Copyright – Ignorance is NO excuse

by | Photography Tips

Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to copyright

You will never completely prevent someone from stealing your images if they are hell-bent on doing so but you can throw up many deterrents to confuse the chancers – sorry but … ignorance is no excuse when it comes to copyright!

In November 2013 Getty Images was forced to pay $1.2m to a freelance photographer for images he uploaded to twitter whilst yet another UK photographer seeks to stop their images being used on a FREE wallpaper site. This article takes a look at the 11 bogus excuses people use when stealing photos from the internet and look at a couple of ways the photographer can take charge of their work.

The list of excuses has been compiled by a Canadian photographer, Francis Vachon. I have edited them slightly. Go to his site to read every detail. And yes I did seek and was kindly given permission from Francis before writing this blog.

1. There was no “copyright” logo or any other watermark on the photo

Copyrights exist by default. A photographer does not have to specify on the photo or the website that the photo is protected by copyright. Unless specified otherwise, consider a photo as copyrighted.

2. The photo is on the internet, therefore it is free to use

A picture does not magically fall into the public domain when it’s uploaded. The photographer keeps the copyright (though the exact number of years varies from 50 to 70, depending on the country). Only after this time frame has elapsed is it in the public domain.

3. I found it on Google Image, therefore it is free to use

Guess what? Google is a search engine and find images that match your search query. Google Image is not a free stock photo agency. Google Image does not own pictures it searches for them.

4. It’s on Facebook, and everything on Facebook is on public domain

No, as Facebook’s terms of service say: “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook.” As a photographer you can control how your images are shared through your privacy and application settings.

5. But I won’t make money off this photo. It’s just for [my blog/personal website/my Facebook page]

Making money or not doesn’t change a thing. It is still a copyright violation. You think you’ll never get sued for using a photo on a non-commercial website then think again as this lady found to her cost.

6. There was the photographer’s [logo/name/email address] watermarked on the photo. If he put it there, it was so he can advertise his business when we share his photo, right?

No. Just plainly and simply NO …

7. This photo is not good looking enough or original enough to be protected by the copyright law.

Photograph a white paper sheet on a white table during a snow storm with your iPhone. This photo will be just as protected by copyright law as the last celebrity portrait by Annie Leibovitz.

8. I appear in this photo, therefore I can use it

This seems logical, but no. Legally, the photographer has the copyright on this photo because he took it.

9. I was the Model/ MUA/Hair Stylist/Stylist on this shoot so of course I can use it and edit it how I want.

Again this seems logical, but NO. Models or MUAs should not edit photographs in any way without the photographer’s permission. Editing includes cropping, colour or exposure adjustments etc etc. Some photographers don’t mind, but many do. So always ask before playing with a shot even if it is ‘just’ for a Facebook profile or something.

10. I credited the photographer under the photo on my webpage. It’s good advertising for him!

Only the owner of the copyright can decide how the photo will be used. Advertising on his behalf is not a valid or legal reason to use without permission. Especially as it is legally mandatory in most countries to put a photo credit under a photo, even why you have paid for the license to use it”

And finally #11. Millions of people are doing it – Priceless!!

Yeah … and? Unless, of course, you can point me in the direction of the article of law that tells exactly how many people doing something illegal is needed to make that act legal then still a big fat NO.

So what can you, the photographer do?

It’s impossible to police the web and stop every copyright infringement but there are a number of deterrents a photographer can take to make it as difficult as possible.

Metadata – make sure you include your details are embedded in every image
Watermark – use both a large watermark and a discreet one, 2 is better than one
Make subtle differences between the original and final images
Websites – add security measures to prevent copying from your website
And if you’re not happy with any of the possible preventions then the only solution is:


At a recent conference it came as a shock to me just how many photographers DO NOT insert metadata into their images or use watermarks so I will go into more depth on some of the above points over the coming months.

And just in case you missed it – protecting on-line images

This post refers to preventative measures and is not intended as legal advice.


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