The Problem Of Intellectual (Photo) Property Theft

Twice in one week, it happened to me, also to a friend and without a doubt to countless other photographers around the globe, professional and amateur alike.

What is it?

When you, the individual, take a photo regardless of; if you watermark it or not or have all your details in the Metadata it is yours, it belongs to you, because you took that image and at that instant, it becomes your intellectual property. It’s really that simple.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who will use your photos without permission, whether it’s because of ignorance or malicious intent. Anyone who is reproducing your photos, displaying them publicly, distributing them to others, or creating derivative works from them is violating your copyright if they don’t first have your express permission. –

Why is it happening?

Attention spans worldwide are reducing, sorry writers, but a large number of people don’t have time to read what you wrote, even if it is the next bestseller or in-depth article, just sorry. The acronym TLDR (too long didn’t read) is a normal response.

Writers have countered this with how long it will take to read their piece, “4-minute read” for example.

Just having to put that should give you an idea that attention spans are waning, and some of you may not have even got this far in this short article!

…but more than a few ‘readers’ will be happy to add to the comments regardless of knowing exactly what was written, and that’s a whole other issue!

Emoji’s, Gifs and Memes are growing, because they are quick and easy to get your point across.

…and let’s not forget photographs, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and advertisers know this. Why is Instagram so huge, because it’s instant and takes a second to just look and understand.

…but IG and other areas of the internet are being presumptuous and thinking that once a photo is ‘out there’ it is free to use in any way they want. Wrong!

Companies who make a profit from whatever it may be, shows, magazines, products, shipping, adventure etc are thinking the same. There is a huge difference

What’s the difference between an individual and a company using your image?

Firstly the individual – they like the shot and share it with their friends, maybe using a share button or an app to do so, the image is left intact and most individuals will share the name of the photographer or site where they found it, because they found it interesting or cool.

A company using it – does your company make a profit? Yes!

Did you get written permission from the photographer to use this image?  Yes, great that means the photographer or their agent received payment and therefore paid for the time and effort to get to that location, and in small part help them pay for the equipment they needed to make that image

Did you get the image/s directly from the photographer and/ or did you get written permission from the photographer to use this image? No! This is called Intellectual Property Theft…you or your company is now legally a thief.

Did you use said image for your companies financial gain? Yes, do not be surprised if you get a strongly worded email/ letter initially to take the image/s down or pay, if you don’t comply, then don’t be surprised if an invoice shows up. If this isn’t paid it could go a few different ways

  • A legal representative of the photographer will be in touch for payment or you could very likely be sued
  • If the photographer is just an individual and cannot afford legal representation be rest assured that they will let everybody who they know who the thief was, and to NOT ever use their services.
  • In one of my cases, it was a touring/ shipping company, they are happy to steal images, does that also mean they also think it’s not a crime to steal parts from your shipment.
  • Putting your companies watermark on the image does not mean you take ownership!
  • Just because an image may not be a physical thing, just a digital thing, DOES NOT stop it having value…wake up its called art, regardless of how good the image is perceived to be

Really, what kind of reach does an individual have?

  • maybe you should have asked this BEFORE you committed your Intelectual property theft…in my case that’s around 9.5+ million views/ impressions a year, reach…yeah, I’ve got reach!
  • You’re reading this right? That’s called reach. The negative effect of ten minutes of writing, for free, will have untold financial implications to the ‘thief’ indefinitely. Of course, they will always deny this.
  • BTW, potential thief, most photographers have a bigger reach than you, they also have followers who let us know about our images being used and not acknowledged…eyes are everywhere, in lots and lots country, according to my analytics I have followers in 138 countries,  and that doesn’t include IG or FB, that’s a lot of eyes

What is a good rule of thumb if you are thinking of using/ sharing a photograph?

  • Always acknowledge the photographer with their name and a hyperlink to their site or IG/ FB profile
  • If you want the image for potential promotional/ profitable use, contact the photographer directly and DO NOT use the image/s until you have authorization…its really that simple
  • If you were given the image/s from a third party this does not excempt you from doing your due diligence or getting permission from the photographer

If you DO NOT want to do the above? 

  • Expect to spend a lot of money because you are now being counter-intuitive because that will mean leaving your current paying job/ gig for a short time or permanently, potentially travel, get visas, inoculations, buy good gear, wait for the right time of day or year, learn how to process photographs, maybe spend time learning the process in higher education and paying to do that…or here’s a simple solution: hire a photographer or just pay for that images, in the long run, it will be a lot cheaper.
  • Lawsuits are real, once a photographer proves copyright ownership of an image they can legally sue, and just because you are in another country does not stop this happening. Most countries now have laws in effect  and it can allow the copyright owner to ask for statutory damages (up to $150,000)

Is this a problem just in the USA?

  • NO! It is becoming an issue worldwide, so much so numerous countries have laws in place to protect intellectual rights

A great article that should be read, also about this subject and a flowchart for all to use if what I have written is beyond your comprehension!



Please share this, with ANYONE you know, who has ever taken a photograph.



2 thoughts on “The Problem Of Intellectual (Photo) Property Theft

  1. Paul,

    I’m a writer and yes, attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Perhaps related to the overwhelming digital tsunami of content available. For the non-creator types just browsing, it’s like trying to take a sip from a fire hose – So much content, so little time. Also related is the fact most of this content, graphic, musical, youtube, written, ETC is offered absolutely FREE.

    Do what you do because you like doing it and don’t be surprised if you get ripped off…Just saying, guys talk, you hear things.



  2. Hi Paul.

    I have admit I sometimes use some of your images as desktop backgrounds.
    I prefer your watermark on an image. It makes it easier to recall where it came from, so when my friends see it, I can tell them about this guy, who travels the world on a motorcycle, and shares his stories.
    If you have contract with image stock agency (Gettyimages, etc.) I believe most are quite happy to collect for you, when one of your images is used without permission. As for why some are publishing photos from somewhere on the internet. I think it’s usually ignorance of the copyright law, and not meant as theft.

    Best regards, HM.


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