Thieves Are Uploading Other Peoples' Photos to Shutterstock: Here's What to Do if It Happens to You

Amateur photographer James Wheeler was looking through Shutterstock, one of the world’s largest stock photo sites, when its “similar images” algorithm began suggesting his own photos to him. It was then he realized his work had been stolen and uploaded by fraudsters.

His images had been downloaded from other sites, before being uploaded to Shutterstock. But it only gets worse: upon delving deeper, he realized it had been occurring for at least eight years. He says although the site did cooperate when he raised a complaint, they did nothing more than delete the offending images. The problem persists, as more just get uploaded upon a deletion. The only savior is that the site’s new feature recognizes similar-looking images and subsequently brings any illegal uploads to the photographer's attention.

In a new video posted to his YouTube account, Wheeler talks through his experience and offers advice on how to spot when others are uploading your work for sale through stock image sites. His advice includes details of how to send a DMCA takedown notice to get Shutterstock to take down photos, a process he is now well and truly acquainted with.

Wheeler raises the point that it would in fact be straighforward for sites like Shutterstock to catch copyright thieves before the photos are ever published online, using the same AI that recognizes and recommends similar images to the one(s) you’re viewing. But Shutterstock doesn’t currently have a system of that nature in place, so photographers are left with no choice but to do it manually.

View the video in full for further insight into Wheeler’s experiences and tips on how best to deal with similar situations.

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11 Comments

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Second story of the week involving a stock company's lack of interest in doing their job properly. No thanks. Chasing each photo on each of the stock sites on regular basis is of no interest.

JetCity Ninja's picture

just use tineye or google image search. if an image of yours is on a stock image site, it'll show up.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I agree, but who has time for searching hundreds of images.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Edison, thanks for rating me down twice but it mean literally nothing without an explanation.

user-206807's picture

Shutterstock and other microstock sites have no interest in chasing thieves, for them a sale is a sale, no matter where it comes from

JetCity Ninja's picture

it's like chasing down instagram thieves. by the time you get them to take it down, the impact has already come and gone and no one will even care if you were involved.

at least with stock photos, the longer you wait, the more recourse you have if it racks up sales.

EL PIC's picture

Just don’t post your work or keep it as a small thumbnail image.

A few thought in this ...
1) The takedown notice is somewhat useful for images that have not been registered with the copyright office. When it is sent, include the agency.(whether or not they have taken them down).
2) The agency's position of only deleteing the offending images clearly shows that they do not care about copyright.
3) Registering images with the copyright office will solve some of this. It is not expensive, but gives you more rights than you already have. The agency may also delete the person to limit their liability. And you can get an attorney involved (generally with no cost to you). If the thief has money. the fines are pretty high (and if they removed your metadata, they go sky high). Of course,if the thief has no assets, you are out of luck no matter what you do.
4) To stop images from being used by others, don't post anything large anywhere on the internet. Thieves can't use really small or low res images. These tiny images will look fine on social media.
5) You can choose not to use an agency that acts so casually about copyright.

That's why I use services like pixsy.com and binded.com. I can quickly review any websites that are using my images.

Fristen Lasten's picture

All of the links at the bottom of binded.com, under the term Information, are 404

James Wheeler's picture

I heard back from Shutterstock and they took down my photos but didn't ban most of the people that upload them, I did another video on it that you can check out here: https://youtu.be/PTlPMe10vFc