Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Dealing With Image Theft
Making your site stand out in the vast universe of the World Wide Web is key to generating interest and ultimately business, but the hot design also can attract some unscrupulous and sticky fingers
Pardon Me, But I Think You're Wearing My Hat, Part 2
“You're not gonna believe this,” she said again. My dear readers, I'm absolutely not exaggerating when I tell you that two weeks after the incident I just conveyed to you, my agent found another thief. This time it was personal. The perpetrator wasn't some innocent kid looking for a leg up; it was a design firm. Not only did they make no attempt to change the look of the site, but they put their own copyright on it. They even went so far as to copyright the source code. My programmers went through the roof. I don't know about you, but if I pissed off a bunch of professional hackers, I'd be worried about my credit rating suddenly taking a nosedive. My lawyer looked at the screenshots that we grabbed as proof—she started to prepare a case. Claiming a copyright on work that isn't yours is serious stuff and we were all looking for blood. I was really frustrated when my lawyer told me the only thing we could do was send the cease and desist letter again. The design firm took their site down within 45 minutes of receiving the cease and desist letter. Think they felt busted?
Policing your identity is important. Years ago, before the Web was a thing, I was taught by my then-agent that I needed to adopt an aggressive no-tolerance attitude toward anyone who would infringe on my copyright whether it be my work or the personal identity behind the work. The latter is a little more difficult to enforce. For example, if someone dressed like I do, that's their prerogative. If they used the same custom portfolio as me, I can't do anything about it. But on the Web, the design of your site belongs to the creator. Although it's different than if someone uses your photography—that's a far more egregious offense—you can still protect your online image. All you need is the awareness that it's being done, the wherewithal to pursue the offender and the cash to pay your lawyer.
I realize that everyone reading this article might not have a full–time lawyer working for them so I want to give you a path to follow to go after someone who might steal your Website. The most immediate is to look to your friends and family. There's a lawyer in your circle somewhere. Any type of lawyer can write a cease and desist letter; it's as easy for them as it is for you to shoot a snapshot. In most cases, that's all you'll need. If you're a member of a professional organization like the Advertising Photographers of America, they have resources to help you. Most memberships include a free session with the staff lawyer. Utilize it. As a last resort, get online and see if you can find an intellectual property lawyer to help you. Some will extend a courtesy and write the letter for free or on the cheap in the hopes of securing you as a client when your business gets bigger.
If someone actually has the audacity to use one of your images illegally, always seek someone who deals with intellectual property. The theft of a photograph for unauthorized use is a big deal involving big bucks; you need someone who knows the terrain.
In the meantime, I'm hoping my agent doesn't utter those magically expensive words anytime soon: “You're not gonna believe this....”
Louis Lesko is a fashion photographer based in Los Angeles. He started his career at the age of 19 in San Francisco and celebrated his 20-year mark last October. All this and he doesn't look a day over 39. Lesko also is the owner of Blinkbid Software, estimating and invoicing software for photographers.
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