Why You (Still) Shouldn’t Steal Photos From the Web


So you found the perfect photo for your blog post via Google image search. It perfectly illustrates your trend piece about wearing harem pants to brunch (plenty of room for expansion). The model is even eating a Belgian waffle covered with strawberries and whipped cream—your favorite. But you have no idea where the image came from. There's no link back to a photographer or to a site that hints at the photo's provenance. It probably falls under fair use and it's cool to go ahead and use it on your blog, right?

Before you make that assumption, read this article, written by a professional photographer whose plight makes it clear that copyright regulations are flawed. The story details how rampant copyright infringement online has cut into Alex Wild's business to such an extent that he's happy to close up shop to take a position in academia. He estimates he spends 10 hours per week trying to track down copyright infringers.

Wild photographs insects, and not only has he found his images uncredited on various websites, but businesses like exterminators and pesticide companies have used his images on their product labels and on the sides of their trucks without permission. A small Caribbean island used one of his ant photos on a coin. Pretty unbelievable right?

The thing is, these business might have though it was OK to snag his leaf-cutter ant photo for the same reason a blogger might think it's cool to use the harem/waffle photo. Repeated copying of the image has left no trace of its origin. Who knows, the infringers may have even tried to find the image's owner. Wild describes what happens when work is released into the wilds of the internet, unattributed.

Images with unenforced copyrights lose their ability to generate direct income for several reasons. First is death by search engine burial. I depend on a high search ranking, as most clients arrive to my website using Google. Yet the churning tides of Facebook, 9gag, and imgur make it harder and harder for prospective customers to find my actual website in the search soup of my uncredited images. I am too often competing—and losing—against uncredited copies of my own work. If clients do track me down, they have little incentive to buy. Who wants to pay for an image that is already everywhere?

Copyright legislation sometimes protects large companies that have the funds to pursue litigation. But small business folks like Wild can't afford to sue, so they ask politely to be paid. Sometimes it works.

So it's up to us to watch out for each other. You wouldn't want someone using one of your outfit photos without so much as a credit, let alone paying you, right? Maybe that has happened to you—not cool! That's work you spent time and money to produce, and someone else is using it, gratis. It's not OK in anyone's book. Until copyright law works for photographers and bloggers with their own online businesses, the Golden Rule may be our best policy.

[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]

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14 Responses

  1. Molly Farrell-Savage

    SO true. There was an incident recently where a girl, an FIT student, was stealing photos and passing them off as her own on Instagram/Facebook/Flickr/ModelMayhem/website/Tumblr/etc. She got caught and is continuing to do it. Just terrible.


  2. Noemi

    I always write where I get the photos that I use on my blog. I wouldn’t like if someone stole my own photos so I don’t do it to other people. I get many photos from Pinterest and Tumblr, anyway, and it’s basically impossible to to find the owner of the photos on Tumblr.

  3. Alysa

    So what do you think should be the protocal for websites like pinterest? I see so many bloggers who “credit” images to Pinterest, but Pinterest isn’t really the source.

  4. Manpreet

    This is so true. When we enter the blogosphere, we actually join the internet business and we must always follow the ethics. For if we don’t do that, we can’t even expect others to do that.
    If we start copying others’ material, others will do the same and this would do no favor to any of us.

  5. Onianwah

    Great post. Somewhat timely with the very recent Linda Ikeji saga that happened in Nigeria a couple of days ago. I’m learning more and more to be content with my own photography or a friend’s. I don’t even mind images with watermarks (which is crappy I know) but sometimes those save the trouble of having to do a reverse search.
    All in all, the least one can always do really is state the source. Won’t hurt anyone and won’t take away the originality of the article.

    Lagos, Nigeria

  6. TlvBirdie

    I do not reblog photos of others,
    I produce my own content ( both visual and written).

    And when a big brand steals my picture (it happened twice, with Forever21 and Penny Skateboards) for their FB page without ANY credit,
    that’s not cool at all.


  7. Jewel Divas Style

    I post pics of all the jewellery I buy and make and a few years back I was buying designer brand jewellery and found that some of my blog pics were ending up on ebay in listings because the people were to lazy to take their own so they stole mine.

    Two plus years ago I did a few posts on stealing pics and removed all of mine and redid them with a copyright and my blog name. It didn’t stop people stealing pics. Two still stole pics of my designer jewels, I know longer buy that brand or show pics of it, and used them in their ebay listings. I went nuts at them and threatened them with reporting to ebay if they didn’t remove them.

    One girl said she didn’t even see my copyright on the pic even though it was right there in front of her and then told me to get over it it was just a pic. I informed her she had stolen my pic and then used it for ebay which was against the rules and illegal. She didn’t care. And people don’t.

    Copyrighting your pics is one way of showing it’s not theirs. I post my pics to Instagram, G+ and FB and I don’t mind people pinning my pics because my copyright is there for all to see, so at least others can google it and find my blog. But stealing it for your ebay listing is NOT ON!

  8. Andy Z

    I always credit the website where the image is hosted before using it in my own blog. I know the credit is not directed towards the photographer, but at least i make an effort to credit where I got the pic, not matter if i found it on Google.


  9. Faith Bowman

    I studied photography at parsons and Columbia College Chicago. I am still in debt for that education. Luckily I augmented my studies with creative writing and book & papermaking. I made some money doing model tests and small ad campaigns and editorial in Chicago? But it was way stressful and I actually hated it.

    Photographers really scramble to make money. It’s not just talent, but determination, stamina, persistence, and brutal hard work. Lugging equipment, assisting, working in the cold and heat for hours shooting weddings and events. Spending hours editing. Paying for film, prints, and portfolios. Paying to upgrade your software, paying for everyone to have lunch on the set, paying for makeup artists and hairsstylists and prop stylists.

    I once made $1500 on a job and evended up with $50-0 after paying all my expenses. AND I was stressed out. Now I chill at home, go to events, and take pics for my blog with no pressure because pr companies and the companies that send me products are happy to give me photos.

    Obviously, the photo industry needs a (racism, sexism, fair payment) overhaul? But don’t make it worse for those people by stealing. You can take two seconds to create your own images.