My most "stolen" photo?

March 12, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

This blog is a about copyright infringement

 I’m not the first person who has had their work taken off photo.net or some other web site and used without permission, and I’m certain I won’t be the last. My experience may help someone deal with the problem if it happens to them.

 As a photographer who spends a lot of time around horses, I get to see lots of interesting horse behaviour and arguably, one of the most visually interesting behaviours is the Flehmen response, in which a horse will curl back its lips to get better access to an interesting scent. I've photographed this response on a number of occasions and in April 2009 I managed to get this shot.

The Flehmen response

 Clearly spectacular.

 

 Sometime later, I spotted the image with “hurrr I’m a hoers” on it. And before I knew it, it had gone viral; it had become a meme.

Also known as the "Herp Derp horse"

 Wikipedia defines a meme as “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” In effect what that means is that everyone who wants to, pasts the image somewhere or writes (mostly inane) comments under it. There seem to be a fair number of web sites that deal with memes and a fair number of people who put together a collection of them on a third party web site. At one point, I did a Google image search on the meme and retrieved several pages of the image, an absolute nightmare.

The horror

 At other times, I’ve also found the unmutilated image on various web sites, including one that likened Katherine Heigel to the horse and at other times Justin Bieber or Sarah Jessica Parker.

The Force of a meme can have a strong influence on the weak-minded

 

 this screen shot was taken from this url, now removed.
http://www.hollywood.com/news/Celebrities_And_Their_Animal_Doppelgangers/7769165
 
 The site didn't answer emails or tweets sent to @Hollywood_com and I tried the writer of the page, @ericsundy, but to no avail. Eventually I sent a very large invoice and that seemed to goad them into action and the page was removed. 
 
What's wrong with having your work "popularised"
 
 Should I be upset at seeing my work spread around like this and if so why? Well yes, for one thing, other images taken at the same stables have sold for 700 USD each for a one year licence and Getty Images who have taken some of my equestrian work and have not touched that one. So potentially I’m out of pocket from that source. 
Also, without wanting to sound like a dog in a manger I don’t want someone taking and trashing my work.
 But there is a happy ending, eventually the image was licensed and became one of my biggest earners. I've added a footnote to say what happened. 
 
diylol

 So as far as I could, I wanted to get the images taken down. Looking at the sites that display the image, I realised that several of them were forum web sites and others that suggested that the chances of getting anything done about it were slim. However, there were a number of sites that I use and some that did have contact addresses or pages. I decided that the battles I should fight were the ones I knew I could win (yes, I have read the Art of War). So where people have posted the photo or the meme on sites like Facebook, DeviantART, Flickr, Photobucket and a few others, I would contact the sites and get them taken down. 

How to find an image that’s been used (and/or misused)

 There are a number of options available, probably the best known is www.tineye.com who have browser plugins for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer & Opera. You right click the image and click “Search on Tineye”. In Google Images you can upload an image url or even the image itself.

 I also found a plugin at this location http://jarred.github.com/src-img/ which is an adjunct to Google image search and works well, but you will get a warning about problems with Chrome.

 I’ve also found a fair number of other images being used without permission, simply by looking for a credit “photo by Peter Meade.” I appears that a number of people genuinely believe that if you give credit for a photo, then you can use it. This may well stem from the creative commons license. Other people simply believe that if it’s on the web then it’s available. At least those are the “reasons” people have used. On one of those occasions a national newspaper published a portrait I had taken to illustrate an article, without bothering to ask first.

How to get photos taken down

Flickr

  I found this page showing the meme :

Meme posted to Flickr

 The bottom right of the flickr page has a link to the Copyright/IP policy and the link to the online form goes to this page: -

http://help.yahoo.com/l/uk/yahoo/copyright/general.html

Facebook

 On Facebook I found numerous iterations of the meme on the same day, here’s one.

Facebook

 To report a copyright infringement on Facebook, you start on this page

http://www.facebook.com/help/contact/?id=208282075858952

Wordpress

 On Wordpress, the online form is here <ahref=“http://automattic.com/dmca/”>http://automattic.com/dmca/

 I had an email response from wordpress within an hour of submitting the form, very impressive.

DeviantART

 On DeviantART, I have had to serve take down notices (DMCA notices) by email to this email address [email protected]

 The information that Deviant requires to remove an image is essentially the same as the other sites, but need to be set out in an email.

 It should be noted that although DeviantART has removed links to the copyright images, I've found that the images stay on their servers. I've complained to them about that.

Pinterest

 The online DMCA form for Pinterest is here http://pinterest.com/about/copyright/dmca/

 They have been very quick too.

 On facebook there's a handy name and shame group https://www.facebook.com/sitesthatsteal and they also have a blog http://sitesthatsteal.blogspot.co.uk/p/image-search.html

Further Thoughts

 The people responding to the DMCA notices at some sites may get back to you for clarification and I’ve had contact from Facebook and Flickr asking for further details and they have been very helpful.

 Not everyone is helpful, I’m still waiting for images to be removed from DIYLOL and as mentioned above, I had to send a big invoice to Hollywood.com site before they removed the shot. Others respond with an "are you serious?" And in some cases just because the image is taken down once, doesn't mean it's not going back up soon after.

 After removing the image, one person replaced it with an image saying “stop SOPA.” I took the screen grab below after getting the meme removed from one Facebook page. Clearly upset.

Facebook

 This has just been a single case, one of many. Over time I've discovered that people taking and using others’ photographs isn’t just restricted to the odd shot on a meme website or on Facebook; in the first half of 2012 alone, I’ve had to deal with everything from small travel web sites to a major national newspaper. Of course if you are happy to let others use your photos and you like the idea of them being seen by a wider audience, then this is all a non story, but if you want to maintain control of your intellectual property or copyright material then it's useful to know what to do. Hopefully, my experiences may help when you find someone using your work when you don’t want them to. The price of peace (of mind) is eternal vigilance.

2020 update

The happy ending

 During 2019, I was contacted by an agency that wanted to licence the photo. I was quite stunned, finally someone wanted to use it. Twitter had a campaign running that used people's tweets, one of which used my image along with another horse photo (unknown photographer).

 They wanted to use my image globally. I said yes and they were happy to pay up.

A tweet using my Flehmen photoTweet using my Flehmen photoA tweet using my Flehmen

 My image used on a subway poster.

  (unknown photographer but copyright acknowledged)

A photo of a poster on the New York Subway featuring my photoA photo of a poster on the New York Subway featuring my photoA photo of a poster on the New York Subway featuring my photo (copyright acknowledged)


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