My fight against copyright infringement and how I found

Nyhavn in the Morning

This photo of Nyhavn early in the morning is one of the most shared photos I have. And of course it has been misused too.

A year ago a fellow photographer, whom I did not know, contacted me to let me know, that a company was using my photo illegally. I did a little research, and he was right. It really upset me.

This incident became the start on tracking down misuse of my photos, and I had no idea how complicated things got.

I used Google reversed image search, and at first, it seemed amazingly simple, and I was completely blown with what it could find. But that’s what Google does best, it finds stuff. However, I soon found out; it doesn’t scale. There’s a lot of work involved in tracking down just one single photo. If you have hundreds or even thousands of photos, you can not sit and track each single photo. It takes far too long time.

Nevertheless, what I did was to start out with what I thought to be the most likely to have been misused. I quickly found some usages of my photos, but now things got complicated.

I am a photographer, not an attorney, and I have no in-depth understanding of the law and copyrights. So I started investigating. What does the law say? What is Copyright, and how does it work? What are the differences in EU and US? What pressure tools do I have to get paid? What price should I claim? And how to convince them to pay for it? Should I claim one price, if they mentioned my name, and another if they didn’t?

It seemed that more questions, than answers, popped up in my head.

Regent Street with Busses

This photo from Regent Street in London was misused by the window company in UK.

I share my photos as Creative Commons, non-commercial. I thought I had a clear idea of what this meant. Any commercial company can not use my pictures. But apparently not. There’s a big gray area in the middle, allowing some commercial companies to use my photos if it is just not for a particular commercial purpose. This area got too complicated for me to handle alone.

One particular case stuck out. A Window company in the UK had used one of my photos in an article they featured on their website. They had it under a section called News and Blog on their website. I wrote them a variation of a standard mail. Some consultant from their web agency got back to me, and said, it was a blog, and, therefore, covered the Creative Commons part of my license. What nonsense I thought, this is clearly a commercial company, no matter what they call a section on their website.

I decided to try out this case, and carry the discussion all the way. At some point, I felt like the John Cleese in the Monty Python sketch with the dead parrot. He comes into a pet shop and says: “This is a dead parrot” and the parrot is beyond doubt stone dead, and the shop keeper just keeps saying “no it’s not” in a hundred different ways, and John Cleese gets more and more frustrated. That was exactly how I felt.

The article had a ‘download brochure’ and a ‘get in contact’ included in the same article, yet the consultant kept insisting that the page was under the blog section, and therefore not a commercial use.

At some point he offered a 1/10th of what I wanted, in other words, a tiny amount, to show, as he said ‘good faith.’ I refused, because, I had decided, on principle, to carry this to the end, and get what I thought was fair. It even turned out, that the guy himself was a photographer too, besides being an IT consultant, yet he did not bend.

In the end, after a very frustrating email correspondence, there was radio silence, and they removed my photo from the post, and, in the end, I got nothing.

I ended up with a feeling of not having the arguments nor the authority to handle this. Too much I didn’t know. Only ‘me’, a simple photographer. No power, no nothing. And it had taken me forever, and my blood pressure had been very high. It was a tough road to travel.

Brewer Pub London

This photo from just off Regent Street, is the most stolen photo I have. I made the mistake of uploading it in full quality.

But how do you argue with someone, who responds “no it’s not” every time you say something? It’s not easy if you do not have the authority.

I mentioned this to a photo community I am a part of. And one of the others mentioned, and I went at looked at their website, and immediately applied and got accepted.

As a simple photographer, what do I get, that is different from I can do on my own?

First of all scalability and authority. continuously tracks the usage of your images and presents you with new matches when they occur. All you have to do is go through the list and report all usages that are illegal. It’s so much easier than using Google’s reverse image search. When you have reported a case, will take it from there. have the authority, and they have the legislation knowledge to work their way through with an infringement.

Apart from their knowledge, represented by the in-house team of licensing experts, also have a global network of law firms. Based on the severity of the claim and the scale of the company, they refer the case to one of their legal partners, who will then also go into the negotiation with the infringer to get the photographer the best possible compensation.

Second, I do get a lot more money, than I had been claiming myself. A case like the one with the window company would likely have given me 25 times more than the consultant offered me.

Third of all, it’s healthier for me. I don’t get personally involved.

Fourth I save huge amounts of time because it is so much easier. There’s still work to do, now but it scales.

So, if you publish your photos, I can highly recommend to use to track down misusages of you photos.

–Jacob Surland

6 thoughts on “My fight against copyright infringement and how I found

  1. I am currently going through the same problem with a French website. repeated attempts to contact the website owners have apparently gone on deaf ears. I even have attempted to go through and they don’t think it is worth their time. How will these pixsy guys work if won’t do it? Will they pursue it after all this? I contacted the website owners before I knew about imagerights and pixsy trying to negotiate something without having to go through the legal channels, now I know they have no desire to work with me.

    • Hi Paul,

      They use paralegal help to follow the cases all the way to the end. In the specific cases you will have to ask Pixsy on their view, but they have been very helpful and enthustiastic to me and my cases.


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