Don’t Steal Photos Online!

I’ve had a number of my photographs stolen from Flickr over the past four or five years; in fact, it’s more than I can count. This list includes urban planners working on Tulsa’s new comprehensive plan and officials on public boards of directors to (most recently) magazines and PR/marketing agencies.

These individuals and organizations illegally downloaded or captured (in a simple keystroke) my photos and then used them without permission or compensation. I don’t have the best equipment (it’s expensive!) but I still make beautiful works of art simply by my use of light, color, framing, angles, et cetera and they’re obviously desirable. I think it’s great that people are noticing my photos, and I’m flattered that so many people like them.

In fact, I’ve been published in many magazines, journals and newspapers, along with special publications through the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and the New York City Department of Transportation. One of my photos of Times Square was even used in a graphic novel a few years ago. Individuals and companies have sought out my photos of Tulsa to display in their offices and homes.

So what’s the difference? All those publications and individuals respected my rights as a photographer. They first asked if I would license my photos, and then would pay me for my work. Both parties sign a license agreement, files are transferred (or printed), then I receive a check and a copy of the issue the photo will appear in. It’s easy, it’s the right way to do things, and it’s the law.

That’s right; using photos without permission is against the law. It’s a violation of intellectual property law, which covers everything from technology patents to photos, paintings and other original works. If you violate my copyright, I have the right to pursue a lawsuit, and I’m good at finding my photos that are being used by other people.

People often ask, “how do you know they’re using your photos? How do you know it’s yours?” It’s the same as identifying one’s child in a playground… You know because it was once part of you. The lighting, the colors, the street life, the reflections in windows, and yes, the smells, were all experienced by the photographer, and as the shutter is pressed, that singular moment in time is captured and will stay with the photographer forever. Add to that the time it takes to process each photo, upload it, tag it with keywords, geotag it, name it and save it, and it’s easy to see how a photographer can know exactly which photos belong to them when they’re used on other sites without permission. Even though I have 12,000 photos online (and four times that amount that remain unpublished), I can still tell you about each one; exactly where I was, how the scene made me feel, where I was going next.

Bottom line: do not steal photos from the Internet. Don’t even think about it. It’s wrong, it’s illegal, and you know better.