• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

      Columnist
    • August 4, 2013 in Columnists

    Just because you ‘find’ a photo online doesn’t mean you can use it

    Imagine something you’ve created. Something you’re really proud of, that required your talent, creativity and professionalism. A poem or sculpture. A dress that you designed. Something you WORKED at. And then imagine that it gets stolen and widely reproduced. With someone else’s name on it. And, it’s making a lot of money for them. And, maybe for a product you don’t even like.

    Thanks to the Internet, photographers are struggling with this theft and are having a hugely difficult time reining it in. Who’s to blame? Well, besides shady entrepreneurs, me and you.

    Yes, you, and you probably don’t even know you’re doing it. I know I didn’t.

    How many times have you discovered a great photo online and made it your Facebook cover? Used it on your blog or website? Used it on a brochure? I know I’ve used online photos many times. I can find a photo of practically anything on “Google Images.” I assumed that Google’s images are in the public domain, unless specifically noted otherwise. I assumed wrong. Many of those photos are essentially stolen from photographers who posted them and then lost control of them.

    Award-winning photographer Kathy Keatley Garvey (who works at UC Davis as a communication specialist and is one of my iPinion colleagues), added me to a “Photo Thievery” Facebook group, where I began reading of photographers’ struggles in retaining ownership of their work.

    Their stories struck a chord with me because back in 1997, I wrote a column entitled, “Dear Santa, All I Want for Christmas is to Slap Martha Stewart,” that was mass-distributed as an email “joke.” Normally, I’d call thousands of eyes seeing my work “free publicity.” However, there was one problem: My name wasn’t on it.

    Now, back in 1997, my columns were only on newsprint, not online. That means someone had to take the time to retype that column, and thankfully, did so without errors, but didn’t bother to type three more words: By Debra Ramos (now, DeAngelo, of course, and for awhile, LoGuercio). Sparked by the Photo Thievery discussions, I started to wonder: What’s my column up to these days? I only had to search the title to find out. The answer? Plenty. It’s all over the place. And, in each case, without my name.

    Now, some of these websites are selling advertising. Making a profit, in other words. And they’re doing so by illegally using my work, and likely the work of many others. I got steamed. I emailed www.ahajokes.com, and they responded immediately and said they’d add my byline. Another removed the column at once. Two down, scores more to go.

    Apparently copyright infringement for writers gets noticed. Not so for photographers. Once online, their photos are like lone ships in pirate-infested waters. Kathy told me about her own horror stories. She writes an award-winning blog, Bug Squad, on which she posts insect photos every night, and has been doing so for five years. That’s a lot of photos. The blog gets about a million hits per year. That’s a lot of eyes. And potential thieves.

    One photo in particular, a rare image of a bee sting in progress, went viral. Named one of Huffington Post’s most amazing photos of 2012, as well as one of the “world’s most perfectly timed photos,” it won first place in an international photo competition. The ownership of the copyrighted photo is inarguable. However, others take credit for it and steal it to post on their websites or social media pages anyway.

    Some the abuses include a website in Iraq and a Flickr user that copyrighted and used that photo, while others cropped off the copyright notice and used it without accreditation. Kathy’s photo of an Italian bee on lavender was stolen, and the website invited everyone to download the “free” image for wallpaper. Other stolen photos were used for advertising and marketing, including for pesticides, health care products, yarn, medical products and documentaries, all without Kathy’s knowledge or consent. Or compensation.

    Her favorite bee-in-flight photo was used for a fundraiser by a Peruvian beekeeping association, which raised about $1,450. Others used that photo to advertise a documentary — for which they were selling tickets. Another of her favorite honeybee photos was used as someone’s avatar. Someone else, “rejected in love,” swiped Kathy’s butterfly photo for her own blog about her “mid-life chrysalis.” Kathy suspects she found the photo on Bug Squad and simply removed the copyright.

    “I felt violated,” says Kathy.

    Although Google Images is the photo theft catalyst, Kathy says photographers can do a “Google reverse image search” and find out who’s using their photos. Sadly, when Kathy did so, and demanded her property back, she didn’t get the immediate cooperation that I did. One person remarked “Wind your neck back in.” Another told her to “get a life.” Also, unlike my column, the theft of Kathy’s work is so widespread, tracking every incident down would take forever.

    “I don’t have time to monitor all the unauthorized uses,” says Kathy. “I just wish people would take their own photos. It’s a rewarding hobby — except when people steal — and then it kind of makes me not want to write a nightly blog. And sometimes I just feel like just hanging up the cameras.

    I don’t want Kathy, or any other photographer, to hang up their cameras. We can help by obeying the law. According to the National Copyright Office, “In the case of photographs, the photographer is generally the copyright holder… Copyright is secured upon creation. Therefore, the photographer owns the copyright once he/she has created the photograph. Under Section 106 of the Copyright Law, the copyright holder has certain exclusive rights, including the right to copy, distribute and display the work.”

    It’s like anything else: Just because you see something you like doesn’t mean you can just take it.

    “I think that people need to know that just because they ‘found’ the photo on the Internet, they are not entitled to use it,” says Kathy.



    • I think when you put anything online people steal it if they like it. It is sad but what is an artist to do? Everything can be photo shopped in or out. Sorry for Kathy. I have seen the photos that are hers. They are wonderful and I am saddened for her that she must chase down all the illegal prints. We need a service that will do it for you. A moneymaker for sure, sadly.


      • sara

      • August 4, 2013 at 8:55 am
      • Reply

      My friend Katie had taken an amazing picturebof Adam Lambert and years later it is being used on some of his fan sites and all over pinterest. Her name is no where to be found. It’s a compliment but heartbreaking too. People need to give credit where credit is due



    • Just google “Getty Images” for more information. http://meronbareket.com/getty-images-demand/ Bottom line: use pictures you take yourself, not ones you find.


        • davidlacy

        • August 4, 2013 at 9:17 am
        • Reply

        Good source of info. Thanks, Don!


      • davidlacy

      • August 4, 2013 at 9:13 am
      • Reply

      While I have indeed witnessed rampant plagiarism of written text during both my journalism career and as a teacher, the situation has clearly become much worse for images (particularly photos) with the internet.

      With their phones and other portable devices, everyone’s a photographer now. Of course, NOT REALLY, as most people don’t know jack about taking good photos (self included) and simply use filters to make their lackluster photography sparkle (not that the photo always even needs that added faux layer). People don’t seem to view photography as something that takes a lot of time and work, as well as a trained eyed; after all, they can tap their finger over the iPhone in mere seconds and capture 15 shitty shots. I think the lack of knowledge behind what is actually involved in good photography lends itself to the exacerbated situation you see with image theft. It’s an attitude of, “dude, c’mon, it’s not that difficult.” These same people, however, view writing as difficult, and, fortunately for us writers, there are no apps that publish fresh pieces of prose. Again, I’m not saying that plagiarism isn’t rampant in the text world; I KNOW FOR A FACT it is. But I do believe there’s a discrepancy in perception between the two that has made the situation increasingly worse for photographers.

      Also, just like “texting & driving,” an entire generation has grown up with a mindset that accepts photo-sharing. I’m only equating the two as a cultural phenomenon of perceived permissibility amongst a generation; obviously I believe texting and driving is far worse. But both require education to inform the masses that the behaviors are not acceptable, simply because “you’ve grown up with them.”

      And this column joins the growing conversation about this issue that will help educate others. Of course, in order to actually “walk the walk” I need to scour through my own Internet presence and determine what I really have a right to share (i.e., photos I took, or photos TRULY of the public domain and credited accordingly). And so that I’m not merely paying lip-service to this issue, I plan to spend the next few days doing precisely that.


      • Mary M. Davis

      • August 4, 2013 at 10:16 am
      • Reply

      To try to recoup, when you KNOW someone has gained from your photo you can take them to small claims court or other based on the $ amount. You follow the same letters of copyright as with writings,demanding the photo be removed within xxx days, or start paying the royalties of $yyy.WITH full disclosure of the owner and you provide a new image with a watermark.

      For future protection, there are some excellent programs that assist in providing a “copyright watermark” on the photo that you post. Another option is there are (or were) ways to code your site so NOTHING text or images could be copied in the “copy or save image as” method. However most sites still allow you to print screens the edit with photoshop or whatever. But it is still almost impossible to remove the watermark that will still be left visible.

      I admit I re-post images on Facebook, but if there isn’t information with it I try to “Search Google with this image”. to get the identifying information so I can AT LEAST give credit where is due.



    • David – really appreciated your comments. I too must now “walk the talk” and get rid of any photos that aren’t my own, or, get permission to use them. I think maybe iPinion can set the bar – Joe suggested we post a policy up front that “iPinion Syndicate takes copyright laws very seriously. We do not use any photo or image other than those we own or have permission to use.”
      I also liked your point about this current generation has a whole different viewpoint about images, sharing them, etc. They just don’t view it as stealing.



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