U4D: Copyright, you, the law


It is good to be back with the Up for Discussion posts, but for the title I have trimmed it down to U4D. It doesn’t take up as much room. I thought I would start with a post on Copyright, you and the law because it seems like a good subject and can never be written about enough.

Recently I had experience, which I will tell you about in a minute, but it brought back the importance of knowing your rights as the owner of your images. It is so important that you learn what the rules are, to protect your work and to also make sure you are not using other images illegally.

My Story

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a message on Facebook to inform me that someone was using one of my images on their page and claiming it was their own. I had a quick look, but thought the processing on it was so bad it couldn’t be mine. The image was of light trails in front of Flinders Street Station. I told the person who let me know I didn’t think it was mine and she showed me the blog post it had come from. So I took another look at the image.

This one, and it was one of mine.


At first I couldn’t see my watermark on the image, but then it stood out so clearly.

I left a comment under the photo saying something about how it was great that she likes doing long exposures, but perhaps she shouldn’t use my image to show that.

I decided to message her and tell her not to steal images. She claimed she hadn’t, that she had taken it. I then told her that the image was mine, it had my watermark on it. She clearly hadn’t seen it, and continued saying it was hers. I also asked what would the chances be of us both taking the same image with the same light trails, exactly the same?

She removed the image from her Facebook page, but continued to say it was hers. When I asked why she removed it she replied that she didn’t like negative comments on her page. I don’t know why she didn’t just remove the comment then.

It has to be said that I continued the discussion and suggested if she was going to be so adamant that the image was hers perhaps she should put it back up, that I would put mine up and we could let people decide for themselves who the image actually belonged to. She declined.

She had been found out and I continue to check her page to see if anymore of my images are there. In this instance my watermark was my saving grace, it was there and recognisable.

It was a good outcome for me, the woman was using my image without my permission, passing it off as her own, and she had done more processing to it. She violated so many copyright laws. She was, more importantly, trying to use my image to promote her own business, so using it for commercial purposes. It was amazing to see it happening.


One of the things that I don’t like about Facebook is how they remove all metadata from images and the original filename. People can remove that themselves, but most people wouldn’t. When FB does that it takes away all your protection and makes it much harder to trace images.

This woman has a history of steeling images, but you can’t trace them, unless you know exactly who took them.

If you are putting photos on Facebook make sure you have them watermarked, and do it in such a way that it is hard for people to remove them.


Protect yourself

In Australia you don’t have to register your images, but you should keep all files that show how you created it. If it comes to a fight to prove copyright if you have the original image and all the files to show how you created it, then you are going to have a better chance.

There are sites available that are meant to help you protect and fight for your copyright. I haven’t looked into it, but an article was recently written for Digital Photography School which you might find interesting, ImageRights – Finding and Pursuing Copyright Infringement of Your Images.

The best way to protect yourself is to know the law and laws around Copyright. In Australia you can go to the website for the Australian Copyright Council. For overseas I found the following which has some great information.


How can you breach someone’s copyright

There are so many myths around what is allowed and what isn’t on the internet. The obvious one is “if it is on the internet it must be free”. Of course, that isn’t true.

It is illegal to take someone else’s image, remove the watermark, to work on it and use it for your own purposes. Recently I saw that someone had taken an image from a well known artist, reversed it and then applied textures to it. I am fairly certain if the artist in question saw what this person had done it they would not be happy. You must always get permission, unless otherwise stated.

I found another site, Copyright Agency here in Australia and they had a great page on Copyright Myths, and I think it is something we should all take notice of, read and memorise. It not only tells you what your rights are, but what people are not allowed to do to your images.

Copyright Myths

It seems the old idea, if you change the image by 10% you aren’t breaching copyright, is a definite myth. I know many will say what about that guy in New York who stole the Instagram images and sold them for tons of money, well I don’t know. I have no idea how he got away with what he did.

Be aware

The best thing you can do if to be aware, if you know your rights then you will know when someone breaches  your copyright. Knowledge is protection. So arm yourself with it, and be prepared to fight, if necessary.


You might be interested in …


  1. Leanne, this is a great article but it does contain one minor error. It is true that Facebook strips out most of the metadata from an uploaded image, but it does not remove anything contained in the copyright section of EXIF. Therefore it is important to have your post processing software add something into there. That is not t say that someone stealing the image will not remove it, but a lot of the thieves don’t know how.

    1. I think some things have changed since this was written, you weren’t able to do google searches on images that were on FB, but you can do that now.

  2. Copy right law is a really interesting and under appreciated area. I recently started a blog about my law school experience check it out if you have a chance.

  3. Great post. I too have had to confront people who have stolen images without credit. Recently I checked into a hotel and noticed that a slide show of local sites playing in the lobby included a photo of mine. While I was flattered, I was upset that no credit had been given and that my creative work was being used in a commercial fashion. When confronted, the manager admitted to stealing the photo from my site and apologized.

    1. that is unbelievable, does make you wonder, and sometimes I think it is because they just don’t think there is anything wrong with it. Good that you confronted them. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. That is disturbing to see your photo on someone’s FB. How did you spot it?
    Thank you for sharing the info of CC!

    1. It was really, and totally unexpected. I didn’t spot it, someone else did and let me know, they saw my watermark.
      You’re welcome Amy and thanks for contributing to the discussion.

  5. Great post Leanne, and sorry to hear about your image. It doesn’t hurt to keep reminding ourselves and others about this sort of stuff. I think you tend to forget about it, until it happens to you or some one you know. Have a great day!

    1. Thank you, I think the same it is good to keep ourselves reminded. Yeah, I know what you mean. Thank you Karen, and thanks for your thoughts.

  6. I have known about this for quite some time. This is why I most always put a “watermark” on my Images. This way, who ever wants to copy it without my permission, will have it there. However, there is one problem. A Image that has a Watermark on it can be erased quite easily. I know that I could do it with one of my photo editing programs. I would never do that, of course, but just sayin’. Like was stated, if you want to use someone else’s Image, ask permission first and always give them the credit deserved.

    1. There is no real full proof way of protecting your images and I suppose part of it is accepting that. I have found trying to hide my watermark in my images helps, as people don’t see them, which is great. However, as you said, they can be removed, but if people go to all that trouble, then I really don’t know.
      Thank you Les, good to hear from you.

  7. Your timing is impeccable, I just discovered one of my images was stolen. I sent an email to the person about it, she stole it just over a year ago. So far no response. This was before I watermarked photos 🙁

    1. Yeah, never underestimate the importance of a watermark. I hope you manage to get the situation resolved. Do you know a lawyer, get the to write a letter, that often scares people enough.
      Thanks Laurie.

  8. What a thought-provoking post, Leanne. Copyright and protection of one’s own images is such an important topic; I can’t believe that person on Facebook continued to insist it was her photo! You have such a distinctive photographic style, and devote so much time and energy to taking high-quality photos that it’s appalling when someone else steals your hard work and passes it off as their own. I fear this has become a lot more common in recent years. I see it all the time with students writing essays and dissertations and quite blatantly plagiarising and copying-and-pasting from other people’s work. What happened to ethical standards and pride in one’s own work?

    1. It is, and something we should all consider and be aware of. I know, I couldn’t believe it either, how could she keep saying it was hers. I think you might be right, I was lucky and someone saw it was my image and let me know. I think writing essays could be different, it seems acceptable as long as you give the credit to where you got it from. Thanks Reggie, good to hear from you.

  9. Any photos used or taken without permission is stealing and is a breach of copyright. In the US if you have the master image you win in court – no need to have sent it in for copyright. If you want to really be sure to have an iron-clad case you may send large batches to the US copyright office http://www.copyright.gov/, which I do on a regular basis. There is no need for a watermarking. I user a small watermark just so folks can quickly see it is mine, but I do like to deface the image with one that covers it. Metadata is also no protection because it can be easily removed. I have it in there anyway. I have done a lot of research on this topic and attended classes on it.
    Someone I knew said to me I love your photos and use them as wallpaper. She did not know that is stealing. I told her to delete them at once and said that she could use them if she paid me for the license to use it. I never heard form her again. I have my rules posted on my website and blog. None of my images can be used without obtaining prior permission or purchasing one.

    1. I don’t do that with my images, though it is a bit different here, I think. I believe we can register images, but it costs quite a bit of money. Metadata is removed by Facebook unfortunately which doesn’t help with tracing an image. I do watermark, but that is also so other people will let me know if they see my images on other people’s pages, which has happened.
      Yeah, I’ve had that happen, though sometimes I think it is nice that people just like your images, never burn bridges comes to mind, I think as long as people are trying to pass them off as their own, selling them, then sometimes you just have to accept it.
      Thanks for contributing to the discussion Sherry.

  10. Great Post!
    many may not ‘like’ hearing about the law…. but taking, claiming and profiting off another’s labor – that’s not quite right no matter how one dances about!

    1. So true Debi, many are not interested and don’t care who they steal from. I love that last part, and it is spot on.
      Thanks for that Debi.

  11. Hi Leanne
    It’s a coincidence how this topic just came up when one of my food images was used on Facebook. Fortunately, they gave me full credit on their page, Palm Beach Golf Club in NSW, providing a link to my page. Even so, I would have appreciated a request for permission, which I would have granted.
    All the best.

    1. It sounds like you were lucky in some respects Evan, at least they bothered with credit and gave a link back to you. I agree they should have asked your permission, but still, everyone knows it is your photos, that’s good. Thanks Evan, nice to hear from you.

  12. Thank you Leanne, for bringing that up. This is my most concern about my work on face book, like for all of us. Inserting a watermark means double work on editing images, and i have avoided doing so a lot of times. I will read your links thank you for sharing. This topic involves endless discussions.

    1. You’re welcome Cornelia, it is a big concern for most photographers and it is something we should all think about. I’m glad it has got you thinking. Thanks for joining in on the discussion.

  13. This post on copyright violation was an eye opener for me. The very minimum one can do with photos that aren’t your own, but one would like to use online is to give full credit to the author. Thank you, Leanne for sharing your experience!

    1. I think the best thing to do is to always ask permission, that way you always know what you can and can’t do. I have always found that most photographers are fairly easy to find and email. Thank you Peter, and thank you for being part of the discussion.

  14. I am not a commercial person and any photograph I have used ( usually of the Scottish Highlands) I merely use as my desktop wallpaper. But having read this post I ask myself that, since I am really quite boring at times, why did you come on here? Did I inadvertently use a photograph? I do not believe so since any photographs I use I have taken myself, but I think, did I use one once – is that why she is here? Guilty conscience – no, just very, cynical. Ok, you may delete me now if you wish.

  15. Hi leannecole! I have been here at wordpress and had 11 test websites. On my previous writing days on blogger I had many images which I gave credited on to.

    But for those who is going to use a image which it doesn’t belongs to you, you can search for the “creative commons attribute” and another way is to contact the owner of that photo to ask for a free license for a copyright image.

    1. I do think you should never use an image unless you can give credit to the photographer who took, that is the least anyone should do.
      Yes, there are ways of doing it, and you should always seek permission.
      Thanks for your thoughts Kent.

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