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).