Dealing With Stolen Images Online
If you’ve ever been a victim of someone stealing your artwork online, you know it can be pretty frustrating and upsetting. As a Graphic Designer, I have to deal with this all the time. Other designers or businesses will take work from my portfolio like a logo design, erase the name and use it as their logo for their business or to sell to another company. Unfortunately, it happens far too often.
Even if you are not a graphic designer, it is a good idea to make sure that people are not stealing any images from your website that are copyright protected, such as product images, your business logo or other personal photos you may have taken.
The only way to protect yourself from others stealing your work is to scour the internet on a regular basis by doing an image search. It is time consuming, but it is the only way to protect your work. If you find the theft, you will need to contact their web host to have the offending material removed or if it’s a really serious offense, you can get a lawyer involved.
Below I’ve listed steps on how to search and report images or online artwork that has been stolen from you. You will then need to email what is called a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) to have the image forcibly removed from their website. For more serious offenses or if it is something you want to take a step further than a DMCA, you will likely need to speak to a business lawyer. More information on a DMCA in Step 4.
Step 1: Search For Your Image Online
The first thing you need to do is find any offenders that may have stolen images from you online. My favourite search to use is the Google Images Search, which just requires you to drag your image into the search bar. So visit www.google.com/images and drag your image over to the Google window and drop it there. As an alternative, you can just click on the camera icon on the right and upload your image if that is easier for you.
Step 2: Bookmark Your Offenders
Go through the list of results that come up. Visit each website to make sure your image is there (sometimes it may have been removed and the results is just viewing an old cache version). Start a new folder in your browser and make sure you bookmark each website page that has your artwork on it, so that you can check up on them at a later date to make sure your stolen image was actually removed.
Step 3: Email Offender or Search For Web Host
There are two ways you can handle the matter. The softer approach is to email the offender directly and ask them to remove the copywritten work. Remember, some people are actually innocent. I’ve had small businesses that have used my stolen logos and tell me they purchased it from a “logo designer” having no idea it was copywritten.
The more aggressive approach is to contact whoever is hosting the website directly and they will make sure it is removed for you. To do this, I visit www.whoishostingthis.com to search and type in the domain name of where my stolen image is.
Right on the results page you will sometimes see an email from the web host of where you need to email the complaint. Usually an “abuse@” email or something related. If not, type in your search engine the name of the web host, plus the phrase “report copyright”, “DMCA” or “abuse” beside it, to find out which department to contact to report the copyright infringement.
Step 4: Email a Letter To the Web Host
By emailing a letter to the web host about the copyright infringement, you are pretty much communicating a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) which is a copyright law that enforces online infringement removal. If this is your first time hearing about DMCA, please go to www.dmca.com for more information. They also offer a paid service to oversee the removal of the content for you, but you can email web hosts directly about this before using their service, if you choose to. If it is still not removed after contact with the web host, you may want to consider using DMCA.com.
When emailing the web host, your email should be worded something like this:
Dear Web Host:
I am reporting copyright infringement currently being used by one of your customers on their domain.
I am the copyright owner of the images being illegally used at: <Post Link To Offender’s Website Page(s)>
Original: <Post Link To Where Your Original Artwork Is Online>
This letter is official notification under the provisions of Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) to effect removal of the above-reported infringements. I request that you immediately issue a cancellation message as specified in RFC 1036 for the specified postings and prevent the infringer, who is identified by its Web address, from posting the infringing material to your servers in the future. Please be advised that law requires you, as a service provider, to “expeditiously remove or disable access to” the infringing material upon receiving this notice. Noncompliance may result in a loss of immunity for liability under the DMCA.
I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of here is not authorized by me, the copyright holder, or the law. The information provided here is accurate to the best of my knowledge. I swear under penalty of perjury that I am the copyright holder.
Please send me at the email address noted below a prompt response indicating the actions you have taken to resolve this matter.
/s/ your name
Email: your email
your full mailing address
Step 5: Wait For a Response or Follow-Up
I’ve been pleased to have some pretty quick responses from web hosts that make sure the material is removed immediately, sometimes within one business day. Unfortunately, there are times when a web host never gets back to me and despite all my efforts, the stolen artwork is still sitting on their servers. I’ve considered using dmca.com services for this purpose, but some offenses I felt were too small to deal with paying for the service.
If your content still hasn’t been removed from the site, you haven’t heard back from the web host and you don’t want to take further legal action, the best thing you can do is nag the web host or try to contact the offender and have it resolved. This is not the greatest outcome and it can get really frustrating, but if you don’t want to take further legal action, this is the most you can do at the moment.
If you have any other suggestions or ideas, please feel free to share it in the comments below!