Some Useful Tips on Protecting Your Images

It’s old news that photographer’s rights are under assault and have been for many years. Most of the problem has to do with the advent of the web and the world’s mindset that what is online is free.

There is outright image theft, there is pinning on Pinterest without permission, there is duplication of blog posts, and often under the guide of “gee I didn’t know” or “I thought I could use them for free.”

I have found exact copies of Pro Nature posts running on Russian websites and one Pro Nature contributor found images from her guest posts pinned on Pinterest and from there images copied and posted on another website.

Then as if struggling photographers don’t have enough challenges, Facebook and Instagram’s new Terms of Service are no help to photographers. So is there anything you can do about it?

The answer is yes and while some steps are easy others involve substantial time. But you can protect yourself with a few steps and although not foolproof, they can help.


Add your metadata to every image. Even though it is easy to strip metadata from an image, it violates conditions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and immediately improves your ‘position’ from a legal standpoint.

On some newer cameras, you can actually enter metadata right in camera as the picture is saved.  If yours does not do that, add it on download in Lightroom or add to all in Bridge. It helps so make it one of the first things you do to new images in your workflow. That metadata should include as much info as you wish to be known, but also enough for legal protections. This might include your name, copyright notice, email, web address, maybe phone number, and more. The idea is to combat the naivety of some ‘who didn’t know’ so the more info you include the better.


This is a solid tool for combating copyright infringement, although nothing is foolproof. A clear watermark states your ownership and often must be cropped out or meticulously retouched to remove it. The thief might be willing to put in that effort but it will take time and is a deterrent to others.

Register Your Copyright

This is another solid tool for protecting your copyright. It is a straight forward process and you can register images in bulk. Visit the ASMP website for more info:

Where You Post Your Images

Image theft can happen anywhere from your website or blog, to guest posts, interviews, and pretty much anywhere online. So here a careful strategy on just where and how to post photos will be helpful. Recently Facebook and Instagram altered their terms of service and it appears they have further stripped away photographer’s rights.

Facebook strips metadata from your images when you upload them and now their terms state that any advertiser, advertising on Facebook, can use any photos from anybody that they find on Facebook without any attribution to photographers. At least that is my understanding and comes from this information at ASMP.  This of course brings to mind all kinds of questions. What about model releases or lack thereof? Does the person in the photo have any rights here? Who would sue who over unauthorized use or can they?

Pinterests terms state the ‘pinner’ is totally responsible for any images they pin and thus absolve Pinterest of any responsibility for image theft and copyright violations. Instagram is also doing the same, but the problem here is that if you join Instagram and upload images, you cannot cancel later and remove your images. You and your images are there forever. By joining you also give Instagram the rights to license your images to third parties without any compensation. Imagine if we all gave our images to Getty and said “go make a lot of money.”

Google+ has heavily courted the photo community and at this time their terms are a bit more favorable to photographers. G+ does not strip metadata, but like the other sites, by uploading images you are giving Google:

“By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

“You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.”

“You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.”

What to do?

While we can’t beat the momentum here we can change how we use it. Start at the beginning by adding all copyright protections that you can in metadata. Register images with the copyright office and add a watermark.

Sometimes when I get bored I will use Google Images to search and see if any images from my blog or website have been lifted and are being used, and I have found on several occasions that blog posts containing images have been lifted. As long as credit has been given, my recourse is to drop them a note and request that they seek permission next time.

It is pretty tough to not belong to Social Media and use them as marketing tool to fans and followers, but we can control what is uploaded.  I don’t use Pinterest myself and it’s primarily due to just not having time to post everything everywhere, but if course, the terms don’t work for me.

On Facebook and G+ I only post a link to my blog. I don’t actually upload images to Facebook other than my profile images and rarely do on G+.  I am no lawyer, but would guess that linking to a blog post is far different than uploading to Facebook.

So is there really anything to fear here and proceed with taking any or all these actions? Image theft is some form is very real; it’s happened to me and many other photographers. But as I research this subject I can find nothing in regards to a business taking an image from Facebook using it for their advertising on Facebook. I can find nothing on G+ either.

As working photographers we need an online presence and social media to help the bottom line and while it is unfortunate we have to give up any rights for that privilege, efforts to protect our content are good steps for protection. Another part of that bottom line is where best our time is spent. Searching to see if images have been ‘borrowed’ is time consuming and may or may not yield results.

The decision to write and photograph a new eBook, upload images to your stock photo site, or search for image theft? Only you can decide.

If you have any great input on this subject please leave a comment.

Related Posts: I Copied A David Muench Picture and it Never Sold!, Watermarks Are Valid Copyright Information: Says the Courts


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