PSA: The following images are not public domain

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This past few weeks I’ve been performing the unpleasant annual ritual of combing the web looking for instances of unauthorized commercial use of my photographs. My rationale for controlling copyright infringement is two-fold. First, infringement deprives me of the revenue I need to host my websites, repair my equipment, and travel to insect-filled jungles. Second, infringement is unfair to my honest, paying clients. Why should they fork over cash for images when their competitors use the same ones for free?

The results of this year’s infringement hunt were disheartening. Much more egregious than previous years. I am watching volumes of my work slip away into the ether. I’ve seen my images branded with the logo of other companies, appended to coupons, banner ads, and pest ID charts.

A few of my images have been copied through enough intermediaries that they appear in multiple search results, stripped not only of attribution but often of even the correct species name. This image of Formica oreas, for example, is now a leading search result for “Argentine Ant“.

In the possibly futile interest of heading off future infringements, I’ve made the following watermarked compilation of my most frequently abused images. All of my photographs are legally protected, of course, but these are the ones that have most often worked their way off my galleries and proliferated across scores of third-party sites.

I do not mind certain non-profit uses of my images. Educators, researchers, students are more than welcome to employ them for school projects, classroom presentations, technical articles, and educational websites. I just ask that the images be attributed and that online use be accompanied by a link to the source website.

But if your use is commercial- and that includes the educational products industry, thank you for asking- then you need prior authorization. Most commercial use also entails the payment of licensing fees. I am not getting wealthy off photo licenses, but it keeps the lights on and the servers humming.

In the coming weeks I will continue to contact webmasters of sites I find with unauthorized copies of my photos. In most cases I am content to issue DMCA takedown notices or ask for the images to be removed. The more egregious cases (repeat offenders & images branded with logos or splayed on advertisements) will receive non-negotiable invoices followed by appropriate legal action.

The annoying bit is that I don’t really have the time to deal with all this. I have papers to write, I’m assembling a couple book projects, the house needs work, and the absolute very last way I’d like to spend my time is facing endless infringement cases. But I don’t really have a choice, not if I plan to maintain control over my photographs.

23 thoughts on “PSA: The following images are not public domain”

  1. My brutal but honest analysis:

    I don’t think there’s a solution here. You need intellectual exclusivity. Take Family Guy. After each episode it gets posted to multiple streaming websites. These posts are quickly taken down as armies of lawyers from MNCs (Fox/Murdoch in this case) terrorize webmasters. Fox’s goal is to force viewers to watch their Family Guy outlets (TV, web) and therefore their ads (all media and the multi-million dollar salaries of its “talent” are paid for by advertising). Viewers have no alternative because there is no intellectual equivalent to Family Guy.

    Even if you had the armies of lawyers that Murdoch has, you’re dealing with a commoditized product. If pest-control companies and others can’t steal your pics, they’ll just go to the next-best photographer and steal his. They’re just looking for ant pics – they don’t need to be yours.

    1. I’m perfectly fine with that. I don’t want pest control companies using my images if they’re not going to pay for them.

      What I don’t want is my clients who do specifically want my images (these tend to be in the textbook & magazine market) looking at the same images used freely on the illicit pest control market. It damages my brand.

    1. I was thinking that, too. You may have to watermark across the subject of the photo. So annoying that you have to do this at all.

      1. Yeah, that’s the solution. For every new photo you post online (too late for the old ones), you’ll have to put a big ugly watermark on it that makes it so tedious to clean up in Photoshop that no one bothers stealing it. But no one will be able to stand looking at the ugly thing, either. Then you can send interested companies the clean version.

        I see a lot of idiots on a herp forum who take mediocre or terrible pics and place these big watermarks on them. They’d be lucky if anyone dreamed of stealing their crappy pictures! But for you, it’s a necessity.

  2. I suppose one could take this as a compliment, having their work continuously infringed, but I think I’d rather the cash… Good luck dealing with these companies!

    If you don’t mind me asking, how do you go about finding these infringements? Google, Tineye, other resource?

  3. I will admit to using some of your images to spruce up my undergrad lectures …

    But this?

    That’s just gross, and I can’t even begin to imagine how frustrating it must be to see your hard work plastered, for free, across pest control ads. And what’s probably worse is the fact that for every jerk you catch and call out, there are probably two or three more who slipped under the radar.

  4. Sorry you have to go through this. For the individuals you catch and go after with legal action, can you not levy on them the costs of this policing? Don’t use your academic rates… it’s legal work you’re doing… and I can’t even imagine how much that would be on an hourly basis, but I imagine it’s quite high and I’m positive you deserve more!

    1. Be careful charging “legal fees” for policing your trademark. You don’t want to be accused of practicing law without a license.

  5. Ugh, how frustrating! Hopefully the watermarks will make a difference. You deserve to get recognition for your photographs, especially ones as beautiful as those.

  6. I agree with the others, you may need to put the watermark across the photo itself. This is unfortunate as it messes with the quality of the photo. I understand why you’re upset. I once chased down a pest control company that was using a photo of mine and had clipped the copyright. Grrrr! I can’t imagine having to do it for many different companies.

    My husband’s MBA prof explained the thinking. The prof’s son was copying songs from the internet and told his dad hey, what’s the big deal. Then the prof’s son wrote some songs and had them stolen. And the kid was like this isn’t fair. The prof said most people don’t have any intellectual property of their own to protect, so they don’t understand why people get upset when you steal theirs. Interesting.

    Unforunately, in this day and age of the internet, most people don’t see a photograph or an image as being worth anything. Your images and your technical background are priceless. I wouldn’t put up with anyone stealing my photography either. For me, I don’t have the technical expertise, so I’m trying to figure out a way to add some other kind of value to my photographs so that people will pay for either them or them on a product. Nature photography is definitely not a way to make a living.

    PS – Good luck on your book projects.

    1. Although my knowledge of copyright infringement is quite limited, I believe that if a person/company intentionally removes copyright information (i.e. a watermark), the rights holder is then entitled and able to sue for magnitudes more in financial considerations. Check out Carolyn E. Wright’s blog – she’s a copyright lawyer and accomplished nature photographer who provides all sorts of information on this sort of thing!

  7. The only worse thing would be if someone took credit for photographing the pictures that YOU made… I really hope that hasn’t happened yet šŸ™

    And are these big name pest-control companies or smaller ones?

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