Tracking Down the Copyright Infringers

Image theft seems to grow and expand. Here, we find out what options are available for recourse and hear of success in protecting one’s copyright. 

Guest post by Julian Jackson.

David Hoffman is a UK photographer, and a bulldog who chases copyright infringers. While I was on the phone, interviewing him for this article, a British city council coughed up £12,500 ($16,000) for stealing his images and using them for four years. That is a pretty big victory. He chases infringers in any jurisdictions he thinks he can get a result, which includes the USA. I am going to outline his methods later on in the article but first let me tell you a bit about his career.

Brixton riots, London 1981. Police advance on barricades in Railton Road as they clear the streets.© David Hoffman
Brixton riots, London 1981. Police advance on barricades in Railton Road as they clear the streets. © David Hoffman

He has been a photojournalist for 40 years. His beat is “social documentary photography” – he covers social issues, riots and protests, drug use, marginalised and homeless people. Although he used to work for photo agencies, he now licenses his own images, and gets a good proportion of his income from chasing up infringers.

His images are still in demand. Two films are going to be using them and he also has pictures published on websites and magazines. He is working on digitising his whole collection and then starting on a book and putting on exhibitions of his photography next year.

© David Hoffman
© David Hoffman

He says, “The commercial photography industry is losing billions in unpaid fees.” He cites Google Images and Facebook as companies which are effectively using other peoples’ creative work for commercial advantage without payment. He has obtained payment for unauthorised uses of images from The Huffington Post, MSN, Vice, and other major businesses.

He subscribes to various services which search for usages, and then he divides the infringers into two categories – either they are in jurisdictions where it is impossible to pursue, like China, or they are bloggers where the money is not worth chasing; or they are commercial companies who can, and should pay for the use of images, including major publishers, big pharmaceutical companies, and a “UK City Council” – who really ought to know better. They used 14 pix of his over four years in print publications and on their website, after cropping out David’s copyright information, so it is not as though they didn’t know what they were doing. David does a lot of the tedious business of pursuing infringers himself as well as using anti-infringement services like ImageRights.

David works closely with the Boston-based company, who offer three services to photographers and agencies: they track usages of images; they have an automated process to register images with the US Copyright Office; and they pursue infringers and recover damages.

Joe Naylor, founder and CEO says, “We’ve been going since 2008. We have a team of assessors and partner with nearly 50 law firms in the USA, Europe, Australia and other jurisdictions. Our software helps us assess the cases. We have three stages – cases that are not worth pursuing, cases that we will chase ourselves – we have a 60% success rate – and then ones that merit pursuing via our legal partners.”

ImageRights photographers receive 50-60% of the net recovery amount. If the court case is lost, or they cannot collect any damages, the photographer is not on the hook for fees, which must be a relief for many creatives.

Joe is particularly proud of the automated registration system, which allows ImageRights’ 7000 photographers to register their work with the US Copyright Office via the ImageRights application. This has probably saved numerous snappers from stress-related heart attacks, given the general frustration the USCO seems to engender.

Joe says that if an image is “Registered Timely” that makes a significant difference in the money that can be recovered. He quotes $1000-2000 in cases without, and perhaps $15K-40K for fees where the images have been correctly registered. “We have settled cases for upwards of $250,000.”

David says that he receives “at least 5 times” his subscription fees to ImageRights each year, which seems like a good deal. Although mainly representing individual photographers, ImageRights also represents Magnum, New-York based CPi and UK agency Lickerish.

David also recommends imagewitness as well as Google Reverse Image Search for tracking down uses. He is trialling PicScout at the moment. He also thinks highly of as a portfolio site that makes it very difficult to steal images from.

He does feel that the courts systems often do not penalise infringers sufficiently – if they only have to cough up the fees they would have had to pay anyway, there is little incentive for them to pay, rather than if they had to fear stiff financial penalties for the blatant infringements and misuse of his work that he uncovers. However, at least one infringer is feeling $16K worse off in the wallet today!

juliancoffeshopcuJulian Jackson is a writer with extensive experience of picture research, whose main interests include photography and the environment. His portfolio is here: He also runs a Picture Research by Distance Learning Course Linked-in profile.

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