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.
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.
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?