Theft! Now What?

Illustration: Uttam Kumar

Illustration: Uttam Kumar

Are you constantly haunted by the thought that your photographs may get stolen? Chandni Gajria tells you what measures you should take if this happens.

Discovering that a publication or a website has used your photographs without permission can be scary. At first, you may be tempted to send an angry email to those who dared to use your image. While this sort of reaction is understandable, you would want to think it over. Here are a few steps that you should take to tackle this issue in a calm, yet effective manner.

Your course of action hinges on the way the offender responds to your complaint.

Do You Own the Picture?
The first question that you need to answer concerns the ownership of the photograph—whom does it belong to? If you have shot a model for a freelance assignment, then does the model have any ownership over the photograph too? Do you have a contract stating that the picture solely belongs to you? Also, try to recollect whether you have submitted your pictures to any publication or their partners for any sort of use, in the past. According to the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, the copyright of the image belongs to its creator if there is no contract about the same. In cases where a photographer has been hired for an assignment or has been working for a company, the image belongs to the employer. Similarly, in wedding photography, copyrights belong to the client, unless the contract states otherwise.

Know Your Opponent
Once you are assured of the sole ownership of the photo, you need to track down the people who have misused your image. Research the background of the company, publication or website in question, and analyse the manner in which your photo has been (mis)used. Have they credited you? Have they cropped or manipulated the image in any manner? Have they stolen someone else’s images in the past as well? Have you been misrepresented and has the picture been used in a negative context? Have they cited the source of the photo? Knowing these answers will help you formulate the next step of the plan.

Complain via Email
The details that you find during an initial background check will help strengthen the overall complaint. A history of such misdemeanours by the company, will help you plan your course of action. While writing to the offender, state the details of ownership, copyright and usage rights of the photograph in question.
Mention the fact that your permission has not been sought. Besides this, you should ask for the clarification of the photo credit, monetary compensation and a link to your blog or website. You can even demand removal of the photo, if it has been uploaded on the web.

The Ideal Course of Action
It could very well be that the offending party has used your image in all ignorance. In such cases, they may want to negotiate appropriate compensation with you. Ideally, they should remove the photo and/or issue a formal corrigendum in their publication itself. The decision to ask for a remuneration or a settlement fee rests entirely with you.
There is another course of action, but we do not recommend it. In a few special instances, if you feel that a photo credit is good enough and that the continued usage of your photo can help promote your work, you can give usage rights to the erstwhile infringer for free.
But if you are doing so, ensure that you explicitly decide conditions such as the manner in which the image can be used, the time frame for the usage, the instances in which the image can be used and so on.

The Power of Social Networking
Besides taking all the previous steps, you can also use social networking sites and blogs to create awareness about the theft of your image. Strong reactions and support from the online community make it difficult for the offending party to ignore your grievance.
In instances where foreign organisations are involved, you might not be able to do much, since they might not be aware of appropriate laws and might just end up issuing a public apology.

Strong reactions from online communities make it difficult for the offending party to ignore your grievance.

File a Lawsuit
When all else fails, you may find yourself forced to consider a lawsuit. But wait, is your image registered under the Indian Copyright Act, 1957? Unless you file for copyright protection with the Registrar of Copyright within 5 years of the image’s creation, you cannot sue anyone for infringement. The registration serves as an evidence in the court of law.
If your images are registered, you can first ask an attorney to send a Letter of Demand instead of filing a full-fledged lawsuit. This letter must state the ownership and the copyright of the image. Image theft is an occupational hazard and may occur frequently. While it is easy and hassle free to let go of misuse, it is also important that you fight for what is rightfully yours.

Find the Stolen Image
It is a useful practice to trawl various sources in order to check whether your images have been misused or stolen. There are a few applications that allow you to run such searches.However these functions do not work across most social networking websites.

  • Google Search By Image: Google’s engine allows you to find pictures that are similar to the one you upload to the image search. The service also provides you with different versions and sizes of the same picture, if they have been uploaded elsewhere.
  • TinEye Reverse Image Search: This unique search engine finds out where the image came from, the way it is being used and whether there are any modified versions. Instead of using keywords, the software creates an individual signature for the image through which it is able to retrieve an exact match.

Educate yourself about the Indian Copyright Act, visit

Tags: Chandni Gajria, Legal Ownership of Photos, Image Copyright, Infringement, Indian Copyright Act, 1957, Registrar of Copyright, Image usage, Image Credit, Lawsuit, Copyright Infringement