How to tackle illegal use of your photos

Regent Street in London is ever busy. Even early in the morning, before the Underground has opened, the double decker busses are driving up and down the street. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

This photo has been used illegally by Hugo Carter.

Recently I have begun to track down companies, that use my photos illegally. I found quite a few. Some do come and ask to buy my images, but it seems that there are more than a few that don’t. All of my images are Creative Commons, Non-Commercial 4.0, and there is nowhere where this is unclear. This means that my images can’t be used for commercial use, without an agreement.

I really appreciate, that people like my images, reshare them. The only thing is, it can’t be a for a commercial interest. But what is commercial? How do you judge, when something is commercial? According to my dictionary it is commericial means

Commercial: Have profit as chief aim

Unfortunately, it becomes slightly more complicated because I also have a Creative Commons part on my license. What is commercial and what is Creative Commons? It really takes a lawyer to understand it properly. Sites with News can cover themselves under Creative Commons, for reasons I find unreasonable, but the license isn’t clear enough. It’s a gray area.

But regular companies, that use photos with a non-commercial license, are not allowed to use such images.

Is my blog commercial? Yes, it is. Even though I write articles and blog posts, that are free read, I do make money on my blog. This is one of my ‘windows’ to showcase my artwork, and I also have advertisements and if you use some of the links I provide in reviews, I get a little kickback. It’s not a lot, not even enough to buy a camera, just about enough to finance the hosting and pay the annual fee for having my domain. But, all in all, this is a commercial blog, and I have bought the plug-ins I use and the few other things.

How do you find out where your images are used?
I have used to do a reverse image search and I find a lot of usages of my images. Some images are more used than others, depending on popularity. The trick is to sort out the commercial from the non-commercial. Some part of the way is not too difficult. All companies go in one bucket. All photos used on social medias like Google+, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Pinterest needs a little more investigation. If it’s a company that uses the image in their stream, it’s a no go. But others can use it, as a Creative Commons license.

But how about blogs? Some blogs are clearly just some dude who likes to travel and write about his travels, and failed to snap the great photo himself, and uses somebody else’s photo. Other blogs are highly commercial.

One particular case stuck out, in my recent research of image infringement. I wrote a variation of my standard mail, aimed at their particular miss-use, and got an answer from their contractor, who took responsibility for having created the content, using my image. The absurd thing is, that the contractor repeatedly insisted on, that the “Blog and News” section on the website in question, was non-commercial and just for “educational” use, and therefore only used the Creative Commons part of my license.

That is complete nonsense.

Anything published on the company’s website is by definition commercial. No matter what the section on the website is named, the type of content this article is has a name, and that is Content Marketing. The whole purpose of the articles is to drive leads and potential customers to their website.

This is also confirmed, by the “Free catalog” teaser in placed the left-hand side, and the “free brochure” further down. However, to get any of these two ‘free’ brochures, you have to fill out a form, and you end up in company’s Customer Relation Management System (CRM). This is called Lead Generation and the purpose is to convert the leads into customers.

This is a highly commercial and a very modern and efficient way to drive potential customers into your CRM database.

It’s certain that the company is a commercial company, they sell a product, and they have a chief aim and that is to make a profit, which by definition makes it a commercial company. Anything published on their web site is by definition commercial. And the blog also happens to be about their products.

ANY legal advisor would agree on that point, without dispute. Only their contractor stuck to their claim, even though articles contain texts like “look in our catalog”. But I guess that the contractor does not give Legal Advice, only Digital Advice.

What’s really intriguing in this case, is that the contractor keeps insisting on, that it’s a non-commercial section on the website. I felt completely like Mr. Praline in one of the old sketches of Monty Pythons Flying Circus. The one where a man (Mr. Praline) wishes to complain about, a parrot he just bought from a Pet shop. A clearly dead parrot. The pet shop owner keeps denying, that the parrot is dead, even when it is perfectly clear, that the parrot is stone dead. The contractor has acted just as the Pet shop owner, and I have been Mr. Praline, with the right and truth on my side.

What can you do, when you keep saying “That is a commercial website” and other part keeps saying “no it isn’t”. Knowing quite a bit about lead generation and content marketing, this felt so surreal and I thought “This isn’t happening, it’s ridiculous”.

What could I do? Nothing at that point in time. In the end, I got nothing, and they removed the image.

Since this point in time, I have entered, who handles my image protection. I have considered handing this case to They take care of all of the practical and legal issues, around getting my photos licensed, if the photos are used illegally.

At the time of writing, is still in beta-program.

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