Post Photos Online = Photos Stolen Online
Most seasoned photographers or at least social media veterans agree that once we post a photo online, it is out in the open and it is vulnerable to photo theft and copyright infringement.
While many cases of unauthorized usage of photographs are innocent enough and often out of ignorance of copyright rules, there are many cases where the perpetrators are well aware that they’re stealing photographs for their own personal or commercial gain.
Photographers only find out that their pictures were stolen when the offender’s reproduction gains popularity or visibility on the internet.
The irony, however, is that the most stolen photos are pretty viral to begin with, so the artist and the photograph itself has circulated enough that a lot of netizens are aware of who the original photographer was and what they’re seeing is a copy of the original.
If you have an extensive library of images (particularly good, commericially-viable ones), it may take a long time to manually track all your images, but if you only have a handful, or if you’ve already identified that your photo has been stolen at least once, then this single FREE tool will help you uncover more instances of photo theft.
THE Most Effective Way To Track Your Stolen Pictures
I’m sure you’ve heard of online tools like TinEye or PicScout (only applies to stock photos), but honestly, both have failed to impress a casual user like myself in the past. I’ve tried their services using my own photos that I’m 100% sure I’ve posted in several other places around the web and these tools have a tendency to not find any duplicate instance of those photos.
For example, this oatmeal cookie photo of mine was originally posted in my Flickr stream. It was also posted here in DSP and was featured in some other photo sites as well.
TinEye found ZERO instances of this particular photograph.
In comes the master of search – Google. The Google Image Search tool. Just copy/paste the URL of your image, and it doesn’t even matter if it’s an original, then it’ll quickly find the identical images across the web.
Using Google Image Search, you can plug in URL after URL and scan all the instances of your photos appearing on the internet.
In fact, if you host your images on sites like Flickr, you can simply go to your Flickr stats page, sort your images by popularity or All Time View count, and check your top images using Google Image Search.
When you first enter your image’s URL, you may find Google telling you it can’t find the image, like the screen you see below. Actually, Google Image Search assumed that the text you entered was a keyword, so naturally, it cannot find a keyword that looks like an URL.
Look closer, however, and you’ll find the line that says “For matching images, try Search By Images” right underneath the search field. Click that link and it’ll use your image to scan for other instances across the web.
In just a few seconds, all instances of your image (that are hosted in sites indexed by Google) will appear underneath.
Quick and easy. Google Image Search tool, good stuff!
Five Tips To Protect Your Images From Photo Theft and Copyright Infringement
There are steps you can take to make it harder for would-be thieves to steal your photographs as well as creating evidence of theft, in case the thieves are more tech-savvy.
1) Use a clear watermark – Check out my Creating A Watermark in Photoshop tutorial, if you haven’t done so. A watermark, particularly one that covers a big chunk of your original image may be unappealing, but this negative reaction will be the same reason why would-be thieves to avoid your image in the first place.
If you put watermarks at the edge of your images or on top of clean/solid areas of the photograph, they can be easily cropped off or cloned out.
2) Strip off your image file EXIF data. You can do this automatically when you save your images using the “Save for Web” option in Adobe Photoshop. In Adobe Lightroom, stripping metadata is just a click away in the Export window as well.
If you don’t have any of these software, you can try out these free image exif metadata editing tools:
Stripping off the EXIF information such as capture date, capture time, camera details, exposure information, etc. makes it hard for the thief to prove ownership of the image if you decide to pursue legal action.
3) In line with stripping off metadata, it’s also important to ADD your copyright info and usage rights in the image’s metadata. Using the same set of tools above, you can enter information such as “Copyright 2011, David L. Tong (Singapore) – All Rights Reserved” into the image file itself and if the thief isn’t diligent enough to strip all metadata before posting (99% don’t), then you’ll have another proof of ownership claim to your photo.
4) Upload ‘true’ small, web-sized images. Most digical cameras, as of the time of this post, sports over 6 megapixels of resolution. On the internet, most images are displayed with 800×600 pixel dimensions, that’s 480K only. When saving your image online, the smaller your image, the better the security because image quality degrades tremendously when you try to make an image bigger.
The usual 640×480 image is sufficient if you’re sharing your photos online, particularly with social networks. For blogs, most images don’t even need to be larger than 400px at the long side.
Resize your images properly and you’ll make the images less useful for would-be thieves. Uploading a full-resolution or high-resolution image is never a good idea.
5) Keep Your Originals! This goes without saying, but I’ve made the mistake in the past when I captured my first images from a digital camera and I’m sure many will commit the same mistake. Keep your original images intact and only modify/upload duplicates or resized versions of the original. There’s no bigger proof of ownership than having a timestamp on who has the earlier image and who has the largest file in most cases.
The tips above may deter most thieves from infringing on your copyright by using your photos without permission, but there will always be violators who just don’t care about infringing your rights.
There you go, some tips on how to minimize your chances in becoming a victim of image theft and how to protect your photos from being stolen. The powerful Google Image Search tool can help you tremendously to find any stolen photos and unauthorized use of images that you own.