Knowing how and where to find stolen images and photos of yours that other sites use without your permission is challenging, but not impossible.

There are plenty of comments online suggesting that designers and photographers should be flattered when people plagiarize their images. It drives me crazy every time I read a comment like that. Because it’s stupid and shows a disturbing lack of critical thinking skills.

How many of those same people would be flattered if their wallet was stolen, because it implies that the infringer admires their taste in designer leather goods? Zero. And it’s the same thing.

content thief

This is a public domain image. Easy to find, easy to use. It’s nice to have ready-made content, but there’s no excuse to steal it.

People don’t steal your images, photos, and online content because they admire it, generally speaking, they steal it because THEY CAN. They need filler content for their lame, spammy sites, and your stuff is easy to grab. Sorry, that’s the truth.

The problem with stopping image theft, which not only deprives you of traffic to your site, but infringes on your due credit as the artist or photographer, is that stolen images are usually re-named. You find stolen text by pasting your phrase into Google and looking for matches, but not so with stolen images. So to stop image theft, you’ve got to be Wiley Coyote.

So now that I’ve told you in other articles how to enforce your copyrights and find copied images and stolen content online, I’ve got a brand new tip for locating more stolen images. It’s worked well for me, and used in conjunction with a strongly-worded terms of use page on my website, my DMCA takedown rate is 100%. My stolen images are usually removed within 30 minutes of my DMCA Takedown notice email being sent.

***UPDATE: There’s an additional method that will find even MORE of your images from “The Graphics Fairy.”  The article describing how to do this is actually about finding the original source of Pinterest images, but by using this in addition to the tip I’ve posted below, I’ve found that it returns different results than using just my method, helping me to find more of my images online.

Here’s the method to find more of your stolen photos and images:

Paste: into your browser’s address bar to go to Google’s image search.

Now search the images on your own website by typing the following into the search bar, replacing my site’s URL with your own:

Then click the search button.

Every image that Google has indexed on your site will appear in your search results. Don’t worry about your logo and other insignificant images that scrapers and content thieves are unlikely to steal. Instead, hover over the first photo or original image thumbnail that you see, and on the pop-up, click “other sizes.”

Here are the images for my site that Google currently has indexed. My Hanukkah page is listed first, and is extra awesome because my good friend, Marty Decker of designed the background paper:

Google image search for stolen images

The first image in my results for my site was my Hanukkah design.

So I hovered over the Hanukkah thumbnail, and clicked, “More sizes.”

Yikes. WTF did all of these other images come from? They’re distorted to force a widescreen layout, but since my scrapbooking designs are all 12X12 inch squares, someone has clearly been messing with my image.

Google images search shows my stolen images

The first thumbnail on the left is my original image on my site. The rest are stolen and altered, and offered for commercial download as screensavers.

And here’s the thing: Anyone is welcome to download that image from my website FREE for personal use. My terms of use clearly state that they cannot publish the image AS-IS without adding their own photos to create a finished scrapbooking page. But they are welcome to use it on their own PCs as wallpaper if they like.

So how does someone go from, “Hey a free scrapbook layout for personal use,” to “Hey, I’m gonna upload someone else’s hard work to and claim it as my own”?  And to add insult to injury, Crazy-Frankenstupid adds his own watermark to MY design without even checking the source. Awesome.

The thing that was most irritating about this particular infringement was that it was extremely difficult to locate the sites’s webhost or any contact information for them. So I filed a DMCA Takedown notice with Google, but by the time Google answered me…about 12 hours later…I had finally located a contact form and filed a DMCA takedown through that form with the webmaster. Ten minutes later, my image was removed from the site.

Site that stole my content removed it

A well-worder DMCA Takedown notice and strong terms of use on your site to back it up are all you will usually need to protect your content from thieves and scrapers.

Now that’s more like it.

As I mentioned in a previous post about protecting your content online, it doesn’t hurt to have a strongly-worded terms of use page that includes a requirement of proof of permission for use in the form of a digital signed email from  you. It’s worked for me so far.

This was only one of five stolen images that I discovered by using Google Image search this way. A couple weren’t worth pursuing, and one was on a Squidoo page. When I sent a DMCA Takedown to Squidoo for that image, they removed it immediately, but Seth Godin, or someone representing him using his email address, sent this excuse on behalf of the plagiarizer, who has 15 scrapbooking lenses and several HubPages, and I quote:

I’m guessing the word ‘free’ confused her, but I took it down.”

Okay, so maybe Squidoo should reiterate for their lensmasters that “FREE for personal use” and “Copyright Free” are two very different things. And anyone who still doesn’t understand the difference can educate themselves on Wikipedia.

Because Squidoo is one of the few quality sites where writers still have the potential to earn residual income for their original content. And I have a lot of respect for Seth Godin. But please, in the future, don’t make excuses for people who should know better. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

And if you are new at publishing online and you don’t understand the difference between a copyright with all rights reserved, a creative commons copyright, of which there are several types, fair use, and works in the public domain, then the first thing you need to do is to learn what all of these terms mean and how to apply them when including works created by other artists and photographers on your own blog or website.

Most of what you find online absolutely may not be used without permission of the copyright holder. Not maps, not drawings, not articles, not photos, not even screenshots of any of those things without permission, except under limited fair use circumstances. And just because it’s on Wikipedia doesn’t mean it’s fair game, either. You need to check the source and the license terms. Every single time.

So heed this warning, or you could end up in trouble–expensive, there-goes-your-website and your retirement trouble. Give Wikipedia’s copyright section a good read, and when in doubt, ask permission.

If you do understand the difference and you wish to protect your own investment, post a good terms of use page on your site, include your license terms with any downloads, monitor for infringement, and be prepared to file DMCA Takedowns when necessary. Then relax and get on with your writing and art.

Life is short.


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