Someone Has Stolen My Photo, Here Is What I Did

Someone Has Stolen My Photo, Here Is What I Did

Today, I found that someone has stolen one of my photographs. Here is what I did.

I recently wrote an article about watermarks/signing/logos (I know there is a difference, but a lot of people call their logo in the bottom right a watermark, so I think we can agree it makes sense in this context), and the comments went a bit nuts. Loads of people worried that if you didn’t watermark/sign off your image, then it would be stolen and that there was nothing that you could do. I personally don't watermark my images.

Guess what?

My image got stolen, and the punch line to this article is that I have and will do absolutely nothing about it.

I don’t usually check for image theft, but someone in the comments posted a link showing how to find stolen images. To my surprise (ego dented) there were only 22 thefts, so I picked up the first one I could see and did a bit of a search. It turns out that rather nice looking hotel in Vietnam are using the below image to advertise their food menu. I really like this photograph, lots of autumnal colors and it was something that I created when I first started in food photography, it was taken as part of a test shoot with friends and I haven't ever made a penny from it.

How Did It Feel?

When I started out in photography this would have literally made my blood boil. “How dare they take my image!” However, I really couldn’t care less. I felt nothing, I found it interesting that I could quickly find the location of my image, but I don’t care that they are using it.

If this were supermarket using it on a billboard, I would be pretty happy as I called my agent to instruct a substantial invoice and most likely book a flight somewhere nice, but in this instance, who cares. A small hotel is using my image without paying and it looks like every image on their website isn’t paid for.

Could I invoice them? Sure. But it would be nightmare to get the money, so I am going to move on with my day. The best thing to come out of it is that I have some content for this week's article and hopefully a small point to make.

Why Don’t I Care?

This isn’t me saying that image theft is ok. Theft of anything is wrong. They have done wrong. Knowingly or by mistake, what they have done is wrong. The problem is, I am a self-employed individual with only an agent as support.  We do not have the time to be chasing these people over small sums of cash through enormous legal battles. The emotional energy and time to get what would be a £1,200 license for web use just isn’t worth chasing. With far less stress and probably less time I can make that money in a more positive manner.

My Mindset

For me it comes down to mindset. Writing for Fstoppers gives me a really interesting insight into the photography world outside of my bubble. I work as a commercial photographer shooting ad campaigns. My world is very insular, especially being a food photographer in Leicester UK. I try and keep things pretty positive and focus on doing what I do. I am very fortunate to be in a place where I love my job and that my life is pretty happy 90 percent of the time. Over the last year, I have noticed that a large proportion of photographers are angry, really angry. I can’t help but feel that this anger is misplaced. If we all took this anger towards people trying to price-cut us (I have an article on that to) and image theft, people taking our jobs using just iPhones, etc. and placed it into being truly creative in our work, I think we would all be a lot more successful and a lot more productive. For me, getting pissed at image theft at this level or any level just isn’t worth the energy. There are better things to spend my tears on.

When Would I Care?

So this isn't a one size fits all situation. There are times when I won't let this slide. If someone has been rude to me or if I know they have purposefully and aggressively tried to take advantage of me, I will retaliate, although not with anger and annoyance, just by handing the mess over to a collection team to act on my behalf. I then forget all about it. Every now and then, I get a random payment from one of them for money retrieved. It feels like free money.

If a major company took one of my images and used it for an ad campaign without license and refused to pay, I would care. Legal teams would potentially be instructed if disputed, and my agent would raise an invoice to reflect the usage which we would get paid for. I have done this in the past, and it certainly doesn’t make my blood boil; I usually get the money with an apology or a booking for another shoot, which I often assume is out of embarrassment, but I will take it anyway. I have also had clients misuse images without the correct license. This is almost always a mistake and instantly rectified. But sometimes, it just isn't worth worrying about. And even when it has been stolen, I try to expel as little anger or annoyance as possible as it simply wont help me progress toward my goals. 

What Is My Stance on Image Theft?

I know, I have waffled again. So, in a nutshell, here it is. Image theft is bad, and it is wrong. I wont be watermarking my images to stop it happening ,as it won't stop it (although I admit in this instance it would have as they appear too lazy to remove it), and it cheapens my work in the market I work in. If an art buyer or creative director looked at my images online and they had a watermark, I can guarantee you that they would not hire me.

I wont be getting angry when I next see my image stolen, which will happen. It just isn’t worth the effort. The person stealing it didn’t expend any emotional energy in doing so, so why should I add mine into the mix?

I try to stay calm and just get on with it. Life is full of bad people; don’t let them stop you from sharing your work or allow them to keep you in a state of anxiety and anger and the photography profession. The photography profession is here to stay; it is valued by those who need it and not by those who don't, much like every profession.

The people who stole my work in this instance have no intention of using anything but free images, I haven’t lost anything by them taking my image, my life continues and I am about to go and set up for a shoot and make some productive money and imagery.

What would you do in this instance?

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Deleted Account's picture

Someone linked to a photo of mine once, not even saved it and uploaded it themselves. The remedy was simple, I fiddled the link to redirect to a rather NSFW site and image.

Needless to say, the complete blog article they had posted soon vanished.

JetCity Ninja's picture

it's more fun to redirect to a gallery of the image, repeated 99 times, with one NWS dropped in. that way, every time someone complains to the thief, they only have a 1 in 100 chance of catching it.

Mark Harris's picture

In my misspent youth I wrote a script that went through the web log files looking for these hotlinks, and then automatically made redirects to a NSFW. Didn't think about cycling the image to fool the poster though. Maybe you could guess their ip address (first or most frequent visitor, as they check their page ?) and exempt that address. Sadly no time to misspend nowadays...

Wasim Ahmad's picture

This sounds brilliant!

Scott Choucino's picture

That's brilliant haha

JetCity Ninja's picture

ignoring the "hot headed" personalities, it seems the ones who go into orbit over price cutting are those who are either insecure in their talent or have exceeded their available talent just by touching a camera. the vast majority who are capable and priced accordingly just dont say anything at all, especially not in a blog comments section.

Scott Choucino's picture

I think there is a lot of truth to this

Michael Dougherty's picture

Stealing images, ideas, inventions is much more acceptable in Asia. What Westerners call stealing isn't even given a second thought. It's just a way of life.

Julian Ray's picture

Alas this is very true. IP is not a concept that is widely understood or accepted here.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yes, I noticed that when I lived in Shanghai with all of their car brands

Jonathan Brady's picture

you make a great point about investing negative energy into something like this instead of positive energy into creativity.
That said, I'd still send them a mail bomb... 😂😉

Scott Choucino's picture


yeah, negative energy can really kill your work.

Dan Howell's picture

I was once shooting an assignment in Phuket Thailand on a small side street. Directly across from my location was a dress and suit making shop with a small bill board with two photos on either side of the store name. I did a double take at the model in a dress which caught my eye for some reason. Upon closer inspection I realized that it was actually a shot I photographed for a fashion company (entirely unrelated to this store location). A bit of a shock for me, but realistically what could I do in that situation. I was more curious about how they got the image to begin with...

Mark Alameel's picture

With such a weird way to discover a misappropriated image, I would have taken a picture of it and promoted the randomness of the whole situation.

Scott Choucino's picture

yeah, interesting to know how they got a high enough resolution image to do that.

Dan Howell's picture

part of the assignment that created the image was a PR kit for editorial. I am assuming that someone at the factory or distributor got a hold of that. It was not a landmark image or anything so it was odd that I would run into it so far from the point of creation.

Ron McKinney's picture

I feel exactly as you do, Scott, in this situation. Obviously, it could be a different story, I think in most cases of image theft that I read about, it's a fledgling photographer passing off really good images as their own. More than anything, it concerns me that somone is going to hire that fledgling thinking they're better than they really are.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yes, there are a few "photography" websites passing off my work as theres. Which is a shame for any of their clients.

Alvin Telan's picture

"but someone in the comments posted a link showing how to find stolen images"

Mind sharing how? Thanks.

Timothy Hood's picture

Go to from a computer. Click the camera icon at the right end of the search bar. Use either a URL that points to the reference image, or upload your reference image.

Peter Stewart's picture

I can relate, as I too have images stolen and used on a couple Vietnamese hotel and travel websites. Heck, one of them is even a Viet government website! There is literally nothing you can do, they just don't care about copyright.
I even found a shop selling prints of one of my images (extremely low res too!). Luckily in that instance I confronted them and made a deal. I would sell them a license to print the image (and provide the high res), if they agreed to destroy the low res prints/postcards.
It unfortunately is a thing in South East Asia. Many hotels will just take an image off Google search and use it for their website, or even print it off as a mural for their lobby/make prints for the rooms etc.

Peter Stewart's picture

I think the point to be made here, is to pick your battles wisely. There is no point getting worked up about a small business in a foreign country using your photos. These kinds of people would have no intention of purchasing a license, and if they did would likely balk at the fee involved.
Better to save your energy for when the big names screw up.

Michael Breitung's picture

Totally agree with that!

Scott Choucino's picture

Yeah, certainly a case of picking your battles.

Eric Crudup's picture

I like the post, don't care if it's spam. Reading it makes me feel good and also I really want a wizard to cast lottery spell on me. Wow, that spell sounding so amazing like the real deal using ancient spells from an exotic place where magic works for some reason.

Mark J's picture

Hey, Eileen Murray from New York. A quick google search tells me your EX-HUSBAND won a $273 million dollar lottery and you didn't get a penny of it. Sounds like you and Dr. Miracle need to have a serious heart-to-heart.

Mark Harris's picture

I don't use real watermarks, as I reckon that those who steal wouldn't buy anyway, they would just steal from someone else. But I do sign. Then I pick my battles. If a low-budget blogger uses my images, I ignore it, if a commercial enterprise that should know better steals, I send them a bill corresponding to the usage, plus 100% fine for the theft, and another 100% fine for not attributing to me (which is standard practice in Sweden, I don't know about other countries). Usually they pay up, but if they don't, I give up rather easily, as going further isn't worth the hassle. Cutting off my signature from the bottom is good evidence of premeditation. The most annoying case was a local design house who said they wouldn't pay the fine "because if we'd asked to buy it legally, you would have said yes".

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