What I Did When My Photos and Articles Were Stolen

What I Did When My Photos and Articles Were Stolen

Occasionally, it’s worth Googling your name to see what turns up. When I did it, it showed that a website was plagiarizing Fstoppers articles and stealing my photos too. This is what I did about it.

It’s not unusual for that to happen. Fstoppers and a few other photography sites employ writers known within the industry and, saying this with all modesty, who can write compelling articles and know how to use a camera. Articles at no financial cost to you, though writers are paid and Fstoppers receives ad revenue. Everybody wins.

Fstoppers own the written content; they contract me to write the article for them, and I get paid for that. If you are reading this, thank you; despite getting to read this for free, you have just helped put bread on my table. The photographs we provide for illustrating the articles are licensed to Fstoppers, but they still belong to us.

Occasionally, a new website will start up and copy and paste content from this and other sites into their web pages. You might think it is a compliment to the writer and photographer that someone thinks their work is good enough to be featured on their site. However, it is, of course, copyright theft. That is a possible felony punishable by huge fines and imprisonment.

Indeed, a relatively new website, let’s call it StolenPhotosRUs.com (not their real name), took my articles and images and republished them on their site. That was along with other Fstoppers articles and some written for different photography websites. They had put a comment at the bottom of each piece with a link, claiming, “This article was curated from the original publisher.”

I did some research and discovered the name and address of the website owner, let’s call him Nigel (not his real name either), the server that hosted it, and much other information about him and his business dealings.

After I highlighted the issue to Alex Cooke, the Editor-in-Chief here at Fstoppers, he wrote a comment on Nigel’s social media. Nigel replied and claimed it was an aggregate site and, therefore, legitimate. Nigel then turned off commenting on the post and deleted Alex’s comment and moved the conversation to a direct message. An actual aggregate site posts short previews of articles, and when people click on them, they are directed to the original site hosting the article, so that the proper creators get their revenue. StolenPhotosRUs.com wasn’t an aggregate site. Nigel copied and pasted the articles and photos directly into his website. Anyone clicking on the links were directed to his page, not Fstoppers.  What should happen next? One option was to report Nigel to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPRC) through the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of the UD Department of Homeland Security.

The US Department of Justice says this:

They go on to point out that infringement of copyright is a felony. It’s punishable by up to three years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Similar harsh penalties are meted out here in the UK and elsewhere. Indeed, the internationally adopted Berne Convention covers much of copyright law. It’s one of the oldest laws known to exist because of the recognition that creators needed protection. Versions of our modern-day copyright laws can be found in ancient Greece from 8,000 years ago.

We have all had photos stolen occasionally. Most people send out takedown notices. However, on my website, I have terms of use with a scale of charges for those who use my images without seeking prior permission. If you use my photos without asking, you agree to pay those fees. My charges start at about £20,000 GBP per photo, per page, per month for a small commercial website like Nigel’s. The charge is there as a deterrent. If people buy the images, they will pay less. My fees are much higher for large businesses and higher still if anybody prints my work. Nigel had used my images 20 times.

I sent Nigel a £40,000 invoice and a strongly worded email about him using my images.

To cut a long story short, Nigel finally deleted all the offending articles and the writers’ photographs from his site. He has also removed those he had stolen from PetaPixel, DPReview, Shutterbug, and others. You are welcome, folks!

I’ve given Nigel the option of apologizing to the other writers. When he has done that, I will consider canceling the invoice I sent him.

So often, people don’t act when they are the victims of copyright theft. They accept it as normal. But it is not a victimless crime. Those of us who earn our living from this art lose our income. You would be unhappy if someone stole your wages.

There is also the misconception that if something is on the internet, it is fair game. It isn’t. Years ago, I was on a board for a reputable organization. One of the senior employees presented a new policy for the board to adopt. Before the board meeting, I checked it and found the author had taken it from another organization’s website. It was apparent because the staff member had used the imperfect find and replace function in Word to swap the names of the organizations. They hadn’t checked for the inevitable errors. They had also forgotten to change the different job titles that the other organization used. Furthermore, the writing was full of legalese that the staff member would never have been able to write. I pointed out that it was plagiarized at the board meeting.

The business’s senior manager claimed that if it was on the internet, it was in the public domain and, therefore, free to use. I suggested he should speak with the legal team. He did. The policy was not adopted.

Even some big websites are guilty of plagiarism. A few months back, one of our writers wrote an article here at Fstoppers. Within a few days, the same article, with the same paragraph structure but slightly rearranged words and a few synonyms added, appeared on another site, credited to a different writer. It was noticed. Both the writer’s and the website’s reputations were damaged as a consequence.

Using other people’s creative work without permission is a crime. Adding something like, “No copyright infringement intended” does not exempt you from the law if you steal someone else’s work. That’s akin to shoplifting and hanging a sign around your neck saying, “No theft intended.” That applies to writing, photographs, videos, and any created art. If you do it, you might receive a takedown notice. However, there is also the possibility that you end up with a hefty bill, a fine, and a few years in prison. I hope you will help stamp it out.

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