Posting photographs that don’t belong to you on a website or blog can be a costly business – at least it can if you are news organisations Agence France-Presse and Getty Images, meme aggregator Buzzfeed or showbiz blogger Perez Hilton, who have all had copyright infringement lawsuits for between 1 and 3 million dollars filed against them in the past year or so. If you’re planning on posting your own snaps online and are concerned someone might rip them off and use them without your permission there are some steps you can take to protect your intellectual property rights. So far Facebook users have posted a stunning 250 billion images on that platform alone, a figure that grows at a rate of 250k images every minute…
SHARING YOUR IMAGES
Copyright protection for digital content is a complex issue with no straightforward or fool proof solution so if you really want to keep your images safe from IP theft the best bet is to share them privately through a service you pay for. Unlike some of the other popular photo-sharing sites, SmugMug is completely private and doesn’t strip any of the metadata out of your photos and videos, which means a digital tag of your ownership and any other details you’ve chosen to include like location and content, will remain embedded in your files wherever they travel on the web. Choose a portfolio template and customise it as much and as many times as you like, in order to elegantly display your digital life as a website. You can upload videos as well and even use the site to sell images to your fans, turning your passion for photography into a career.
This service isn’t free, but I think you have to accept these days that if you’re not paying for something you can’t expect to be treated like a customer – especially when it comes to image sharing. You get a free 14 day trial with Smugmug and it’s hard to resist this stunning platform that you can personalise for sharing your own creations.
One service that flies in the face of rule about paying for a service is Kee.ps a brilliantly simple, private photo-sharing site that is completely free – and unlike every other services I have checked out in this arena, they express that they will never use or sell your images without your permission. With the option to add photos and video the site should appeal to anyone who likes to keep things simple as you get an easy-to-remember email address you can share with other people so they can add content to your online album (perfect for less techie friends and relatives!). Where it gets even more powerful is if you create an event around a particular occasion (say a wedding, or festival gathering). The event gets its own email address and you can share it with everyone in your network and even print it out to stick on the walls where you’re holding a party, so that all the pictures and footage get emailed to one central bin that all attendees have access to. You can now build your own unique album out of everyone’s content, sharing it privately between just those you invite. Not only is this site free to use but there is also no limit on file-size or overall storage (although a fair-usage clause is in the terms so people don’t get too silly with the bandwidth). I spoke to the developers and they said they have no plan to change this or charge in the future, which makes it about the best deal I’ve seen in a long time (and one that the so-called internet giants should pay heed to!). iPhone and Android apps for uploading straight from your handset round this offering off nicely.
If you just want to share the odd file take a look at Ge.tt. You can use it in any browser without any plugins or installations – you don’t even need to register although doing so will increase your free storage limit from 250MB to 2 gig. There is also a Chrome extension if you prefer. What’s different about this site is that it works in real time, so your upload doesn’t need to have finished before you can share the link and others can start downloading it. You also get some nice statistics which will be useful if you’re sharing content for promotional or work purposes. Use the links to share across the main social platform or just email it to your recipient. This isn’t an ultra-secure stash for sensitive files – although your files are semi-private so only those with the direct download link should be able to find them. But it’s a great tool for easy sharing if privacy isn’t an issue.
How many times have you clicked the ‘I agree’ button on a website’s terms and conditions without actually reading them? It’s been called ‘the biggest lie on the Internet’, but TOSDR.org aims to put a stop to this cavalier attitude to our privacy by making a crowd sourced database highlighting the good, the bad, and the downright cheeky, and applying a rating so that you can see in an instant whether you should be blindly clicking ‘agree’ or not. This site is great for checking whether the photo storage service you’re planning on using is claiming any right to your content.
PROTECTING YOUR IMAGES
The only way to truly keep your photos safe from copyright infringement is not to post them online at all – but that does seem a little drastic. Instead you could add a subtle watermark detailing your ownership somewhere visible on the snap. Most editing packages will let you do this by adding a translucent layer before saving. If you want a quick and simple method try Picmarkr, which is built specifically for the purpose. If you don’t want to blemish a photo with a watermark you could add a frame including your name and copyright details and save it as a completed image before posting. This method of attribution is pretty easy to remove if someone is determined to rip you off by simply downloading and then cropping the image before reposting.
It will help if you make sure you are clear about your terms for anything you post by linking it to a page detailing the license you are offering. From ‘all rights reserved’ which means no-one has your permission to repost it, to ‘public domain’ where you are happy for it to be shared without any attribution at all; and everything in between. Creative Commons licenses are an easy, standardised way of detailing permissions so that no-one can claim they weren’t aware of your terms.
If you think your images are at risk of copyright theft it’s not a bad idea to run them through a reverse image search like Tineye every now and again. This site will trawl through the web detailing any pages that have been indexed where the same image can be found.
A quick way to check a whole website, including any text you have written, is to run the address through Copyscape, which will tell you if any other web pages online are using the content you’ve published on it without your permission.
You can achieve very similar results for both text and image plagiarism by running a simple query through a search engine like Google. To do this just drag and drop and image from your computer into the search bar or copy and paste a unique passage of text that appears on your website.
DEALING WITH INFRINGEMENTS
If you do find a copyright violation there are steps you should take to tackle it, rising in escalation depending on how the violator responds. The first step is to contact them directly through the email address or other contact method detailed on their website. Keep your language simple and non-confrontational. It could be they’re not aware that they have done anything wrong and the matter can be resolved swiftly. If you get no joy with the direct approach try contacting the web host or any advertisers that have banners on the site. Inform them of the copyright infringement and ask them to act on your behalf by contacting the website owner to resolve the dispute. Make sure you tell them you have tried the direct approach and add links to the infringing image and its original use on your own page. If all else fails you might have to resort to legal action – but be sure the expense and stress levels are worth the effort to have your image taken down. Sometimes it is better just to let these things go – unless of course the copyright infringer you are dealing with is Getty Images or Perez Hilton.