10 Worst Excuses I've Gotten For Stealing My Photo

Essentially any photographer who shares their work online will eventually get their images stolen.  In the past I've written about copyright myths and truths.  Luckily for photographers, the law is on our side, and we can seek out damages for images that were used without our permission.  I use a service called Pixsy to do this.  With their team of attorneys and legal experts, they have successfully obtained hundreds of licensing fees for the unauthorized use of my photos.  Before I share these excuses, I want to clarify that I am talking about commercial and organizational use of my photos.  These are uses by businesses and institutions and not by individuals.  If someone uses my photo on their personal, non-commercial Facebook page and gives me credit, I don't care.  It's not something I charge money for.  I am also more forgiving of individuals not knowing the ins and outs of what's legal to share online than I am of businesses and organizations that have a responsibility to know better.  So, without further ado, here are the 10 worst excuses I've received for unauthorized commercial and organizational use of my photos:

1.  We didn't know it was copyrighted. / We didn't know it belonged to anyone
I've had businesses tell me this when there was a copyright symbol in the corner of the image and they left it intact!  But furthermore, even if my image did not have a watermark, essentially all images are copyrighted, with very few exceptions, and as a business owner, you need to be aware of that before you start sharing photos on social media or posting them on your website.  Saying you didn't know it was copyrighted is just revealing that you know very little about copyright, which is inexcusable for a business.

2.  Our intern did that, and he/she no longer works for us.
Well, no matter who did it, your company is still responsible.  Please don't pass the buck.

3.  We are a small business and we can't afford to pay for the image.
I am also a small business!  I have invested a lot of time and money in my craft, and I deserve to be paid if my images are used commercially.  If you can't afford to pay for my image, then you shouldn't have used it.

4.  We licensed that image from you, so we can do whatever we want with it.  We now own the image.
I have never transferred ownership of any of my images through a licensing agreement.  When you sign a licensing agreement, it specifically states what you can and cannot do with an image.  You need to read that agreement before you sign it and make sure that you follow the terms!  You also need to make sure that anyone who uses these images in your company or organization is aware of these terms.  Any use outside the scope of the license is a form of copyright infringement, and all my licensing agreements state this.

5.  We were trying to give you exposure.  You should appreciate what we did.
While exposure can be nice (sometimes), in most cases, I'd rather be paid for the use of my photo, especially if it's being used commercially.  Also, a lot of companies think they are helping photographers out by giving them "exposure," but photographers everywhere will tell you, seeing your name next to a photo rarely (if ever) leads to future sales or paid gigs, especially if you don't even bother to link to their handle or website.  No one is going to go Google my name just because they saw it listed beneath a photo so they can buy a print of it.  So ask the photographer first, and let him or her decide if they want exposure or if they'd rather be paid.  It's their call, not yours.

6.  We didn't mean any harm.  It was an honest mistake.
Well, regardless of whether or not you meant any harm, when you use a photograph without the photographer's permission, especially for commercial purposes, you are doing harm.  Please don't try to placate me by telling me it was an "honest mistake."  Not following copyright laws as a business owner isn't an innocent oversight, it's negligence.

7.  It's really not that good of a photo.
And yes, someone really did use this as an excuse.  So then why did you use it?  You were looking for a really mediocre photo to use in your ad?  It's true, some of my earlier photos (and edits) were substandard, compared to my most recent work, but they are still protected by copyright, regardless of how unappealing they are.

8.  We never pay for photos.
Ok, well then don't use mine, because I charge for commercial use!  I guess I'm supposed to feel guilty because other people give away their work for free?  Call me greedy, but I don't feel guilty at all for expecting to be compensated for the use of my work, especially in a commercial setting.

9.  We were under the impression that this was a Creative Commons photo.
Way back in the day, I use to apply Creative Commons licenses to my photos.  A Creative Commons license tells content users that they can use your photo without asking first as long as they give you credit and follow the terms of the license (there are several licenses with varying terms).  Well, the problem with Creative Commons is, the vast majority of people don't understand it and thinks it's the same thing as public domain, so they just use the photos however they want and they rarely credit the photographer, or you'll see things like "via Flickr" as credit instead of the photographer's name.  If you don't follow the terms of the license and you don't give the photographer credit, it's an infringement, plain and simple.  This is one of the many reasons I stopped distributing my work under Creative Commons.  To read more about the pros and cons of Creative Commons, read this article I wrote.

10.  We never would have used it if we knew there would be an issue.
I got this excuse after I told a magazine they could use my photo if they gave me credit, then they used it but never gave me credit, so I engaged Pixsy to seek retroactive payment for the unauthorized use.  There wouldn't have been an issue, of course, if they had simply given me credit.

If you're a photographer, have you ever had your images stolen?  What's the worst excuse you've ever gotten?

To see more of my photos, be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram.  I post different photos on each platform!

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