"Help! Someone has used my photos."
I'm meeting more and more florists who tell me about how they just found out another florist has been using their photos to promote themselves. Often it's a friend of the florist who has seen the photos on Facebook and recognises a venue, or a prop. On investigation, it turns out the photos are being used on websites, on Instagram, in brochures - and the florist is claiming not only that the photos are theirs, but the arrangements as well.
Has this happened to you? Do you know what to do if it does?
This post is a practical guide to protecting your photos online. The advice is coming from me, a professional photographer who knows you don't want to be spending all your time policing this, but equally you want to protect your reputation.
I'm assuming that you took the photos in question. Just because the arrangement is yours, if someone else took the photo, then all of this advice applies to the photographer, not you. This is advice for florists based in the UK. I used to be a lawyer, but this isn't legal advice. It's practical advice with links to places to get up to date legal help if you need it.
1. Get screenshots
Screengrab all the examples you can find of them using your images. Check their website, and all their social media. File all the screenshots together.
You should also double and triple check that the photo is actually yours, not just something very similar.
2. Sleep on it
Your first reaction is probably to fire off a furious email, or put a public naming and shaming post on Facebook. Don't do it. Sleep on it.
What do you want the outcome to be?
Do you want to put the florist out of business and create a bit of a name for yourself in the process? Or do you just want them to stop using your images, and apologise?
Be very, very careful before you go public online with your complaints. Facebook especially is a polarised community where things are either right or wrong, and often it seems there's no middle ground. If you post something accusing someone of stealing, you might even find yourself on the wrong end of a libel suit. It doesn't matter that you were right - you'll still have to prove it, which will cost you time and money.
3. Get in touch
After a good night's sleep, tell them politely that they have been using your images without permission, and include a couple of screenshots. No need to send all of them just yet.
The point to remember is that, assuming you took the photos, you have intellectual property rights over those images. Technically you own the copyright in them, and that is a piece of property that can be sold, given away, licenced, rented and stolen, just like any other piece of property.
Ask for whatever outcome you want.
At the very least you'll want them to take down your images immediately and not to use them again without permission
If you were a professional photographer, you might include a bill for unauthorised use, for anything from £50 to £5000. There's no reason you can't do the same if you want to, but this is quite an aggressive opening statement.
4. Keep calm when negotiating
The best case is the florist had no idea what they were doing was wrong, apologises profusely, offers to pay for the images, and you stay friends.
Sadly, according to the stories I hear, one of these outcomes is more likely:
- they ignore you completely
- they go on Facebook and post mean things about you, whilst ignoring you
- they reply reasonably politely and say they'll take them down, but don't
- they reply aggressively saying they've done nothing wrong
Here are some comebacks you can use:
(Feel free to put these responses into your own words if you need to use them.)
They say: "But your images were online so they are free to use/public domain/not yours any more".
You say: "Actually that's not true. It doesn't matter if I post images online, the copyright stays with me, because I took the picture. No one can legally use that image without my permission (in the UK). Images only go out of copyright and into the public domain (in the UK) 70 years after I die. Until then you need my permission to use the image, and I can charge you a fee. And in fact my estate can charge you a fee for the 70 years after I'm dead."
They say: "But your images wasn't watermarked", or "Your image didn't have the (c) sign next to it".
You say: "You know what? In the UK it doesn't matter. I get the copyright in my image the moment I pressed the shutter. Please take down my images and don't use them again."
They say: "This is Instagram. It doesn't matter."
You say: "Please credit me with an @ mention in the first line of your post." Or, "This is my photo and my arrangement, please take it down." If they don't, you don't negotiate, you just file a copyright infringement notice with Instagram and Instagram will take it down for you (see link at the end for details).
They say: "My web designer put the image up, it's nothing to do with me".
You say: "You own the blog/website, therefore you are legally (and morally) responsible for its content".
They say: "I have a disclaimer on my website saying I don't take any credit for the photos on it"; or
"I credited you"; or
"I linked back to you"; or
"I couldn't find your details, I didn't know it was yours"; or
"I only used a small sized image".
You say: "That's nice, but you're still liable. You need my express permission, which I only give in writing. Do you have that? No? Then here's my bill for £250 for use to date. And I still want you to take them down."
5. Taking it further
Hopefully the images will be taken down, and you won't have to spend too much of your life sorting this out.
If the image is being used on social media, you can use the platform's reporting system to try and sort it out. Instagram in particular is very fast at taking down stolen images. I've used their system - start here and follow the "copyright" track: https://help.instagram.com/contact/372592039493026
If the person's website is hosted in the USA (and many UK websites are actually hosted in the US), you can file a DMCA Takedown Notice. I've never done it, but if you follow the correct steps, the hosting company will remove the images. For UK/EU hosted sites you can try writing to the hosting company, but there is no formal DMCA procedure.
If you are ignored or worse, in the UK you are perfectly entitled to take the person to court to enforce your copyright. It's a reasonably big step, but if someone is using your images, and potentially taking your business, you might consider it. Click here for more details, from the UK government site.