I am an artist/designer/fabricator/installer of a unique type of furniture/decoration, using wood in combination with other materials. I have an interesting niche, been in business for 14 years.
Using google image search, I recently searched for my own photos from my website. (If using the Chrome browser, right click any photo, select "Search google for this image").
WOW was I surprised, almost all my photos are being infringed on many websites, not only just across America but globally. Previously I knew of a small handful of infringers using my photos on a few websites in America. Usually I would call them up or email them, ask them to remove my photos, and they would do so. They would usually BS me first saying those photos are of their products, but eventually they would agree to remove my specific photos from their website once they realized I truly was the person who built and installed that particular item.
Just for clarification, when I am referring to 'my photos', these are photos on my website, which I personally took, with my camera, of items I personally designed, sold, fabricated & installed. I am not reusing other stock photos, etc, Completely original self-made work. Each item we produce is custom built per client spec. No stock items, so every photo is of a unique size/shape/finish for our client. We ship and/or install nationwide, sometimes around the world depending on the project.
Anyway, google image search shows me my photos are being used on HUNDREDS of websites around the world. Even ebay auctions are using my photos. I am seeing shops in China, India, France, Romania, UK, Brazil, Italy, Germany, Russia using my photos on their website, being represented as products they build/sell.
I totally welcome the competition, my niche is small but still bigger than I would wish to try to keep all to myself. I also enjoy seeing other people's versions of concept/media of our product, because everyone has their own approach they all look different.
However I do not wish to have them use my photos.
Many of the styles of our product were invented by me, and I have seen various competitors over the years copy my designs. That was annoying enough to see my unique aspects get copied by others, but at least they were using their own photos.
Now that I see my photos are being used, I really want to stop that as much as possible. If people searching for my product are seeing my photos on many other websites, they will assume I am just copying the same 'stock' photos my competitors are.
In the past when I found handfuls of infrnigers in the U.S.A., a few phone calls & emails cleared it up. sometimes it may take a while to prod the infringer to update their website to remove photos, but they eventually do.
But now that I have Hundreds of infringers, that would take weeks maybe months of non-stop work to get it all taken down - and foreign infringers would be even more difficult to deal with.
I have to nod my hat with a little bit of respect to a certain Chinese infringer -- I emailed one Chinese company and asked them to remove my photos, and they were straight-up truthful to me the first time - they told me they steal my photos and copy my product. I can at least admire them being honest with me that they are stealing my photos. but still they disagreed to remove them.
So what do I do?
Just give up and accept my photos are ripped off everywhere? In some ways it is actually flattering to know my design is admired enough to have people interested enough to duplicate it worldwide. That is truly an honor. On the other hand, it also feels that the whole world is stealing from me, or at least abusing my artwork by stealing my photos.
Has anybody encountered similar problems? Any solutions?
On the one hand, there is little you can do unless you are willing to spend a lot of money on legal services. Assuming you have a copyright statement on your site, they are in violation of copyright laws and you have every right to demand removal. Enforcing that is another matter and can get expensive.
In the meantime, watermark your photos. It does detract from the appearance of your product but will stop a big percentage of the image thefts. Most of the ones stealing your images are too lazy or ignorant to take the effort to remove the watermark. Also, talk to the designer of your site about coding your site to prevent right click copies. True that can be defeated, but again the majority of the low life's your dealing with are lazy and just looking for easy pickings on images.
I've had the same problem. One thing I found is to put your logo on every picture. That way if they want to use your picture they have to crop out your logo. Making your "complete" image distinctly different than the others. Or a "watermark". But once its out there, its hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Good luck.
I am working on a revised website, and I agree watermarks will probably be used. Honestly I hate to do that because I feel it blemishes the photos, but guess that is the lesser of 2 evils.
LEO, thanks for the DMCA information. That will help for infringers located in the U.S. However most of my infringers are international. Is there any similar legal framework that can be threatened against the websites?
Trying to keep legal costs to a minimum if possible.
Watermarks will stop some, though others will just remove it via photoshop. Although it has been funny I have seen some infringers keep my logo which was visible on a trade show display. Another one even copied a photo which included ME standing next to one of my installations!
All else fails, this is something to encourage me to work on new designs which have been bouncing around in my head. Once my existing designs have been thoroughly raped and plundered it only means I have to introduce new ideas to keep my business as the source of innovations.
Just out of curiosity, what do you think has been the effect on your business? Did you see a nice growth curve in this product suddenly fall off? Are you capable of handling more demand? What do you think would happen if you were the only one showing these images?
I've run into that a number of times, most times when you contact the company, they agree to take the pictures down. But there are always a few "low-lifes" that can't do for themselves, so they have to steal from others and somehow feel justified in doing so.
In the end, I find the joke is on them, they build themselves a "reputation" (they don't just steal pictures) and it always catches up with them. In a small, tight-knit industry like the hardwood industry, people talk ... and listen ... to those they know are honest. A great man once said, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." The people with so little self-esteem and talent as have to steal to make a living, well they are just fooling themselves.
It is hard to determine the effect of the infringement. There are just a small handful of companies competing in my niche in the U.S.A. The established competition uses their own photos, though they have copied my ideas.
The domestic infringers do seem to be 'shadier' companies and while I have seen some projects lost to them, I would probably assume the more discerning clients would recognize the difference in reputation between us and them.
The international infringers, especially in Europe/Russia, probably are trying to cater to their local market. I do get some international sales in locations like that but I know I can't compete pricewise with any local source because the cost of shipping/exporting to those countries is very expensive. However I still would prefer they use their own photos instead of stealing mine!
A large majority of our sales also come from repeat clients and word-of-mouth from satisfied clients or people who see our installations.
It does seem the infringes and Chinese imports have been taking away my lower-end sales. People looking for absolute lowest dollar price have stopped buying from me, and to be honest this is probably a good thing - those clients were the projects that made minimal profit with the most fussy clients. So that leaves me with fewer but higher quality clients.
More than once I have lost bids for a project, only for the client to eventually order from me later after their low-bid supplier provided junk quality product with no support.
If I was the only one using my specific photos, it would help distinguish my quality versus theirs. There are many seeming small details in our design which make the final result much more polished, which would be apparent in the other companies photos if they weren't using mine.
Guess my biggest fear is a client sees my photo on a website of a subquality competitor, orders it, dissappointed with their result, and then assume my company is the same because they see the same photos.
Overall my sales have grown every single year since I started 14 years ago, with the exception of this past year. However my current slump has mainly been results of my divorce about 3 years ago - ex-wife has been brutal attacking me through the court system. She surely has caused my business more damage than all the infringers put together. I expect the Chinese to cooperate before she will!
12/10 #10: What to do about photos being infri ...
It is probably Google that is spreading most of your images. When anyone does a search for images, Google gathers thousands of images related to that search. Yours from your website can be some of those pictures.
Your pictures are then snatched from the search, not directly from your website. When you place an image on the web you are practically giving up all rights to it.
I found an image of a coffered ceiling I did on a site selling ceiling kits. I have found my design drawing images on several sites. My work hasn't been hurt by any of this.
12/10 #11: What to do about photos being infri ...
Yes, Google is a double-edge sword: helps get your product visible, yet opens you up to be vulnerable.
It is a strange feeling. Being infringed does feel like my artwork is being abused, but at the same time I feel honored my artwork is liked well enough to be copied worldwide and that my designs are inspiring people globally.
Makes me wonder if there are other unconventional opportunities in all this, besides just trying to get others to remove my photos.
Here's a few oddball ideas for other approaches (keep in mind this is just brainstorming).
Google ranks pages for their search results using many factors, including links connecting to other websites of similar genre. Maybe I could make a website that contains links to every website I can find that is infringing my photos, and this website can explain that all these other suppliers are stealing my photos while I also tout the benefits of purchasing directly from me. Is it possible that creating such a website could obtain top ranking in google searches? This would be a kung-fu move: use the opponent's weight and momentum to my advantage.
Or find a way to colaborate with all the other shops to distribute work? While I have always been able to expand when needed to accommodate growth, there would be some advantages to having resources of shops located in other countries. If there is any way to get a small commission from multiple shops worldwide, that could be a nice side revenue stream. However this would be difficult to enforce, and how could I trust a shop who I haven't met and first awareness of them is finding my stolen photos.
I know these are offbeat ideas, but does anybody think something like that could work?
12/10 #12: What to do about photos being infri ...
Or by linking to your competitors site, you've done the leg work for your potential client and given them the name and contact number of a lower priced competitor for, in their minds, the exact same product. They won't care that you state the other site is infringing on your designs, everybody copies everybody else in this day and age. I'll bet your designs are inspired in part by ideas you've seen; are you infringing on them?
You can let this bother you, or you can keep coming up with new ideas, or you can try to spin it to your advantage like you've suggested. But you'll never stop the copy catting, the world is a big place.
12/11 #14: What to do about photos being infri ...
Paul - if I do create a webpage of infringers I would do it with a completely separate domain name. That way my main website would be buffered from unforeseen consequences from this experiment. I haven't heard of anybody doing something like this before, so there are 'unknown unknowns'. If I use a separate domain name worse case if something gets crazy I can just nuke that domain to get rid of it.
Chad - correct, copycatting will never go away. Hence my curiosity of trying some novel approaches to the problem. Since it will never fully go away, what can I do to reap benefits from this? I could keep ignoring most infringements against me like I have done so far and continue doing my business as I have always done. I am feeling frisky to stir the pot, shake things up a little and see what happens. I can't help to think that my designs being infringed on a global scale represents opportunity to be taken advantage from. What exactly that advantage is I am not sure, but I can't shake the idea from my head that a unique approach should be considered.
Yes, I have been inspired by other designs that have influenced me. However some of the developments I made were completely new from anything else which was available. I have also only advertised using photos of my own designs taken myself. I would not steal someone else's photo to use without permission to represent as my own work.
Yes, there is a concern of providing a list of alternate sources to my services. Though that may not necessarily be as big of a problem if the infringers are spread out around the world. Our products are relatively large & delicate, so shipping can be really expensive, especially internationally. i.e. one infringer is based in Romania - I doubt that anybody located in another country could service Romanian clients more economically and expediently than the shop based in Romania.
Also, part of my motivation is to find a creative solution that may help other businesses too. This is a problem that every creator who publishes their original photos online experiences. Maybe we can find a new approach to help us all deal with this.
12/12 #16: What to do about photos being infri ...
I am a photographer by trade and a cabinetmaker by hobby. What you describe is an age old problem going all the way back to film days. However, with the advent of digital imagery, what you're experiencing is hard to fight but necessary. Copyright laws in the U.S. are definitive and the reason why domestic "infringers" comply readily. The rest of the world is, well, an oyster to be shucked by anyone with an ounce of greed in their heart and a half-baked product to peddle. The majority of my work is "work for hire" so it concerns my clients more than me as I've already been paid. That said, my personal work resides on my own machines and rarely anywhere else. T'is the world in which we live. Good luck.
12/17 #18: What to do about photos being infri ...
That copyright, of course will not prevent folks from taking images, but for all those who are not skilled in cropping, it will reveal the origin of the image. If you have Photoshop or most image editing program you can also edit the metadata of the image and few people really know how to alter the metadata.
12/29 #19: What to do about photos being infri ...
Creating a web page with links to infringers will do nothing but help them. Most people pay for back links. If you create links for free you might just get even more infringers. I might suggest that you get people to provide attribution with a link to your web site. They get to use your pictures and you get lots of back links driving more traffic. Possibly a win-win for these folks and you?
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