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Photo Contest Insider Blog

What to Do When Someone Steals Your Photography Online

October 13, 2016

The thought might fill you with dread, but photography theft is unfortunately becoming more and more common each year.

The internet makes is extremely easy for photographers to rightfully share their work with others, and in turn, gain more work from their dream clients. Unfortunately, though, for this same reason, it is now just as easy for others to steal your images and claim them as their own.

If this has happened to you (or you’re worried it may one day), then fear not! Today we’re going to look at what you can do if someone steals your photography online.


Firstly, make sure your image was copyrighted in the first place:

It’s important to note that the moment you take a photograph, you become the copyright owner. However, it’s vital to ensure that you haven’t made any mistakes on your end before you begin the process of taking action against someone stealing your photography.

One of these mistakes might include the fact that you uploaded your image under a Creative Commons license (for example, on a platform such as Flickr). Under this license, images can be reproduced without the photographer’s permission, however the copyright holder (the photographer) should still be credited.

If you are certain that you did not upload your images under a license which allows reproduction (for example, you simply showcased it on your online portfolio or social media), then by all means you have the right to pursue more serious action in regards to your image(s) being stolen or misused.

It’s also vital to mention that in this article we will be focusing on the issue when another photographer (or someone claiming to be a photographer) actually steals your images and claims them as their own photography. So even if you did accidentally (or intentionally) upload your image under a Creative Commons license, they still must credit you as the image’s original source – not themselves.



Research the contact information of the ‘theft’:

Once you’ve established that someone has stolen your photography, it’s time to gather their contact email address. You can usually locate this on their website’s Contact or About page, or even on their social media. If you’re having trouble finding this information, sites such as will help – simply look up the URL.

Once you have their contact details, there are a number of actions you could take. These are listed below in order of severity.

1) Email them asking for credit:

This option is for the lesser offenders out there – for example, a social media account has reposted your image without crediting you, or a blog has used one of your photos in their articles without providing your details. Although we’re focusing on photographers who steal other photographers’ work, we thought we’d still include this option for those dealing with photography theft to this extent.

Send a professional but to-the-point email explaining that you are the photographer of this image and therefore you own the copyright to it. Be sure to point out (non-aggressively) that they did not ask for permission to use the image and that you are asking to be credited for your work, whether it be stating your name underneath the image or linking back to your own portfolio.



2) Send an invoice to the infringer:

This is perhaps more geared towards companies, brands, or other profitable organizations who have used your image without permission. By using your image(s), they have used your services – even if they tried to get away with it! Send them an email similar to the one described above, but also include an invoice with the email explaining that you must be compensated for the use of your photography. We’re told that a general rule of thumb is to charge three times more than your normal fee when dealing with copyright infringement.

3) Send a cease-and-desist letter (or hire a lawyer to send one for you):

This is when we get into more serious territory – perhaps a photographer is claiming your hard work as their own, and as a result, gaining clients from it. You can either send a cease-and-desist letter yourself via email, or pay potentially big bucks to get a lawyer to do it for you. Personally, we recommend hiring a professional to do serious legal work for you, and you may even be able to secure one on pro bono (or volunteer) basis by contacting organizations such as Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

A cease-and-desist letter basically outlines what we mentioned in point one above, however it goes a step further by stating that legal action will be taken if the images aren’t credited / removed within a specific time period. It also lists what these legal repercussions will be, and this is usually enough to scare the pants off any phoney photography theft.

If you’re determined to bypass professional help from a lawyer and wish to send a cease-and-desist letter yourself, you can find templates to assist you with the process at and (just to name two sources – feel free to also perform your own Google search).



4) File a DCMA Take-Down Notice:

If your previous request for a cease-and-desist was not responded to, then this is the next step. It involves you contacting the hosting company of the website which has stolen your image(s) and asking them to act instead. Again, you can locate this information through a service such as

This notice needs to contain specific legal terminology, so this is one that’s best left to the lawyers. You can find out more information about DCMA Take-Down Notices by visiting the Copyright Alliance website.

5) File a lawsuit:

Perhaps the ‘end-of-the-line’ for dealing with having your work stolen, this option could be a costly or stressful one. However, if your work has been stolen and has caused you immense suffering, a lack of income, or any other horrible things, then by all means – it’s an option which you would want to take.

One word of advice though: hire a lawyer who is experienced in copyright law to represent you. Filing a lawsuit might be a long and potentially costly journey, but sometimes it’s the necessary action to take.

When you take your copyright infringement case to court, you also require your copyright to be registered before a lawsuit for copyright infringement can be filed. You’ll certainly want to brush-up on all there is to know about this by reading the articles below:

How to File a Lawsuit for Copyright Infringement

Copyright Registration, Notice, and Enforcement FAQ


We hope you now have a more thorough understanding of what avenues you can take as a photographer if your work has been stolen or used without your permission. If you’re interested in learning how you can protect your photography from copyright infringement, then this article provides further reading. Best of luck!

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