I’ve been a toy photographer now for nearly five years, and this week something happened to me for the first time: I had someone steal my photos and post them as their own!
For all I know, this actually has happened to me before and I just haven’t noticed. The internet is a big place, and I’ve posted my images far and wide. I see photos from other artists pop up without attribution all the time. But this is the first time it’s actually come to my attention as happening to me, thanks to our good friend Tomek.
While cycling through my notifications one night this week, I noticed that Tomek had tagged me in a comment. The photo was mine – my Singing in the Rain tribute – but it was posted to an account by the name of Lego Picks. I immediately assumed this was one of those re-share accounts we see all over the community, like @brickcentral or @starwarstheblackseries. Then I read Tomek’s comment: “Is this your photo, @thereeljames23?”
That’s when I realized it had been swiped and re-posted without credit. Thinking maybe it was a mistake, I checked the rest of @legopicks’ feed. All of the photos – dozens of them posted in quick succession over the last two months – were stolen. There were 4 more of my own photos posted that I’d completely missed. If it weren’t for Tomek’s sharp eye I’d have missed the theft entirely!
I debated whether to include the link to @legopicks’ account here on the blog, as I don’t want him/her gaining more exposure for copyright infringement. But I thought that if I had missed this, other photographers must have too. I saw several photos from multiple members of our community, like Shelly, Chris McVeigh, @foolishbricks, and @eat_my_bricks. So I’m trying to spread the word. Go scan the account, and see if any of your photos have been stolen.
Even though we’re photographing toys that are technically the intellectual property of other companies, we still have rights as artists that protect us from theft and copyright infringement. Here’s how Instagram itself identifies copyright:
Generally, copyright protects original expression such as words or images. It does not protect facts and ideas, although it may protect the original words or images used to describe an idea. Copyright also doesn’t protect things like names, titles and slogans; however, another legal right called a trademark might protect those…
Observe & Report
Instagram has a system for reporting copyright infringement, though I was surprised to find out that they make it a bit difficult to do so. The first thing you have to do is click on the “…” on either the user’s page, or on the image itself. You’re given several options, either “Report User” if you’re on their page, or “Report inappropriate” if you’re on the image itself.
Then, you have several more options. Oddly, there isn’t immediately an option to report copyright infringement. You have to scroll past things like “I just don’t like it” and choose “Other.”
Then, you’re offered even more choices. “Intellectual property violation” is finally within our grasp!
Once you finally get the option to choose intellectual property violation, you’re given this super helpful box, which only gives you the choice to “Learn More,” not report the image.
You’re then redirected to this page that details what intellectual property is and various actions you can take. There still isn’t the option of reporting the image or user. To do so, you need to, again, “Learn more.”
Then, finally, you arrive at your destination: Another page detailing what copyright violations are, with the option to now fill out a form to report the user in question.
From there, the process is pretty straightforward. You complete a few multiple-choice questions, provide the links to the copyright photos, proof that they’re yours (which can simply be links to your page and original photos), and write a blurb about why you’re reporting. But be warned! What Instagram doesn’t tell you is that they give your email address to the person you’re reporting when they notify them. I have no idea why, as I see no outcome other than further abuse directly from the person you’re reporting. I also don’t know why Instagram doesn’t include a little disclaimer about this until after you file your report. It may be smart to use a secondary email just in case.
After all the hoops I had to jump through to get to the form, I admittedly didn’t have much faith in Instagram to actually do anything about it. Yet about a half hour later, I received confirmation that my report had gone through, and the photos in question had been taken down. I’m not sure if anything happened to @legopicks to ensure they won’t keep doing this. As of right now the account is still live, and only my photos were taken down.
When you file a report, you can only do so for your own photos. So while I explained in my report that all of the photos on the account were counterfeit, it didn’t matter. Perhaps if enough people file reports, the account can be taken down or @legopicks will learn their lesson and start crediting the original artists.
I’m not opposed to people sharing my work. In fact, it makes me happy that someone liked my photos enough to download and re-share them to their own followers. I am never against the various re-share accounts in the community, as they do a great job for those looking for more exposure. I’ve discovered many a photographer thanks to the folks behind pages like @brickcentral or @toptoyphotos. The difference is that those accounts give credit.
What I’m left with is the question, “Now what?” Is there a way to protect myself from this happening again? Probably not. Even if I do something like watermark my photos – something I’ve never really wanted to do – it won’t stop someone from downloading my pictures and re-posting them without credit. There’d also be nothing stopping them from simply cropping the watermark or editing it out.
Perhaps the only thing to do is keep an eye out, and report the thieves when you see them. And don’t forget to tag your fellow photographers if you see this happening to them! I really appreciate Tomek for bringing this to my attention. Hopefully this blog post does the same for someone else.
Have you ever had your photos stolen? What did you do about it? Do you try anything to avoid copyright infringement? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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