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What to Do If Your Instagram Photo Gets Stolen

Have you ever experienced image theft? You are casually surfing the Internet or scrolling through Instagram when a particular image catches your attention. You recognize that it is one of the many photos you personally took and it has been used without your permission. This unfair act is called online image theft. Everyone who has experienced this can agree that dealing with this can be especially frustrating for budding professional photographers.

But do not fret. Here are some steps you can take if you find yourself in this nasty situation.

Triple Check

The first step you have to do is to make sure the photo belongs to you. Remember that in this digital age, it is not impossible to see identical images online. Accusing someone, especially a company, with theft is a serious matter. It is best to have all your facts checked first.

  • Search your drives for the original copy of your shot.
  • Check your records if you have sold it to anyone in particular or recognized distributor where it may have been purchased by the website in question.
  • While you are at it, take a step back and triple check if you have uploaded the said image in any copyright free image sharing platform, such as Pexels, Pixabay, or Unsplash. Sharing photos on these websites open up photos for creative commons licensing, which means acknowledgment or payment to use it is not required.

Inform The Website About It

When you are 100 percent sure that the photo in question is yours, you can now contact the company or the website through email.

  • What to say – Inform them that the photo published on their site is yours, it is not free for use, and if they could please take it down.
  • What to include – Don’t forget to include a clear screenshot of the photo on their website so that they will know instantly which photo you are talking about. This also serves as your evidence in case things get a little messy.
  • How to do it – Make sure that you keep a professional and polite tone in your email. Do not threaten them with legal action during the first email, especially if you are only bluffing. Nothing good comes out with starting things negatively.


Most of the time, an email from the photographer is enough for the website to come to its senses, acknowledge their mistake and take down the photo immediately. Some would even offer to pay for the image properly to make amends. When this happens, consider yourself lucky because you have just gained a new business connection that can potentially work out in the long run.

On the contrary, this can also go a different way.  You may not be able to receive an apology but the company may take it down from their website. If this happens to you, it is all right to let the matter go. What is worse is when the company fights back, give ridiculous reasons, insult you, and even be the first to intimidate you by saying they can take you to court. Do not let these abusive companies get the best of you by responding impulsively.

Send a DMCA Notice

Find out what web hosting service the website in question is using. Is it hosted by WordPress, Blogger, or BlueHost? Majority of the big web hosting providers strictly adhere to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 or DMCA, which legally protects digital works from copyright infringement. The copyright holder will simply complete the online complaint form from the web host’s site or they can send the complaint via email or printed letter.

The web hosting provider will review the content and once they have verified that the DMCA notice is valid, they will automatically take down the content from the website. They will then send a notice to the website owner informing them of the incident. If the website owner does not counter the DMCA notice they will get a strike. If a website receives a certain number of strikes, which makes them a repeat offender, their account is at risk of being suspended and can be subjected to penalties.

Suing for Legal Damages

If you want to take the case a step further, you can seek legal help and sue the company for damages, which is usually in monetary form. You have all the right to do this especially if you have registered your photographs properly with the copyright office. Although you can still pursue legal action if you did not register your photo, your chances of winning the case can be a bit low.

Before getting into this messy legal battle, you can also first attempt to demand payment from the company by sending them a formal invoice stating the price of the photo and your licensing conditions through email. If the company concedes and complies to your payment request, it is best to let it go after they wire the money. Taking this to court would require considerable time, money, and energy on your part and a brilliant copyright lawyer to win you the case, particularly if you are going against a huge company.

How To Protect Your Photos From Online Image Theft

Like they always say, prevention is better than cure. While there is no absolute way to ensure that no one steals your creative photos, there are some steps that you can take to at least make it tons harder for them and to deter them from doing so.

Here are some tips.

  • Use low-resolution when uploading images online. Let’s be honest. No one wants a pixelated image on their website.
  • Always put watermarks in strategic parts of your photos. The lazy ones will not even bother wasting their time to Photoshop it.
  • Try image tracking services. It can be impossible and time-consuming to keep track if any of your photos are being used without your authorization. Pixsy and PicScout are just some excellent options that have their own anti-image theft technology. They can also roll out the fee collection and the legal action against the offenders in your behalf.

Date: February 28, 2019 / Categories: Guide, / Author: Rich Drees


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