Steal My Photos Please!

Back in 2007 I posted a short blog post about the case of Lara Jade, a 17 year old Flickr user who had a non-porn self portrait of her when she was 14 stolen and used as artwork on a porn DVD. I was pleased to see, courtesy of Eric Goldman’s Technology and Marketing Law Blog, that Lara Jade (aka Lara Jade Coton) received in the end a $130,000 judgement over this case of unauthorized use.

The court ruled in favor of Coton and granted her a judgement of $130,000. Yes, $130,000! Now of course Coton has to share some of that money with her lawyers I’m sure and this was about as egregious of a case as one can get with regards to stolen photos — but that’s still a reasonably large judgement. Coton still has to collect the money which might not be easy of course, but it does go to show that in cases of unauthorized use, judgments can be significantly larger than what it would have cost to license a photo in the first place.

From Goldman’s blog:

Net Effect. Coton won this ruling, but I would characterize it as a small win, not a big one. She had so many factors in her favor: copyright infringement, defaults by defendants, sloppy business practices by the defendants and the overall unsavoriness of the tort (associating a 14 year old with porn). At the case outset, if I knew Coton was going to win on liability, I would have estimated a higher case value than $130k. (I presume she got cash from some of her settlements, so the total payday is likely more)

I’ve met a lot of people over the years who fret about stolen photos on the internet. People put big ugly watermarks on their photos. They disable all sized viewing. They disable right click downloading. But the fact of the matter is that if you catch someone using your photos illegally, it very well could be the equivalent of winning the unauthorized photo lottery for you. And catching people using your photos illegally is getting easier and easier with tools on the web. Reverse image search engines like Tin-Eye (for example) allow you to upload any of your photos to their server and it then scours the internet for you looking for where else that photo might be published.

How long will it be before a company like Tin-Eye is able to hook up with the Flickr API and run every single flickr photo in your stream through this sort of reverse search engine? That seems to me like the sort of service that could be huge with flickr users and amateur photographers.

A few months back one of my friends in DMU had a radio station illegally use one of her photos. I asked her how much she wanted for it and we decided on $700. At first the radio station balked and didn’t want to pay. But once we got their legal counsel involved they settled for $700 really quick. She probably could have gotten more money had she actually gone to court, but $700 was what she wanted and it saved her the aggravation of having to go through an actual lawsuit.

Personally I don’t worry about stolen photos. I put all of my photos up in their full high res glory without any sort of watermarks whatsover. Will I have people that use my images? Sure. I don’t care. If people use them for personal or non-profit use my license already allows for that. But if people use them commercially (and as a photographer I want to make it as easy as humanly possible for this to happen) I can sue for much more than the real underlying value of the use of the photo might be if I so desire (or settle with them if this is easier).

Coton’s blog post on her victory here. Dan Heller, “Making Money from your Stolen Images.” Photo Attorney: “Photographer gets $12 million verdict

Thanks, Davis!

Be Sociable, Share!
Loading Facebook Comments ...


  1. Rahul Pathak says:

    Great, post Thomas.

    Savvy, analytical, and logical perspective – I love it. Kudos on being able to see past the emotion of the situation.


  2. Rick says:

    Very cool, and I’m glad you’re advocating for use of the Creative Commons license. I see too many pro photographers who are claiming it waters down copyright laws, but maybe they’re just worried about some kid with a Canon Rebel who might actually take better pictures than they do.

  3. Tommy says:

    Great post, Thomas.

    For years I’ve wondered if there would ever be such a search engine as Tin-Eye. Thanks!


  4. Jess Dennnnnnnis says:

    Solid post.

    I only put watermarks on my concert shots because they (client) want them to look like there were ‘professionally’ shot, and I never put them in the way of the shot. If someone really wanted to take it and claim it as their own, they could easy crop the watermark out.

    ALSO, nothing prevents screen-shots.

  5. Shawn Lynch says:


    I am a photographer and I understand copyright and wanting to protect ones images. What I am affraid of is where you say, “But if people use them commercially (and as a photographer I want to make it as easy as humanly possible for this to happen) I can sue for much more than the real underlying value of the use of the photo might be if I so desire (or settle with them if this is easier).”

    To me, this sounds a lot like entrapment. I know entrapment has to do with members of law enforcement setting someone up to commit a crime they may not otherwise commit, and since you are not someone in law enforcement, you are probably safe, but if a judge, jury, or whomever were to hear you speaking like this, it may hurt your case. You already are making it murky by allowing certain people to use your photos for free for certain purposes, but then saying, no wait, I didn’t say you could use it for that purpose! Hahaha, now hand over the six-figure check!

    Don’t get me wrong, if someone infringes you, then they deserve to pay up, but when you tempt them and dare them to, it kind of seems like your fault once they actually follow through on it, no?

    I hope you can see some validity in my views and this is not an attack on yours. I just want you to look closer at what you are saying and see if you think that is the best way to put it. People who are not photographers would probably see this thought process as sneaky and greedy and if they start thinking all photographers are like this, well then that hurts all of us.

  6. That appears to be excellent although i’m just still not so sure that I favor it. However will look even more into it and choose personally! 🙂