your image in Google’s free image catalog for others to steal. Soon it will be all over the web thanks to them.
2. If you desire, now or anytime in the future, to license your images as exclusive use stock, once an image is out there in the world wide webs, it’s out of the running for that hefty exclusive use paycheck from Purina/Iams/Nutro/Etc. Trust me, you don’t want to lose out on potential thousands in licensing fees because you didn’t protect your images. Don’t think you will have the opportunity to license images to these companies? Most licensing opportunities I do find me just by searching for pet photography online. MANY pet photographers these days get jobs the same way. You could be one of them, and the last thing you want to tell your client is “sorry I can’t license that image to you for exclusive use because it was stolen off my website and is now all over the internet”, or worse, actually license it to them for exclusive use and have them come back and accuse you of licensing it to another competitor after seeing it somewhere else. (This nearly happened to me and I was freaking until I got it resolved). These big pet companies have legal teams- do you even have an attorney? Now you can see the potential risk involved in having your images stolen.
3. Nobody has the right to use your images or text unless they either a) pay you to license them, or b) have written permission from you.
4. When it comes to text, Google now penalizes content that they call ‘duplicate content’, which means it falls lower in the search results. It’s a very complicated topic, and I don’t pretend to assume how it works, but I also don’t want to assume that the infringing party will be the one penalized for ‘duplicate content’, and not me. If it’s the other way around- I’m screwed. So even if I don’t feel like hassling with addressing a plagiarism issue, it’s in my, and my SEO’s best interest.
Maybe you are one of the evolved few who find it flattering when people ‘borrow’ your stuff, believing that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, but I can tell you that this isn’t how the vast majority of people feel. I know this from the many furious emails I get from photographers who are in this situation. Most of them feel like stabbing the infringer in the eye with a fork, not like “oh that’s so sweet they copied my stuff”.
How do you locate your stolen images or text?
Images: Use Google’s search by image feature either on the web (copy and past the image’s URL, or upload the image file), or use the Firefox extension by John Muir, which is what I do. When I’m on one of my images, I just right-click and click ‘Search Image on Google’. It returns Google search results for all incidents of that image it can find online. Quick and easy.
Text: use either Copyscape.com, or just copy and paste the text into a Google search. I’ve found the latter to work like magic most of the time. Just put in your most valuable written content, like your tag line or mission statement or unique creative descriptiv phrases (emphasis on UNIQUE), and see what you get. Often all you need to find is a copied sentence to find an entire page lifted from your website.
Please don’t spend too much time on this. An hour or two search every six months or so will suffice. Just do this and quickly send some DMCA emails and be done with it.
Lastly, when would you get your lawyer involved?
When it involves your stolen images, when there is money involved, and it is directly harming your ability to generate revenue from those images. I recently discovered that a whole bunch of my stolen Decopaw art images and regular photos are being sold on multiple cell phone carrier’s screensaver websites around the world at 99 cents per download, and that is significant enough for me that I’m going to talk to my Intellectual Property attorney Mark about it and see what we can do.
That wraps up this epic blog post on what to do if you find your images or text stolen. If this was helpful for you please leave me a comment here and let me know (you can easily comment below if you are logged into Facebook). The more I know these posts help, the more time I will take out of my client work to write them!
Also, do you think we should ‘out’ the pet photographers stealing images and text on the Beautiful Beasties Facebook Page? What are your thoughts on this? Yay? Nay?