Someone is using your photos online. What to do when your content is stolen?

What to do when your content is stolen

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If you are here, you are probably a content creator, taking photos, making images and publishing them online. And if you are, I bet at least one (and most likely much more) images are stolen from you and used without your permission.

So what should you do when your images are stolen online?

You have a few options.

Starting with how you find out if your pictures are used by others, who is stealing your images and what you can do about it.

You can go straight to the end of the article if your Pinterest pins are stolen, and used by others as their own, redirecting to their sites.

Find out what to do to get those bad pins removed quick.

How do you find out if your images are stolen?

To find possible unauthorized images, you can use online reverse image search sites, like TinyEye or Google reverse image search. There you upload your image and they show you where it is coming up online.

For the most part, this works fine if you have just a few images to check. However, if you have a larger body of work and want to check on an ongoing basis, you would have to insert all your photos one by one and repeat this regularly. 

Who has time for that.

I currently like to use Pixsy.com to keep track of where my images are being used. (They are not paying me, I just find their service very useful so far.)

You upload your images or add your social accounts, and they will automatically keep scanning the internet for use of your images.


Who is stealing your images?

Once you find your image being used without your permission, the next thing is to find out who is behind it.

When looking at who it is that is stealing your content, remember that not every copyright infringement offender is the same.

Some clearly have malicious intent, while others might really not know that it is not okay to use other peoples content.

How you choose to deal with the situation might be different depending on who is stealing your images.

The Spam / Scraper Sites

The worst offenders are the ones who know that what they are doing is illegal, and don’t care. They take your images and use them on their site, or direct traffic to their website, thereby not sending it to yours. They are betting on affiliate sales or ad revenue from that traffic.

You are missing out on traffic, affiliate sales, and ad revenue.

Unfortunately there are more and more of these so called scraper sites.

These scraper sites usually look very basic, often have misspellings in their domain name, no contact information listed and just pages full of scraped photos. They also steal your bandwidth by hotlinking your images instead of hosting them themselves.

And your written word isn’t safe either. Some scraper sites automatically scrape text content as well.

Scraper sites are bad for everyone

These are the spam sites nobody likes.

As a visitor, you follow a quality image from a social media feed and end up on a scraper site. Basically, there is not much more than stolen images, affiliate links, and ads. This makes you want to bounce real fast.

And as a content creator, it is very frustrating to find your work on these type of sites. You work hard for it, and they just run some software and automatically scrape and republish your content.

It often is hard to find out who is behind the sites, and if you do, they are usually located in countries where it is very hard to go after them.

In the meantime, ease your mind with the knowledge that Google is advanced. Google is getting better and better at recognizing these sites as low-quality sites and not giving them a lot of SEO power or send traffic their way.

Subsequently, most of these sites have no domain authority, no value and they usually don’t rank very high on their keywords.

The Roundup post Curators

On the other side of the spectrum, you have those who might truly not know that what they are doing is wrong. Sometimes they even think they are doing you a favor.

This is the blogger who likes your image. So much that it ends up featured in a roundup post.  The 10 best … that will change your life.

Usually, they give proper credit and add a link to your blog post. If they have a large following, this might even send some traffic your way.

All good right?

No. Still no.

Even with a link back, it is still copyright infringement

Don’t forget anything published online is automatically considered copyrighted by the creator. So you are the rightful copyright owner and they aren’t.

Also, them posting your image on their blog can really hurt your Pinterest game. If you are a blogger, you know how important Pinterest can be for your traffic.

What can you do when your pictures are stolen?

So you now know your images are stolen and by who.
Is there anything you can do about it?

1. Send an email

Are you dealing with a blogger, who is giving credit and not trying to sell anything or make a profit from using your image? A kind email might be all it takes to have the image removed.

Request prompt removal or, if the image is a Pinterest pin or Instagram image, suggest that the blog owner add a tiny bit of code. That way they can keep the image on their site, but the code makes it un-pinnable. Or they can embed the Pinterest pin or Instagram image.

To make your image un-pinnable just explain to add a no-pin attribute to their image tag. The code to add inside the image tags is
data-pin-nopin="true"

You can also provide them with the code to embed the image as a Pinterest pin or Instagram image. Go to your original image and follow the embed options to get the code.

See how embedded Instagram images look in this post about the Rise of the Pilea Plant.

If you don’t get a response, or they say they won’t change anything, you move on to the second option.

2. File a DMCA takedown notice

DMCA stands for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It is a federal law which covers the process for you, the copyright holder, to assert your rights over media posted to third-party websites and to have that copyrighted material removed promptly.

Most social media sites have online forms to report stolen images. Instagram has its Copyright Report Form here, you can report a copyright infringement on Facebook right here, and to report stolen pins, Pinterest has an online form here.

If your images are used on another website, you should contact the website owner or the host of the site. You can find the host of any site with a Whois Lookup search. Send a DMCA notice through the hosts’ website or mail it in.

If you need help writing your DMCA, you can use an online generator. Just enter the information and the DMCA notice is created.

3. Use an online service to go after image theft

If you don’t want to send out notices yourself, you have the option to use an online service like Pixsy to send DMCA notices on your behalf for a fee.

They will deal with all the hassle and paperwork for you. And if your images are used for profit without your consent? These services help to go after them in court and get you paid for your work

4. Hire a copyright attorney

This option can cost you a lot of time and money.

Then again, if you are dealing with a large company, or brand, this might be the way to go. Have the attorney pursue the case for you.

5. Watermark your images

I hear this advice all the time when it comes to the unauthorized use of images online. It makes sense. Put your business name or URL on the image, and it might deter others from using it as their own.

Let me tell you, it doesn’t. A watermark is not a magic trick that keeps images safe.

When I look at the images that have been stolen from me, there are as many images with my URL on it, as images without any type of watermark. And don’t even bother with putting your watermark all over your image. Thieves don’t care. They don’t even crop out urls in very easy to crop out areas. They don’t even try to pretend the photos they use are their own.

There is an upside of having your URL on a stolen image. It makes it easier for you to prove the image used is yours. Look, your URL is on it.

6. Maybe do nothing

I am not a fan of doing nothing as a strategy.

The use of your images without your permission is wrong.
These are your images. You created them. You spent time brainstorming, setting up, photographing, editing and posting.

This is your work, your intellectual property,  and others jsut take it. Using it as theirs. Creating false advertising and redirecting pins to their websites, stealing your traffic.

Doing nothing feels wrong.

But in some cases it might unfortunately just not be worth the trouble.

There might be a few cases you want to decide to let it go. These decisions are very personal, but if the offender is in a location that is very hard to fight, or if the usage falls under the Fair use doctrine, you might want to close your eyes for now and save yourself the time and trouble.

Your images are used on Pinterest, now what?

This is not about shares or repins. Most bloggers want more of those. This is about your images being pinned and linking to sites that are not yours. Your stolen pin is now sending traffic to someone else’s site.

And what if that stolen pin gains memento and becomes viral? Pinterest will add more weight to it in their search algorithm and the stolen pin will appear even more!

Lucky for you, Pinterest has made it easy to report stolen pins. They take it very seriously and bad pins are taken down real quick. My experience is that most reported pins are removed within 24 hours.

How to report stolen pins to Pinterest?

Pinterest has a Copyright Infringement Notification form you can use to file a DMCA takedown request. I would say it is pretty straight forward, but there are a few points that are good to know before you file your first Pinterest DMCA.

To begin with, there is a tick box that says ‘remove all‘. Do NOT check this box. If you select this option, Pinterest removes every one of those Pins. Including the legit ones leading to your site.

Next, there is a tick box to give the pinner a ‘strike‘. Use this with care because too many strikes can get a pinner suspended.

When you are dealing with an obvious spammer who is intentionally misusing your content, redirecting it to their site, go for it and check that strike box. On the other hand, it could be a mistake. The pinner might have repinned a stolen pin and not even be aware of it. You don’t want to have someone’s account shut down because of a bad repin.

And lastly, you can include multiple pins on one DMCA form, so it’s not as time consuming to take down a large number of bad pins.


Note about the DSLR camera in the photos: You see my old but loved and trusted Nikon D80. I don’t use it a lot anymore, but I can always fall back on it. If you are looking to start taking photos with a DSLR camera, and are looking for an affordable camera to practice with, the D80 still is a great choice. Look for a second-hand one that is still in good condition.

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