Shooting the messenger

I have spent the last week hunting down illegal uses of my images and filing DMCA claims as appropriate.  In just seven days I filed more than 250 such copyright violation claims.  And I had barely scratched the surface of the thousands of entries I pulled from my server logs.  I grew more frustrated as I went along.

People had them on their blogs, on their MySpace and Facebook profiles, in forums, and even on fake search engines that provided code that could be used to embed the images on other pages.  In the first 100 entries I looked through, I even came across someone hosting a variety of my images on his site whilst claiming they were his work.  In all these cases, they were linking directly to my server and thus using the bandwidth and hosting space I pay for each month.

I threw up my hands in defeat.  There was no way to catch up with, let alone get ahead of, this wholesale theft of my property.

But then it occurred to me: I’m smarter than that!  We’re talking about technology here, right?  And if there’s one thing I know, it’s technology.

Hence, as of today I’ve written and implemented a new image hosting program for my site.  This new program kills all existing hotlinks to my images except those I’ve explicitly approved.  I’m still working on that list, yet I can say this with absolute certainty: it is and will continue to be a short list.

This new system allows me to randomly change the image host and associated links en masse without harming any of the approved uses no matter where they are on the internet.

So starting now all existing links are dead unless I’ve discovered and approved them.  That includes search engines, some fellow bloggers, feed readers, and those very few forums where I myself have posted my images.  Otherwise, all direct links and hotlinks to my images are now broken.  This enforces my copyright and use rights even for those who feel everything on the internet is public domain (speaking to you and your ilk, Judith Griggs!).

Since I can’t be certain I haven’t killed a few small and hard to find feed readers, I’ve included an image in this post.  Here it is:

That’s Loki in case you were wondering.  I’ve always loved that photo.  Anyway…

If you can’t see the picture, comment on this post or send me an e-mail and let me know so I can follow up with you to identify and authorize your reader.  Also, if you’ve embedded one of my images somewhere and it no longer works, you’re free to contact me about it (Ted, Amber, TGIQ and a few others: I already addressed your uses, so you should be OK.).  Assuming I think your use is legal, I’ll fix it, but otherwise you’re SOL.

Moving forward, all image URLs will change on a regular basis, perhaps even as frequently as every week.  This will not impact authorized users since it takes me less than ten seconds to force an update to all authorized links across the internet.  Otherwise, it’s for my peace of mind knowing that anyone who slips by will get caught in short order.

How does this impact you?  Not at all if you follow my rules when it comes to using my images.  But if you embed an image in a page somewhere or directly link to an image—and that includes in an e-mail message, and you do so without my express consent, you’re out of luck because it ain’t gonna work.  If you want to link to an image, you must link to the post that the image appears in; this requires no approval from me.  If you want to embed an image in a page somewhere, you must get approval first and you must provide me information on where the image will be used so I can authorize that site.

I used a rather blunt instrument for this, which happens to be the best security method in all cases: deny all and allow few.  That means all sites are denied before a few sites are allowed.  Thus I will watch all failure messages from this point forward in order to (hopefully) catch anything I missed.  And you’re welcome to let me know if I missed something should you catch it before I do.

In the final analysis, know this: From now on, my images show up only where I say they can show up, so no more hotlinking in forums or in e-mails or in Facebook profiles or on blogs.  You can find them in search engines and you can find them here; aside from that, though, your options are now quite limited.

Oh, it should be abundantly clear I’m livid about this.  I’ve never been one to pay attention to stats.  I don’t track visitors, I don’t watch how people get here, and I don’t pay attention to traffic.  Imagine, then, how utterly shocked I was to find an amount of abuse orders of magnitude beyond anything I’d ever imagined.  I’m no professional photographer, but these images are my work, my time, my effort.  They are also legally protected.  Is it too much to ask that they only be used in ways I approve and that I be credited for them when they are used elsewhere?  No, I didn’t think so.

(Obviously I can’t stop someone from downloading an image, uploading it elsewhere and using it from there.  But at least in those cases I’m not paying for the storage and bandwidth used by thieves.)

12 thoughts on “Shooting the messenger”

  1. I don’t blame you at all – if there’s one thing I don’t like about the new internet age, it’s the feeling of entitlement that it has engendered across the user community.

  2. Great job hunting down these image thieves. I have all my images on 1024 pixel in my Flickr…and just about anybody can download them. Hmm..I don’t even want to think about it. Sigh.

  3. Isn’t it horrible that you have to do this? So obnoxious that people won’t even give you credit for your work! My favorite is when my own students take images from MY BLOG and use them in presentations without following the requirements I have clearly set out for use of my photos (I only require that they give me credit). Some of them even crop out my copyright info! You’d think that if they’re doing a project that a) deals with water bugs and b) they know I have a blog (it comes up often), they’d pause a moment and attempt to put two and two together before stealing THEIR TEACHER’S photos. Sheesh…

  4. I know what you mean. On the one hand, I am very pro sharing my photos as an educational resource with people (and, honestly don’t mind a little publicity), but seeing my work used on the ‘net without attribution, without context, or for gross purposes really raises my hackles.

    I’ve made all my photos available under a creative commons, non commercial license … but, oy. It gives me headaches just thinking about it.

    There are some workaround if you don’t want to make your photos downloadable at all — flash galleries, and jQuery galleries come to mind … but, of course, there’s a loss of flexibility that comes with that sort of solution…

  5. This is interesting, Jason. I used to file copyrights and negotiate subrights and permissions for educational publishers, one being National Geographic’s school publishing division. For my own blog, I NEVER post other people’s photos or information. I can’t believe how many bloggers simply rephrase the information they’ve found on Wikipedia, quietly claiming it as their own. Although I will often embed links to other blog posts (which takes people away from my own site), I’m still not sure about the legalities of this practice. Online use is still fraught with problems. My best suggestion is simply to not post pictures that you want to claim as your own. Oh, I’ll admit I like google reader as it allows me to see all the nature blogs I follow in one easy swoop… and I tend not to visit those sites that refuse images to be used in the reader.

  6. Go get ’em. Some people steal what they can’t create. I have no use for someone stealing another’s time and effort and creativity. It’s great to hear there are ways ot foil the deadbeats.

  7. Those are some pretty scary numbers of abuse. I’d certainly be interested in hearing more about how you traced back and found these infringers (my technology-fu is a little lacking compared to yours). Good luck with your battle against image piracy!

  8. Yeah, that’s been my experience as well. I’ve got a long file of infringers, and sometimes when I’m bored I start going through it, contacting the responsible parties.

    Most people are good about recognizing their mistake. It’s often not their direct fault; they hired a cut-rate web designer or some such, and some offer to pay. I’ve even had luck contacting Chinese infringers- less hopeless than I’d thought!

    The spam-o-verse is another matter. Not much that can be done about the robots that harvest web contact and re-publish on link farms. Fortunately, those corners of the internet are infrequently visited.

    I’d be cautious about changing your image URLs. You’ll loose most of your Google traffic. Infringers won’t find your photos that way, but neither will anyone else.

  9. I come here when I need to rest and look wonderful photos. You help me clear my mind of the harshness of the world Thank you B

  10. Jason: Another option is to use PhotoShop to add your name and copyright information right on top of the images in semi-transparent lettering like Tom Arbor does on “The Ohio Nature Blog.” I know it’s a pain in the neck and you shouldn’t have to do it, but you might consider it.

  11. I’ve pretty much thrown in the towel on the whole photo theft thing. With all that has gone on in my life over the past couple of years, I guess the importance has faded in relation to other things that count. That said, about two weeks ago, a fellow photographer alerted me to the fact that one of my photos of a Ganoderma tsugae is appearing all over the internet on medicinal mushroom sites (commercial sites selling this mushroom). Worse still, at least one company is using the photo on their packaging. I was feeling pretty steamed up about it at a time when I can’t afford that kind of energy, but now I’ve had time to cool off and will attempt to send out some emails to see if I can at least collect a licensing fee from these thieves. In retrospect, I wish I’d watermarked all of my better images, but it’s way too late now as I have several thousand nature photos online in my pbase galleries and hosted on a server for my blog. *sigh*

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