Image theft is a big problem for a lot of photographers and despite some efforts by Google to thwart it via Google Images, it’s still a worry for many. There are several companies claiming to help photographers fight back, including PhotoClaim. We caught up with company spokeperson Anna Predka to find out the current size of the image theft problem, and what photographers can do to protect themselves.

Just how bad is image theft in Europe at the moment?
Image theft is not something you read about every day in the news. Searching for reliable data can be difficult and time-consuming. We provide you with our data, statistics and observations based on the experience of working with image theft every single day since a couple of years. Over the past six years, we have detected image theft in 55 countries all around the world.

We work with nearly 250 photographers and this is still a fraction of those who need help. In times of constant content creation and an incredible need for visuals, we suspect that most of both professional and amateur photographers have their pictures stolen. A lot of them are simply still not aware that they photo copyrights are being violated and how to claim their rights.

The current number of the cases of infringements we opened for our clients is close to 6 000 000 and we have regaied over 6 000 000 Euros (and we are still counting). We have photographers from all around the world joining our community every day. Copyright awareness seems to be slowly growing but its phase and spread need to accelerate to stop unlawful practices. It is not just the infringers that do not know and violate copyright law. At the same time, a lot of photographers who face image theft still do not know how to fight for their rights.

How do most people find out their images have been used without permission?
Our experience shows that a lot of copyright infringements are being discovered on social media. It happens that photographers come across their pictures themselves or get notified by their followers. Another common practice, which may seem a bit of a paradox, is companies tagging the photographers whose pictures they use without their consent!

Such behaviour surely derives from the lack of knowledge of the copyright law. It also happens that photographers use Google Reverse Image Search out of curiosity. Not really suspecting anything, they discover their photos have been stolen. This was a case of the founder of PhotoClaim – Nico Trinkhaus and it’s how the idea for our company was born.

PhotoClaim founder Nico Trinkhaus

On a stormy day, Nico Trinkhaus captured a bolt of lightning striking the television tower in Berlin. The photo (below) went viral and a press agency contacted him. The picture was published in several newspapers and on the web, but the agency didn’t inform him, where they sold it. He decided to find out on his own. After two days of research, he found 150 commercial uses of his pictures. And he didn’t get paid for one. Soon he realised that he is surely not the only photographer whose photos are getting stolen and the problem of image theft is a pressing issue. He had to find a way to tackle it. Claiming his rights on his own felt like tilting at windmills. He decided to set something up with lawyers and create a team of copyright and photography experts to help other photographers get back the money the deserve from their copyrights.

What is your organisation doing to help?
At PhotoClaim we protect photographers’ rights and get back the money they deserve from their work. Every day we monitor our photographers’ portfolios and check for copyright infringements. As soon as we detect a stolen image, we save the evidence and start the process of regaining damages. We assign a partner attorney to each case and the infringer is ordered to cease and desist. At this stage, there are no court proceedings involved. Being represented by lawyer brings higher settlements for photographers.

Photographers also get their personal assistant who keeps them posted about their cases and are always there to answer all questions and concerns. A lot of our clients say the personal approach is what truly matters to them. We are not the only such service on the market but the crucial thing we do differently is not using post-licensing. With post-licensing, no legal fees are charged which means that the opponents pay just the amount they would have to pay for the license. Why would anyone buy licenses then, while they can simply get away with it? And, just in case, it costs the same when they steal or buy it. Through our actions, we also educate and spread copyright law awareness.

We regularly provide photographers with news from the copyright. We also share resources and tips that help them boost their careers and have their copyrights protected in our Knowledge Base section. We do our best do avoid court proceedings and work on no win, no fee basis. We do not ask photographers to pay us anything until we regain the money for them.

Do you think Google etc should be doing more to help?
Google has already implemented some practices, to make it more difficult to download images, by e.g. blocking the image URL link. This can be annoying for potential thieves but will not prevent image theft. Still much more could and should be done. It is hard to count how many times we heard the argument: “I found it on Google so I can use it for free.”

There are actual forum discussions that start with a question: “Is saving images from Google images stealing?” Campaigns aimed at spreading copyright law awareness provided by such a powerful medium could have a huge impact and make a big change in understanding what is legal and what is classified as copyright infringements when it comes to the usage of pictures.

How can photographers help themselves in the meantime?
It is all about spreading the word, creating awareness, and showing good practices. The more photographers talk about the issue and the further they reach with their knowledge, the higher chance for image theft practise to start diminishing. We keep on reminding our clients’ photographers how important it is to spread the info about image theft with their friends’ photographers. Just send them a short message or share the links to some educational, eye-opening articles.

We currently offer a free guideline on How to Register Your Copyrights in 5 Steps, that can be downloaded from our homepage. If you are a photographer and your pictures got stolen, share how did you find out that your pictures are being used without your consent. Write about it in the blog section on your website, post short info on your Facebook or Instagram page. Send testimonials to a company that helped you regain the money from you copyrights. Since current times make it way more difficult to meet in one place for a workshop or discussion, it is crucial to use the potential of online tools. Some of our clients put on their websites PhotoClaim badges which state that their rights are protected by our organisation. Once a photographer comes across it, they know where to seek assistance.