This article appears as part of Photographer's Month.

So you’re browsing the web and you come across a very familiar picture. Why does it look so familiar? Because it’s yours! The Photo Attorney, Carolyn E. Wright, tells you what steps to take next. Her site offers great legal advice for photographers, and this post summarizes her article, Help! I’ve Been Infringed!

Here are the steps you should take:

1. Make copies of the infringement

As soon as you see your property, make a copy of it in print and electronic form. If the infringement is in the form of print, you should first photocopy it, photograph it or scan it, then grab a witness. Likewise, if you find your picture online, print it out or take a screen grab. The infringer may try to hide the evidence or get rid of it all together. Lucky for you, you have proof!

2. Double check that it actually IS an infringement

If you have a licensing agency, is it possible they may have authorized the use of the photo? Or the infringer may be an affiliate of someone you licensed the photo to. Another thing to consider: is this fair use?

3. Check out the Infringer

Find out their contact information or any other information about them. This will come in handy later if you take more serious action.

Now that you’ve got your case, there are 6 things you can do:

Option 1: Do Nothing

You gotta ask yourself, is it really worth your time? In other countries, copyright laws differ from those in North America, so how much effort are you willing to put in to it? Just take it as a compliment; you’re a great photographer who takes amazing photos!

Option 2: Request a Photo Credit

At the end of the day, this may be a good marketing opportunity for you. Ask for a credit on the photo with additional information, such as links back to your site, bio or contact info. Who knows, it may even attract future business. Just be sure to set the terms of use of your photo.

Option 3: Prepare a DMCA takedown

The U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a US copyright law, under which you can demand that your images be removed from another site. Your communication with the other party must:
  • be in writing
  • be signed by the copyright owner or the owner’s agent
  • identify the copyrighted work claimed to be infringed (or list of infringements from the same site)
  • identify the material that is infringing the work
See a more detailed article about DMCA takedowns by Carolyn.

Option 4: Prepare a Cease and Desist/Demand Letter Yourself

This is a relatively nice way to ask the infringer to give you credit or take down the photo. The drawback? The infringer can surprise you with a declaratory judgment claiming that the use is authorized. It can cause you more headache and lead to legal action.

Option 5: Hire a Lawyer to send a demand letter

Involving a lawyer can potentially cause more tension but the letter will be taken more seriously. Lawyers either charge a flat fee or “contingency fee” which is a percentage of recovery.

Option 6: File a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

Filing a lawsuit is the most aggressive step you can take. Just remember to register your copyright before you proceed with the lawsuit at the US Copyright Office or similar offices.


Wave is 100% free accounting software for photographers, freelancers and other small businesses.