Red Fox in the Snow

44. Better a good copy than a bad original? A story about copyright infringement. 1

Red Fox in the SnowEvery now and then, people ask me how they should protect their photo’s best against abuse. My (somewhat bland) answer is usually: Don’t put them on the Internet. Any photo with a bit of potential can and will be ‘shared’.

But what about the right mouse click protection?
Make a print-screen, cut it out you’ll have a perfectly usable image.
And a watermark will help, wont it?
A watermark is cloned out within a minute. It works retardant and daunting, a bit like a hook on your door: you don’t make it easy for the malicious. An additional advantage is that potential buyers won’t be wandering endlessly over the Internet, but will be referred directly back to you.


Sharing, re-blogging, or….stealing?

Personally, I, just like many others, choose to share my photos on the internet. Simply because I like to.
And so they’re featured, blogged, re-blogged, pinned, tagged and shared, regularly without permission and often even without proper credits. Beautiful words for something that is also called “theft“.
Red Fox in the Snow
Social media, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram promote and encourage sharing, which make boundaries blur. And I must say: the legislation concerning photo use on the Web is somehwat unclear.
Under the guise of ‘better safe than sorry’, just assume that you always need permission from the creator and should include its name with the photo, to avoid copyright infringement.
There are two things to take into serious consideration, namely: copyright and personality rights:



Copyright, also known as copyright, is intended to protect so-called intellectual property. This applies to books, films, paintings, music, games, photos and software. In some countries (like in the Netherlands) ,your work is automatically protected by copyright and therefore a copyright notice (©)is not necessary in these countries.
Some countries thought require certain copyright formalities to establishing copyright, but most recognize copyright in any completed work, without formal registration. Generally, copyright is enforced as a civil matter, though some jurisdictions do apply criminal sanctions. (source: Wikipedia – Copyright)


Personality rights

The right of publicity, often called personality rights, is the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity. It is generally considered a property right as opposed to a personal right, and as such, the validity of the right of publicity can survive the death of the individual (to varying degrees depending on the jurisdiction).

Personality rights are generally considered to consist of two types of rights: the right of publicity, or to keep one’s image and likeness from being commercially exploited without permission or contractual compensation, which is similar to the use of a trademark; and the right to privacy, or the right to be left alone and not have one’s personality represented publicly without permission.
(source: Wikipedia –
Personality rights)


Photo abuse in practice

So far the theory. Here’s a real life example.

Of course, I could scour the Internet on a daily base to trace “borrowed” pictures, but what can I do against some obscure Russian site that sells my photos as wallpapers? Fighting such practices takes a lot of effort and time. And in all honesty, I am not a lawyer and my Russian is pretty lousy, so I usually leave it at that.

Until last Christmas, when some visitors of a large, well-known Theme Park sent me a message that they stumbled upon my photo, being used for mobile fence banners. (+/- 335 x 174 cm)
No small online picture in a blog posted by the neighbour boy, but a larger than life image on canvas by a very serious business! Which could and should have known better.
So I phoned them up and initially I got to talk to the fence banner installer:


“Good morning. Is it true that one of my photographs is being used as mobile fence banners in your park? ”
“Yes that’s right, they came out really cool, I’m sure you’re very proud of them!!!”
Eh well …the thing is, no one has ever never asked me permission for this use”
“Oh. But isn’t it wonderful that thousands of people get to see your work now? You’re famous, hahaha! ”
Is my name on the photo?”
“Uh, no, it isn’t …”

Eventually I was put through to a slightly better informed person who very skillfully pulled out all the familiar excuses:

“She was but a very inexperienced intern …”
“Your name was not there, we never knew it was your photo ….”
“We found it on a website with free photos.”
“We earned nothing on it”
“We removed it immediately, after we knew”


Photography copyright infringment


More than a decade ago, I was a professional designer myself. Facebook barely existed, but even back then, I was aware of the fact that you need permission to use a photo and mostly one has to pay for it, too.
We photographers spend time, effort, love, blood, sweat and tears to create our photos. We invest in knowledge and equipment. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, so why should we give our work away freely?
Using our work unpaid and without attribution devalues photography and –to my humble opinion- this should be put to an end.

The company continued the conversation on a more grim level now:


“So now you’re actually using us just to set an example …?!”
“And wasn’t this my own fault?! After all, I was the that left my photo on the internet, wasn’t I…?!”

My goal was by no means to enrich myself, so I suggested that she would come back to me in a few days with a counter proposal.
When she suggested to come and visit the park for free, she made me realize my complain wasn’t taken seriously at all and my first official claim became a fact.
Not for the money, but for the principle.
In a formal letter, I explained my objection, indicated the amount of the claim and provided evidence. The bill got paid within the specified deadline.


And the moral of my story:

Dear colleague nature photographers, we should all take better care of our photos, because they are worth it. Don’t give them away for free and don’t let them be abused.
And if you think you efforts won’t make a difference anyway…? Read again! 😀

PS. What are your stories? Maybe we could learn from them…

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One thought on “44. Better a good copy than a bad original? A story about copyright infringement.

  • Sarah

    Really informative read. I always get worried about my photos as my name isnt very big on the photo and its kind of hidden away at the bottom. I often take photos of dogs in the park and have only just received my first paid photoshoot. But even Nowak don’t feel confident enough to charge much money! Are there any tips for a first paid shoot? My main problem is my equipment isn’t ‘great’ and no find a lotnofnthe time my subject isn’t in focus. I use a nikon d5100 with a prime lense.