We have come across websites which are using fotoLibra images without paying for them. They are using watermarked Preview images, which anyone is at liberty to drag off the site, but not for commercial use.

I’ve borrowed the following piece in its entirety from Jacqui Norman’s May fotoLibra Newsletter because I think an important function of a picture library is not only to sell but also to guard and protect our photographers’ assets, and if we come across any unauthorised image usage it is our duty to harry and beset the perpetrators as best we can. In Britain we have the Small Claims Court which we will unhesitatingly use — overseas it’s more difficult, but there are ways and means — one of which Jacqui proposes at the end of her article.

The benefit for fotoLibra photographers is that a complaint from a company will usually carry more weight then a complaint from an individual. A company is generally perceived to have deeper pockets and better legal support than most individuals, and will usually be prepared to pursue trivial debts which a sole person may not be able to afford, in time or money.

We’re mainly talking here about image sales in the region of £25 / $40. This is not going to rescue Greece’s economy, but if our photographers are losing money through illegal usage, then so are we. We are going to do something about it — but you have to help us by following this procedure. Over to Jacqui:

fotoLibra Member Bob Crook alerted us when he found one of his images with a large fotoLibra watermark being used on somebody’s blog. He asked if we’d made the sale, and we hadn’t —  the thief had simply stolen the lo-res watermarked Preview and posted it on her blog.

But Do Not Panic. Your original images are safe. They cannot be downloaded from the fotoLibra site without our knowledge. But anyone can drag Thumbnails and Previews off any website, which is why in our case they are protected with embedded metadata and, in the case of Previews, with embedded watermarks too. We don’t mind students using such images for free in dissertations and essays. If they want to use an unwatermarked version they have to pay, which of course outrages them because they think everything on the internet should be free.

If it’s not for student use, we charge. But how do you track down unauthorised usage of your images?

Here’s how Bob does it, slightly adapted to suit all fotoLibra members:

Open Google Images in one browser.
In another browser, go to your Portfolio in the fotoLibra Control Centre. Choose one of your images. Double click to enlarge it into a watermarked Preview image.
Highlight the image, and slide it onto the bar on the Google page.
It will take only a few seconds to search.
When it has finished you will see the image at the top of the page and a list underneath of where it is being used.

It also attempts to show you similar images by matching the colours. Sometimes this is impressive. Sometimes it makes you realise how alien a computer’s “intelligence” can be.

If you have some curiosity and spare time, please check through some of your images this way. If you do find evidence that one or more of your images is being used without your knowledge or consent, this is what we want you to do: Email me [that’s jacqui (dot) norman (at) fotoLibra (dot) com] with a) the FOT number of your image, and b) the precise, full URL of where you saw that image being used.

We will contact the abusers and demand payment on your behalf. We can never guarantee success, particularly in overseas jurisdictions, but we can certainly frighten them, and we can name and shame them.

In fact — here’s a thought — if people don’t pay up, I might publish a regular Cheat List, where we can publicise URLs where any unpaid for fotoLibra Preview images appear, and fotoLibra members and friends can then comment on the probity and honesty (or otherwise) of the offending sites. What do you think?

Well Jacqui, I think it’s a good idea. Not a great one, because at heart I’m not confrontational, but if I sit down and think about this I can work myself up into quite a state of indignation. These people — I don’t know how many of them there are — are thieves. Bob Crook has found two, and checking through ten of my underwhelming images I have already found two which are currently being used illegally. That’s 20%. Admittedly I did choose ten images I thought might lend themselves most readily to theft. Tineye is another good way of uncovering shady image use.

I’m happy to name and shame any site which uses a fotoLibra watermarked image without permission. However I won’t rush straight in whirling my bat around my head because I’ve stepped up to the plate for young Bob before, when he claimed some publisher had used a fotoLibra image without permission. We investigated and discovered the image had been uploaded to fotoLibra three weeks after the book had been published — Bob had sold it through another picture library and had forgotten all about it. We had our ears torn off by a slider from the publisher and I don’t think we’ll be selling them any images for a while.

So we’ll tread softly. And carry a big stick.


Add your comment


31 Responses to “Policing Illegal Image Usage: What You Can Do”

  1. Rosie Brooks says:

    There are lots of changes occurring at the IPO which are worth keeping abreast with… http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/hargreaves.htm It is such a minefield!

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Rosie, I’ve read the Hargreaves report and frankly I’d rather be singing with you at the Groucho Club. Actually, I think I’d rather go to law!

  2. Duygu Kivanc says:

    I am one of the abused victims of copyrights.
    My books are and images are sold all over the world,even though the books have copyright privileges.

    I am tired of struggling with those opportunists.
    I have the originals.so,if they stoop to the level of thieves,I have nothing further to stay.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Dee, don’t give up. If you had images on fotoLibra and we found people trying to abuse them we would fight your corner with you. And I’m sure we’re not the only ones who would.

  3. Tessa says:

    I feel a tad conflicted as:
    I wouldn’t want anyone using my material without paying for my intellectual and other copyright;
    on the other hand, provided I publish the source of the (lo-res, watermarked) image, am I not giving publicity to the source of that image?
    Not that I’ve done this on my website, but I’ m aware that many images are published on sites such as Facebook that, while essentially breaching copyright laws, are also giving the source good publicity. I know I’ve sourced images/info from stumbles on other sites.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      When I was a book publicist journalists used to wheedle review copies of books out of my clients with the promise that it would be great publicity for them. I couldn’t see the promotional opportunities of a book sitting snugly at home on some journalists’ bookshelf.
      The thieves aren’t publicising the source of their thefts. Why should they? No credit is given, apart from the visibility or otherwise of the fotoLibra watermark. If they did, the next question would be Why had they omitted to pay for the images?

  4. Gary says:

    Evening Gwyn.

    When did it become acceptable for students to use Fotolibra images for free in dissertations / essays?

    I most certainly DO mind.


    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Well, so do I, frankly. But we know it happens, and as they’re not published online or commercially we have no way of tracking them. We know it happens because we get calls from students asking us to supply images without those disfiguring watermarks. They become astounded and abusive when the question of a fee is raised.

      • Gary says:

        Glad to hear that Gwyn.

        I know it happens and I know it’s not really worth the effort to chase students even if you discover such unathorised uses.

        I don’t think however that on this public blog the phrase “We don’t mind students using….” should appear.

        That sends out the wrong message – indeed it actually gives them the green light to lift watermarked pics.

        Best wishes,


      • Greg says:

        Being in academia myself, I can assure you that the origin of photographic material in dissertations is one of the many things that student tend to ignore.

        Most supervisor will feed homework, reports and other such article through plagiarism detectors and they rarely come back clean. These detectors do not check for graphics yet but I am sure it will come one day. Hell, even graduates and research staff tend to be problematic (it is not rare to find PhD supervisors using their student’s work as their own in journals).

        But to me this has nothing to do with theft (the original is still there and the original web page it came from still show the image) or even the so called “intellectual property” (a term I absolute hate). Whether it is some text or an illustration, using such thing in your own work is not theft. It is inappropriate in an academic environment since you are being evaluated on it and therefore, using somebody else’s work as your own (or not attributing it properly) is basically akin to lying.

        The main problem is that most of the time people do not realise that what they are doing is not appropriate and teaching a student to properly cite is a hard task because it is usually overlook at the undergraduate level. Expecting Joe Random to do so is quite unrealistic and getting angry/offended/legalistic about it, is not going to solve anything.

        It is really an ethic problem and an education problem. These days, with the Internet and its huge amount of information freely available instantly, it is not surprising that some people are surprised when faced with part of the internet that isn’t.

        Personally, I have always considered that if I do not want people to use my stuff without authorisation (be it source code, publication, photography …) I simply don’t put it online. You can try as hard as your want to stop people for using online resources, but with the way the technology works, you are fighting a losing battle. The simple fact of viewing an image on your browser means that you already have made a copy of said image locally on the machine being used to view it. I am always amused by flickr allowing its users to block viewers to access the image link, when it only takes a few seconds for someone vaguely technical to get it anyway. The only thing you can do to minimise the impact is to only put online a reduced/watermarked version of your work for people to see. If they then use that, then at least all they have is a “crippled” version which cannot really be used in anything that actually matters. But once again, this is not theft. Copyright infringement is not theft.

        One can also use some Creative Commons type licenses (http://creativecommons.org/) for the preview photos, for which you can specify different restrictions (no commercial use, no modification, with attribution). This is something I have mentioned a long time ago as alternatives or additions to the royalty free license available on fotolibra.

        • Gary says:

          Aaagh, the classic freetard defence.

          1. Pedantry – it’s not theft. Technically correct but morally a load of cobblers.

          2. We didn’t know it wasn’t free – utter horseshite.

          3. It’s your fault – don’t put it online. Genius – let’s close down the internet and go and live in caves.

          And the solution? Give them permission via a creative commons licence. Brilliant – solve the problem of illegal image use by allowing illegal image use.

          No wonder students lift images with impunity when those “in academia” spout such tripe.

          • Louise says:

            Well hello there, confrontational character. For information, terms such as ‘freetard’ are not helpful, although they may play well on The Register. Those ‘in academia’ (hi, I’m one too!) might be more interested in accuracy than you are, but I hardly see a need for you to get so upset about it. That’s why they’re ‘in academia’, after all. As for defence, all I see here is offence – yours, freely given and taken.

            As for ‘we didn’t know it wasn’t free’, I assure you that this is by far the most common defence from students. I supervise postgraduates. It is unfortunately very commonplace for newbies to begin with very little understanding of appropriate citation, avoiding plagiarism, and copyright issues. Of course this suggests that some undergrad teaching depts are not doing a particularly good job, but then a surprisingly large proportion of lecturers seem to believe that ‘academic fair use’ absolves them entirely from worrying about copyright, so perhaps it is not surprising that students are often left with the impression that in academia, copyright is academic.

            GP is also (obviously) correct both that misuse of images placed online is an ever-present risk – there is no perfect technical solution – and that the only way of avoiding this risk entirely is simply not placing the image online in the first place. This doesn’t mean you can’t do something about specific instances, like detecting and responding appropriately to illegal usage (which is perfectly sensible). However, as misuse is such a common issue it is something that one should always take the time to consider before placing a given resource online.

            You may not like that message, but your attempt to shoot down the messenger is unhelpful in the extreme.

            On another note, CC licences are not a bad idea in the GP’s proposed context of use, although you might have to read a little about them to understand why they can’t be summed up in a sentence as ‘allowing illegal image use’.

  5. chris holmes says:

    bravo jacqui and also for the clear explanation. to my shame, i still have not uploaded all my late mother’s brilliant botanical drawings but i’m sure they would be theft favourites. I will spread the word to see how many customers of yours are in corfu and see if we can run the ionian end of your operation. cheers – chris

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Well to be fair Chris it was my explanation and not Jacqui’s, but that’s OK, you always addressed the ladies first. Your mother’s renowned botanical drawings would be safe — the originals could not be stolen, but the watermarked Previews could.
      We would really like to sell these for you.

  6. kevin says:

    Interesting regarding having google search for your images. An important point for you is listing sites which do not pay. That could be similar to listing a debtor who has not paid which is illegal.

    I have a young friend who is in media, firstly as a DJ and secondly as a person just having obtained a degree in that field. They have a saying, “anything digital is copied”. Thats where we are at the moment. I sell pics on Ebay and if you google search “kevin Laidler” I pop up everywhere and many sites use my images to promote their products without permission.

    Companies around the world are facing up to the fact images, cds, films are copied and trying to work with that instead of trying to hold back the tide.

    I am taking that view and regard anyone using my pics free as a free advert for my work. To offset this I have started to produce sculpture of items similar to my pics. I will have my first two finished within a week. These can not be downloaded and because of all the sites pinching my name and using my pics to promote their sites and products i will easily have my sculptures seen.

    There is a current argument that shows that artists in various fields have actually benefited from illegal downloads. Examples are old work no longer released or shown in any way by those who hold the copyright. The illegal download has been copied and circulated and younger audiences who have never heared of them have reinvented the original artist who in many cases went on to benefit from this.

    So if I put a new picture on Ebay I will get it noticed. I always put “Kevin Laidler” photo or artwork. If I then put a picture on your site, your site would come up high in the ratings of a search of “kevin laidler” because “kevin laidler” would be on your site. That means my work would be much more likely to be seen on your site than if I had not promoted it in this way. Sites such as framing, other artists, art supplies etc all pinch my name and photos which you can see from any google search. I will list the sculpture on amazon so that will create another bunch of web promotions for “kevin laidler”. So the copied items can be considered as free sales agents.

    Whilst I agree with the principal of obtaining copyright and enforcing it, it may be time to try to work with it except in exceptional cases.

    We go back to “once it is digital, it will be copied”. Take the business model of facebook. They did not start out charging to use the site. Continuing with existing system of showing and selling photos and trying to make use of the fact they will be copied rather than battling against the odds may be the best option.

    Some sales will be lost but that should be offset by those gained because the photographers work had been seen elswhere and they looked for more by that photographer.

    Hope it works out for you whichever route you take. I am opting for let them do it and try to make that pay in some way.

    • Olaf says:

      Hi Gwyn,

      we recently discussed this topic in another chat and one of the guys sent us the link to a firefox plugin that makes it very easy to search for your own images. I installed it and it works great, he sent us the following instructions:

      1. Go to http://jarred.github.com/src-img/ and install the browser link by dragging it to your browser link bar. 2. Search for your images at any online portfolio of yours. 3. Click that new “src-img” link on your browser bar which will look up all images of the site you have open and mark them with a question mark. 4. Simply click that question mark and let Google search for your image.

      Hope that helps,
      Cheers, Olaf

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Kevin, you’ve thought this through and you have made a conscious decision to accept that it could work in your favour. You’re exploiting the exploiters — well done you. But ordinary people like me who try and sell a few of my images here and there — well, the taking of my hard work for no return I believe to be patronising and dismissive of my efforts. Your point about the illegality of listing debtors who have not paid is very interesting. I wonder who would initiate the lawsuit in such a situation?

    • One point here, you don’t “obtain” copyright of your work, it is automatic. As for battling against the odds I for one will always defend my rights and have no time for thieves whoever they are and will not accept excuses or look on them as free sales agents. If one takes the view that it is inevitable that one’s work is to be stolen anyway you ‘d just as well condone shoplifting because it is so widespread.
      When I die the copyright of my work passes to my heirs for 70 years before it becomes free to anyone, so if only for my children’s sake I will not allow an artist’s rights to be eroded just because some young DJ takes the view that anything digital is copied. That just about sums up the attitude of general lawbreaking by a certain section of society today. In other words if you disagree with the Law it’s OK to break it, I am afraid that road leads in the end to anarchy which has to be nipped in the bud and as artists it is our duty to try to uphold the little protection we have from thieves.

  7. I used the ‘similar image’ facility on Google a while back to look for copies of my photo of a Herdwick ram (not on fotolibra) and I found eight pages – that’s not eight photos, but eight pages of copies of the photo.

  8. Bob Crook says:

    There are certain times in your life when you wish you hadn’t mentioned anything. Having read a minority of the comments on here, I wish it even more.
    If anyone thinks by letting there work be stolen they will recognise your name, they are living in ‘cloud cukoo land’. If that was the case, they would at least give you a credit.
    I am very anti microstock, but at least you get a whole 3p an image when it’s stolen, which I supose is better than zilch.

  9. Mike Mumford says:

    I’ve just typed my name (Mumford Books) into Google Images. You, try doing the same, you will be pleasantly surprised to see so many mini adverts, at no advertising costs to yourself. Each image is linked back to your web site, or associated sites. Google states “Images may be subject to copyright”. I think this means because images are already in the public domain they are “FREE” for them to trade in? They are by nature in low resolution, so why worry.
    If you require protection even from Google you have to “Watermark” everything on your web site. It just means Google still advertises your images, the main benefit is your image is less likely to be re-used.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      We positively encourage search robots (“bots”) to crawl all over the fotoLibra site picking up whatever they can. Remember every keyword on every image is searchable by Google and other search aggregators, which is why fotoLibra’s site ranking is so much higher than any other company of similar size. And everything on the site is of course watermarked.

  10. I think this method of tracking unauthorised use is a good one. So is Tineye.

    However, I would caution against “Naming and Shaming” on a UK site. UK defamation law is so cockeyed that the infringer could threaten to sue you (and your ISP) for defamation. He or she never will because the costs are gigantic but your Server company will immediately pull the item from the server and possibly threaten you with your site being taken down. I have a non photographic site about a local campaign http://www.notmo.org.uk that this has happened several times so we had to move the site to Icelandic hosting where they defend free speech.

    If you find this a ludicrous situation, support the Libel Reform Campaign http://www.libelreform.org/

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Yes, Naming and Shaming is fraught with problems, and was proposed in a rush of excitement. However I am sure it can be phrased in such a way that attention could simply be drawn to sites using images which display the fotoLibra watermark. We will come up with something.

  11. Gary says:

    Good evening Louise. Or should I say, to echo your terminology, well hello there, patronising character.

    For some reason there is no reply tab under your post above so I will reply here with a couple of points.

    It’s funny how I get confrontational when people think it’s acceptable to lift images without permission. I can’t imagine why I would take offence. What a strange person I am.

    I’ve no idea how terms such as “freetard” play on The Register – I’ve never looked at that site. It interests me not. It is nevertheless a particularly apt term for those who try to defend unathorised image use.

    I don’t intend to cause offence but feel free to take offence if you wish.

    I simply don’t believe that most students, particularly postgrads, have got through life without grasping simple concepts such as copyright. Assure me all you want that “we didn’t know it wasn’t free” is the most common defence – it may be their defence but it just doesn’t wash.

    Suggesting that the way to avoid unauthorised image use is to not put images on the internet is fatuous. Perhaps I should also not park my car outside my house in case a joyrider decides to take it for a spin – no doubt that would be my fault as well. Oh, but I can’t call the culprit a thief because there may not be an intention to permanently deprive me of my property. Must be accurate, after all. Don’t want to offend the pedants.

    On another note, the CC licences are an inane idea in the context of this debate. And I have no need to “read a little about them” as I’m well aware what they are.

    To suggest that those who object to having their work ripped off should overcome their objections by allowing their work to be used is simply ridiculous. Unhelpful in the extreme, one might say.

    Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain.

    Best wishes.

    • Greg says:

      I am afraid but calling anyone a “retard” (however you may wish to spell it) is insulting, offensive and under no circumstances an apt term to use (you might want to read the Equality Act 2010 for more details) but then again as long as you find this “morally acceptable”, who am I do argue.

      As an off topic aside, I would also like to point out that this site, which allows you, and me, to express ourselves in more or less free and civil ways, was created thanks to those people you call “freetards” (this site is running on wordpress, php, apache and linux, all “free software” provided and maintained for every one for free, both as in speech and as in beer) just for the privilege of being insulted in return by people like you.

      Back the main thread, however you may wish to simplify the concept of Copyright for your own purposes, it is by no means a simple concept. There are a few exceptions that can appear, usually under the concept of “Fair Dealing” (http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p09_fair_use). In the academic context, “Fair Dealing”, although not specifically defined in law, is an invaluable tool and is pretty common in most countries. All universities will have a description of what is permitted and in which context in their regulations (here is a link from Nottingham Trend University (not my institution): http://www.ntu.ac.uk/llr/document_uploads/65662.pdf). With that in mind, some of the use of fotoLibra images by students in dissertations or other articles may fall, if properly attributed, under the terms of Fair Dealings (aka Fair Use in some other countries). You also seem to amalgamate Copyright and Licensing (which in your defence most people do). To keep to my “pedantic” (or should I say “accurate”) ways, if the concept of Copyright is so simple, why is it that even you cannot understand the most basic difference between Copyright Infringement (a civil matter) and Theft (a criminal matter)?

      Coming back to your car analogy, yes it would be partially your fault if your open cabriolet parked in the street for which you left the keys in the glove box was taken for a ride(although your would be lucky if it came back), and I am sure your insurance and the police would agree too. It doesn’t mean the “joyrider” wasn’t in the wrong though, as he would clearly be, but it is a question of managing the risks. The internet isn’t a restricted locked place, and this is a good thing by the way. There are of course ways of locking parts of it with tools such as encryption, passwords, VPN…, but by default, it is free access. But then again, you know this and this is why you put your photos on-line on services such as fotoLibra, as they have a much increased chance of being seen and picked up by potential buyers. One cannot have it both ways: an open internet that enables and promotes a wide visibility to stuff we want to publicise but closed enough so that only the people you like can see them. This shows an unfortunate but common lack of understanding.

      True, stuff you find on the Internet is not necessarily unrestricted and free to use. But asserting Copyright doesn’t completely protect either. Placing things of the Internet has to be properly thought through and evaluated and the risks of doing so have to be understood and taken into account before doing so.

      Anyway, we will obviously have to agree to disagree.

      • Gary says:

        Greg, you’re right – we’ll have to agree to disagree.

        A couple of points however.

        Your analogy with wordpress etc is irrelevant – if people wish to provide something for free then good for them. Making use of something which is free is totally different to helping yourself to something which is not.

        I don’t need a lecture in fair dealing / fair use, I’m well aware of the relevant issues and I don’t recall you mentioning that students were availing themselves of this defence.

        It’s clear from my earlier posts that I do understand the difference between copyright infringement and theft. You should re-read them more carefully.

        My reference to joyriders clearly illustrates the point about pedantry, if you had taken time to consider it properly.

        Someone who takes a car without permission and goes for a drive is, in both strictly legal and language terms, not a thief and is not charged with theft. There is no intention to permanently deprive and the offence is one of taking without consent. I have no hesitation however in calling them a thief – anything else is pedantry.

        In a similar vein I regard illegal image usage as theft – even though, as I’ve already made clear, it is not strictly accurate to do so.

        The difference, in the context of this debate, is semantics. Your persistent reference to “accuracy” obscures the issue at hand – unauthorised image use is unethical and illegal and should not be tolerated. Nor should one make excuses for infringers.

        I’m also well aware that it is true to say that, generally, copright infringement is regarded as a civil matter (some areas however do apply criminal sanctions). Nonetheless copyright is still governed by law. Copyright infringement is contrary to law – it is therefore, by definition, illegal. Whether it is a civil or criminal matter is immaterial.

        Returning to the car analogy I’m glad to see you agree that “it doesn’t mean the joyrider wasn’t in the wrong”.

        You then however move on to say “One cannot have it both ways: an open internet that enables and promotes a wide visibility to stuff we want to publicise but closed enough so that only the people you like can see them. This shows an unfortunate but common lack of understanding.”

        The lack of understanding is yours – it’s not a question of “only the people you like can see them”, more a question of “only the people you allow to make use of them can use them”. Viewing them, and potentially by extension licensing them, is clearly the point of Fotolibra and other stock sites. Letting people rip them off with impunity is not the point.

        As for your point about asserting copyright not being a complete protection – well there’s something we can agree on.

        Enjoy your day.