Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Tale of Stolen Internet Images

This blog post will be totally off my usual type of subject, but perhaps an eye-opener for those of you who are posting anything on the internet.  Brace yourself for what follows.  I think you’ll be surprised ... and worried.

A friend of mine, Joe Conrad, sent me a link to blog posting by Ian Plant in his “Dreamscapes” blog.  The article points out how frequently photographs are now ‘borrowed‘ on the internet and may be used in ways the original photographer never intended.  This new digital era has made ‘borrowing / stealing’ just that much easier in spite of very clear copyright regulations that protect the rights of the person who created the photograph / art / writing.  

Having my work lifted is not new to me.  Before the digital era my art ended up on a matchbook cover, menu, T-shirts, embellishing a catalogue, a letterhead ... and who knows where else!  Recently a nature center scanned one of my drawings and decorated a trailer used for recycling!  I was not asked for permission on any of these usages.  But digital has made it ever so much easier.  I knew images are sometimes harvested off web sites, but I didn’t realize what a common occurrence it is ... or how often I have been a victim.

Ian’s article showed me how easy it is to do a quick check to see if my images are being used without my permission.  Just go to Google images and click on the “Search my Image” camera icon (that is the little camera on the right side of the box where you usually type in your search term), upload your image, and hit the search button. 

Ouch!  I searched for the baby robins I drew several years ago.  Prior to today I never uploaded this drawing onto the internet .... but I did grant permission to Washington State’s Fish and Wildlife Service to use the image on their site -- probably in 2005. I picked this image because a friend once stumbled across it on the internet.   I can’t be sure Washington’s site is where the digital trail started, but I suspect so.  Another possibility is someone could have scanned the drawing from one of my notecards.  

Here are most of the places I found my robin drawing:
  1. The state of Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Web site (the only place where I granted permission)
  2. The Sate of Maine’s Fish and Wildlife site -- at least they gave me credit.
  3. the social networking site “Tumbler”  ... Yetch -- some teenage girl with her bright red lips pursed to kiss had it on her site.  Other tumbler entries too by I skipped over them.
  4. a blog with mostly weird photographs such as a staged image of bald patient on an IV.
  5. an online magazine where my robins accompanied an article, “Does Your Personality Change Depending on the Language You Speak”  -- I ask, “What is the relevance???”
  6. on a web site written in Persian!  It might be a site posting poetry but I can’t be sure  -- Persian is a little beyond me.
  7. a web site selling a lot of scrapbooking stuff including rubber stamps.  I didn’t find my image on their site, but I suspect they used it at one time.
  8. a tatoo site!  I think you are supposed to download my image and take it to your tatoo artist.

 About now my computer offered me a place to click to go somewhere I definitely didn’t want to go to learn about stuff that smelled of porn.  I thought to myself .... “Time to get out of here!”  But my computer wouldn’t let me get off the internet!  I had to force quit! 

Once out, I thought I was clear, but no.  I went back to Ian’s site link and found the unwanted site was popping up again.    I force quit again and shut my computer off.  I honestly don’t think this is a problem with Ian’s site -- I think somehow the unwanted site could still reach out and grab me.  Once I turned my computer back on and went to his site via a different route I didn’t have a problem.  

So my advice is .... if you want to search to see if your images have been used elsewhere, do be careful what sites you click on.  

For now I’ll keep on posting.  I always reduce my images to a small file size before posting.  My rule of thumb is 800 pixels on the longest side.  The image is still good for the internet, but not for publication.  Also on really nice art or photographs I need to put my name and copyright right on the image.  My name was on the robin drawing, but most places I found it no longer had my name on it.  Unfortunately it isn’t that difficult to remove the name off a photograph or drawing.  

I use Photoshop elements to resize my photos and add my name.  Does anyone know of a free program that can perform both these functions for others who might be interested?


  1. Oh this is a shame. I hate to see what is happening to my Pix. I am afraid to look. How do you make your pixels that low? I down load and post as is. People are using watermarks.. do you think that helps? I have no clue how to get one tho. and yes its been HORRIBLE here..but today was lovely. :)

    1. I use Photoshop element to reduce my images, but I'm quite sure there are free programs online -- maybe Picasa can do it.
      I don't use a watermark .. I just use Elements text to add my name to the face of the photo.

  2. This is rampant. Last night I saw many Dr. Seuss images being used by a vendor on etsy. There were other copyright violations there as well. I have had a painting of mine show up as note paper. The painting to my knowledge was never put on line but had been in a book.

    Copyright seems to mean little to individuals and not much more to sites that let participants get away with the violations.

  3. Wow! That's a lot of violations for one image.

    I use Photoshop and the first step I take after starting an image is an action that puts my copyright info in the meta text. (It's easy to record an action.) I also size the image down and sign it before posting. But there's no real protection if someone wants to use your image. If they are using it for profit, complain to their web hosting company if you can tell what it is.

  4. Sorry there aren't better ways to share without giving it all away for anybody's taking. Finding that robin in so many places is at least acknowledgement of your great work.

  5. Oh yes, been there also. I even had a person steal an image from my Facebook and use it for her header. That's why I watermark everything.
    Your art is so woderful I really undrestand why someone would steal it.

  6. You deserve recognition for your beautiful work. Thou shalt Not Steal does not mean much anymore.Thank you for letting me use your Crow for my new book of poems.You are a truly gifted artist with a deep reverence for all creatures great and small