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When I first discovered the rampant theft of my images, I never dreamed the frustrating hours it would take to regain control. There were nights I seriously questioned whether or not I’d actually survive this hit. But with all the support and encouragement I received along the way (thank you!), hope soon replaced the feelings of despair and I gained a strength I didn’t know I had.

“Is there a problem, Occifer?” (Eastern Grey Squirrel) Nikon D300, 290mm, F/5, 1/125s, ISO 640, Nik SIlver Efex Pro ‘Floral’ Filter

Over these past three weeks, I have become well-versed in finding stolen images and how to use WHOIS to locate the proper folks with whom to make a claim.

I have filed countless DMCA forms, have sent numerous takedown notices and have gained invaluable knowledge about image protection and my rights as an artist. I’ve come to realize the only person who can truly protect my images is ME and I have begun taking the necessary steps to do so. Though I still have weeks of work ahead of me, the rose-colored glasses are off, my friends, and I am indeed, wide awake.

At last count (and I find infringements every day), over 85 different images were being used without my knowledge or permission. The actual number of violations, however, lies somewhere in the 250 range since many images were found on multiple sites all across the United States and throughout the world.

While some infractions were minor (e.g., image posted on a blog or used as an avatar), others were much more serious (images displayed on commercial sites, images used to sell products, images used in YouTube videos, images used as backgrounds, images used in online news articles, images posted on a photography tutorial site, images altered and so on). And, yes, there still remains the issue of the playground image used on an EP cover by a UK artist (the toughest pill of all).

I estimate that I’ve been able to get 95% of the images removed. Some, I may never get removed. New motto: learn, accept, protect, move on.

A hearty THANK YOU! goes out to the following sites: Google, Tumblr, YouTube, Polyvore, Instagram, Wikispaces, Facebook, WordPress and GoDaddy (as well as other countless hosting sites here and abroad) who take copyright violation seriously and acted promptly on my behalf.

There is one particular infraction, however, that I feel compelled to single out since the response by the thief is one that I think you all should hear. It started out innocently enough (as things always do).

~ Here’s the tale ~

While performing my arduous image search, I came across this photo of mine on a so-called “educational” wild life site:

“Snowy Mourning” (Mourning Doves) Nikon D300, 400mm, F/7.1, 1/200s, +0.3EV

No link back to my blog and no credit except for my copyright stamp in the lower right-hand corner (at the time, the center visible watermark was not present). Okay, nothing really new… or so I thought. As I looked more closely at the site to locate the contact information, I read the site’s very lengthy and explicit copyright statement:

Hmmm… how… very… interesting. Ladywildlife had taken it upon herself to offer MY copyrighted Mourning Dove image to others to download/print and use for FREE without MY permission or knowledge and yet, at the same time, appeared to have gone to great length to protect “her” site’s content.

You can imagine my reaction. 

I clicked on “CONTACT ME” and filled in the form requesting my image be removed, pointing out the irony of the site’s copyright statement. When I encountered difficulty in submitting said form (couldn’t confirm it was filed), I performed a WHOIS search the following day and located an e-mail address for the site’s webmaster. I then sent a DMCA notice to the webmaster claiming ownership of the image and requesting its immediate removal. 

After weeks of no response, I received the following e-mail this past Saturday (please click to view larger):

Ladywildlife E-mail

Seriously? You take my image and when I ask for it to be removed, THIS is the response I get?

Allow me to clear a few things up:

First, I did not, by any means, attack ladywildlife. I used the contact form contained on her site and requested my copyrighted image to be removed. When I feared the request wasn’t going through via that form, I followed up with a DMCA notice to the webmaster which is in my rights to do so (and has proven to be very effective). As an aside, I do not feel it necessary to be nice to those who take my creative work without my consent. 

Second, I found no link (or links page) or credit back to me or my blog. No idea what ladywildlife is referring to here.

Third, what on earth gives ladywildlife the right to declare my site as not safe for children? (Can you say, libel?) This couldn’t be further from the truth. However, I am glad viewers of ladywildlife will not be visiting my site since the only reason they would be doing so would be to grab wildlife images for their use without my knowledge. No thank you.

Fourth, ladywildlife, you most certainly did take my image. For someone who claims to be well-versed in copyright law, you have it all wrong. Finding images via a Google image search does not make them free to use nor absolve you from copyright infringement. Furthermore, when you click on an image in Google, the following statement appears in the side-bar: “Images may be subject to copyright.” So, if my visible copyright stamp wasn’t enough of an indication the image was protected, Google was attempting to inform you to do your homework before downloading and using said image.

Fifth, with regards to the copyright statement on my site, what you call ‘sloppy wording’ is the standard verbiage from the US Copyright Office and is actually, not even necessary to protect my site’s content. (All that is required is “© 2009-2012 Tracy Milkay/Milkay Photography  All rights reserved”). However, you will notice that I have since expanded my statement to be crystal clear so there is no room for confusion.

Sixth, thank you for the reminder about contacting the various search engines to get the older, un-watermarked versions of my images removed from searches and cache. This was initially lower down on my ‘to-do’ list but now I understand the importance of sending such requests at the same time I implement my image changes. A win-win for me. 

“Nope, I haven’t seen your missing peanut” (Eastern Grey Squirrel) Nikon D300, 400mm, F/5, 1/160s, ISO 640, Nik Silver Efex Pro ‘Center Focus’ filter w/Selective Toning

So there it is, folks. The above example is by far the most extreme case I have encountered to date. Fortunately, the majority of responses I’ve received have fallen to the other end of the spectrum, from honorable folks who’ve apologized for using an image of mine and have either removed it per my request or provided the proper credit/link.

I understand image theft is a widespread problem, experienced by artists all over the internet and my situation is nothing new. The internet is indeed, a complicated place (it is not called a “web” for nothing).

On the one hand, it provides a global platform for self-promotion of creative work and that is an amazing thing! However, on the other hand, it also exposes one’s work to theft, which is a tragedy. My goal here is to educate those in the creative arts field as well as those who are not. (I also hope to soon return back to the art of taking photos and look forward to the day where this is all behind me.)

My message is this:

To artists, do everything you can to protect your work!

To the rest of the communityplease respect and support the work of writers, photographers, graphic designers, painters, etc., and think before you download/use content you find on the internet. There are working artists behind those creative works who are trying to make a living and when their work is taken, without their permission or knowledge and with no compensation back to them, how can they continue to do so?

As always, your comments and ideas are welcome. I do not profess to know how to resolve this problem but hopefully, by simply opening up this dialog, together we can raise awareness. Spread the word.

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40 Comments

  1. Your report is very thought provoking and terrifying. Although I have not found NEAR as many thefts of my photos I think soon have to make a protection of my photos too. Although these watermarks certainly do not make the experience of the pictures better ….
    I am impressed by your energy in the fight against these people – and in spreading your knowledge and thus helping us. Thank you!

    • I commend you, Truels, for reading all the way through! I hope to never have to write such a long post again!

      It is a double-edged sword, my friend. I despise the visible watermark on my images but feel I have no choice. Not after what I am going through. The case I posted makes me realize just how un-educated the public is regarding copyrights of images and that if a photo is out there for the taking, you can be sure, it will be taken.

      I plan on posting a separate page re: image theft and protection. It will contain notes on the dangers out there, what you can do to protect yourself, the various tools to use to locate your images and what to do when you find an image stolen. It will take some time to get that information out there as right now, protecting my current work is top priority.

      I so appreciate your support, Truels! I was down for awhile but when I finally picked myself back up, I decided to come out swinging. Can’t let them win, right? ;-)

  2. The ignorance out there is simply astounding to me. What strikes me most of all is the irony of ladywildlife’s response to you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a poorly composed and spelled piece of business email in my life! I find it difficult to believe that any school or teacher would make use of such a site. Best of luck to you in your quest to protect your images.

    • The ignorance astounds me as well, Karma! Knowing your background, I was wondering what you, in particular, would think of the e-mail. I thought the very same thing, which is why I chose to include a screenshot of the actual email itself (rather than retyping in the text) lest folks thought I was making it up!

      I appreciate your wishes, Karma! I am doing my best to overcome this. I have over 850 images on WP alone so the work ahead of me is grand. Each day, I chip away at it as well as my images out on Redbubble. This has been a very eye-opening experience. Thank you for your comment! :-)

  3. Some people, I will never understand, and quite possibly it is for the best.
    I am so sorry this happened.
    I cannot even begin to fathom all of the time you have put into this.
    You are amazing!

    • Yes, I do think it is best we not understand them!

      Thank you for your kind words and support, Lisa. It means a great deal to me. :-)

      I think you may be giving me more credit than I deserve since I have had many a “less than amazing” moments during all of this. I suppose some could say justifiably so, but I do not like the person I’ve had to become. I am fighting hard not to become bitter and it is with the help of readers like yourself, who have taken the time to comment and provide support, that will keep me away from the ‘dark side’.

      Thanks again, and hugs! :-)

  4. Tracy,
    Ladywildlife’s response begs belief… it’s libellous, hypocritical, inaccurate, and unprofessional on more levels than is reasonable.
    It’s blatantly clear that she thinks that if it come from Google that it’s instantly her property without restrictions and nothing is further from the truth.
    “Unsafe for children” and “attack” are strong words, and she should expect to be able to back up her accusations with evidence.that would stand up in a court of law and if she can’t then she is skating on very thin ice indeed..
    ….but to “give her her dew”, it’s also clear from the massive spelling errors that this lady is far from educated and maybe she just does not have the capacity to understand a rational and polite request.

    • Hi Kiwi!

      Thank you for your words! (I wish I had you by my side when creating this post!) You’ve said many things I simply could not for fear I would come across as angry or bitter or “attackful”. In all of this I’ve chosen to remain on a professional level but oh, the urge to simply SCREAM is there under the surface! (breathe, breathe, breathe…)

      I also thought it interesting that she came back with such a defensive approach (though thieves are known to respond this way when cornered…an intimidation tactic, I believe). She even tried to block me from viewing her site but, please…I’m married to an IT guy and such feeble attempts are almost… amusing. What I have noticed, though, is many animal image pages are no longer available on her site so I am guessing she had other copyrighted and/or unauthorized images posted that she has since quickly removed. If that is indeed true and I had a hand in getting them removed, well then, I take it as a (small) victory.

      You are probably correct in your assessment of her educational level. Apparently, she is very good at taking the content of others to create her site as I seriously doubt any of the text posted is of her own (simply based upon her e-mail writing skills as well as the verbiage of her copyright notice). Why anyone would go to her site rather than any of the reputable wildlife sites on the web, I have no idea.

      Thank you for your support, Kiwi! It has come at a time I need it most! :-)

  5. Keep swinging, Tracy!! And thank you so much for the information you have provided about this topic. While we would all like to believe the best of people, the sad truth is that many live by the ‘pirate code’ stated in the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”- Take what you can, give nothing back! It is a fine balance to stay optimistic about displaying our work and the pessimism created by experiences like yours. I’m betting on you to rise above this! :)

    • I’m trying, Ted! :-)

      I so appreciate your support! I will read these positive messages over and over when the days are long and I’m feeling discouraged. Many times I thought about simply giving up but I’ve put way too much time and effort into my work to simply let it go. All I can do is climb up the mountain before me knowing at some point, I will reach the summit and I hear the view from up there is spectacular. :-)

      Thanks for the encouragement! (and for the smile today! I love the “pirate code” reference! ;-) ) You, and others, are proof-positive the world is not all bad and I refuse to let a minority of folks muddy my outlook! :-)

  6. All seems a bit crazy doesn’t it… and utterly disgraceful how some people can just take what they want without remorse or credit.. One sad justification for me not feeling the compulsion to post much these days… Glad you’re beginning to get on top of things though Tracy..

    • Indeed, Bri! I do hope my situation doesn’t discourage you from posting. I, for one, always smile when I get a notice in my inbox indicating a new post from you! Your humor and photographic eye never cease to make my day! :-)

      We’ve all had our share of unscrupulous souls in our lives. They can choose to do what they’d like but, I know, their due is coming.

      Thank you for your comment! I very much appreciate the support! :-)

  7. This whole situation is devastating and disheartening. Seems there will always be some people who want something for nothing these days. I give you so much credit for actually tracking down some of them! Unbelievable!

    • Indeed. It has been a difficult road and is the reason why I’ve been very absent on this blog. My days are now spent watermarking and re-uploading images and sending requests to delete older images from cache. I’m also trying to understand how to best protect my work and doing lots of research to determine optipons. It is all a tiring but neccessary learning experience. Since my work is also out on Redbubble, there is whole ‘nother side to this that I am currently dealing with. I hope by the end of this year, I will have it all straightened out and will be able to pass on my knowledge to others (I plan on creating a separate page just for this topic).

      Thank you, Soonie! I appreciate your comment and support! Stay tuned… :-)

  8. Wow. Just… wow. Good on you for not taking this lying down. As for Ladywildlife, her failure to actually understand copyright is equalled only by her appalling manners and email etiquette. But the bit that really gets me is that a photography tutorial site is stealing images… they of all people should know better!

    • I know!! The photography tutorial site shocked me as well….no link back to me or nothin’. What ever became of “honor amongst artists”??

      Thank you, JP! I am glad for your support! :-)

  9. OH, M.P. The SHOCK! These photographs of squirrels are WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE! Oh! Young eyes! Young eyes! You’ve got to warn me about these things! ;)
    Seriously, though… I’m just happy above all else that you didn’t let all this garbage keep you from getting your creative-on! That would have been about the worst outcome I could have possibly imagined.

    • Hehehehehehe!! Yes, I know, I should be so ashamed… ;-)

      I’m really trying, Sig. I have good moments and bad ones. Alcohol and chocolate helps as does the elliptical. Have to get my frustrations out somehow and if I gain a tight butt in the process, well so be it. ;-)

      I see you’ve picked up on the (ahem) subtlety of the images I chose to use in this post. My nature is to sprinkle things with a bit of humor. Otherwise, I’d be the one curled up in a fetal position in the corner and who wants to see that?

      Thanks so much for your support, Sig! Very appreciated! :-)

  10. I agree completely with you that it wastes an enormous amount of time to go around finding and dealing with infringements. In this day and age, we don’t really have realistic option to just stay off the internet. Being online does not in any way negate our copyright protection. It is the idiots who believe what they want to believe, who offer excuses like “I found it on GOOGLE,” etc. None of their excuses are relevant.

    I have definitely found a copyright notice cuts down on the infringements, which indicates there are still a LOT of people who wrongly believe absence of copyright notice means it’s free. Or, the notice may make them just stop and think, or make the image less attractive as their avatar, etc. Regardless why, it seems to help, so I use it now, even on images for prints.

    I’ve had a couple people get mad at me for this stuff, too. It’s the old “blame the victim” routine.

    Good luck with your editing to get all your stuff marked, and to stay caught up with searching and sending DMCA takedowns. Sounds like you’re on the right track.

    • Hi Cindy! Thanks for comin’ on over! :-)

      Funny thing is, I thought I’d done all the right things to protect my images (copyright stamps, copyright notices, small-sized images, etc.). But, I’ve been naive. This experience has taught me much and I am determined to get it right this time around.

      While fighting to take back what is mine has been time-consuming, when I look back at it from this side, I don’t consider it a waste of time. (Sad that I even had to do it, yes, but, in the long run, it is what it is and I am better off for it). Without this experience I would never have looked this closely at how I’ve been doing things. It has also given me the courage to stand up for what is MINE and, in spite of any criticism I might encounter, say “No! I will NOT allow you to steal from me!”

      I despise the visible watermark but just today, I’ve created a much better version that I will be applying. Before I do however, I’m getting all my ducks in a row and currently have a question into WP support because I just discovered that my embedded copyright information is somehow being stripped out of the files that I upload. Makes no sense since all I am doing is uploading a file to their site. Must be an issue on their end. I just assumed that information was there and when I went to look for it today, realized, nope, it’s not. I’m glad I found it now instead of after I’d completed all my marking and re-uploading. I’d prefer to go through this process ONCE since I have roughly 850 images to do.

      Thank you for your comment! It is much appreciated! :-)

  11. How very frustrating to get such a response. I hope the person is more educated then her writing suggests. Obviously, her way of communicating needs to be adjusted. Even when confronted with a strongly worded request, one must handle the situation with care and professionalism. Neither was the case in her correspondence to you.

    I would like to post a link to this article with one of the photos on Google+. Copyright and watermarks has been a hot topic there and I feel your insight, knowledge and story would benefit other photographers.

    I have looked into where some of my photos are and have found numerous illegal uses as you have. Time for me to start the work of contacting people as you have done. Good to read that most understand and are willing to do as you ask and the Internet companies are true to their legalize.

    • Yes, indeed, Scott. I’ve become a bit hardened to it. I really don’t care what the thieves of my work think as long as the image is removed and my point is made clear.

      You have my permission to post a link in Google+ along with an image (you will notice I’ve changed my visible watermark to an embossed style. I like the look of it better…a litle less obtrusive but yet, still there). If my experience can help another artist then that is fantastic.

      Sorry you have found stolen images. I come across instances every single day. I’ve become quite proficient in tracking people down and writing DMCA notices.

      Oh, and here’s a tidbit I’ve learned along the way… WordPress does not currently save the EXIF data that contains copyright information with the image! So, for anyone who bothers to add in this info (as I do) or uses programs like Digimarc thinking they are “safe”, alas, once the image is uploaded to WP, that info is GONE. The only way to protect is to add a copyright stamp right onto the image (knowing that people will crop it our regardless if they want to). I’ve had to resort to the visible watermarking here which I am okay with. This site is just for viewing only.

      Thanks for your comment, Scott! I appreciate your support! :-)

  12. Milkay,
    thank you soooo much for the education. I’ve been taking my OWN photos. I’m still not quite sure how to get MY INNER CHICK on them!

    You Rockkkkkkkkkkkk. Xxx

    • Ha! Anytime, Kim! :-)

      If you use Photoshop, you can create a watermark and add directly to your photos. There are lots of tutorials out on the web to do this. Protect, we must!! :-)

  13. I am so sorry for all of your troubles, Tracy!! I think you are in good company on this issue–Marry Engelbreit just started to add watermarks to all of her artwork, too.

    On another note–Did you know that the CS Forum was closed abruptly last Thursday?
    Please keep in touch!! We all decided to join A Primitive Place Forum–that’s where our old buddy Dan (http://dan-yesterdayoncemore.blogspot.com/ ) writes for their magazine. It’s a really nice group–they have been so nice in welcoming all of us!! Come and join:

    http://aprimitiveplace.proboards.com/index.cgi

    Hugs,
    Punky

    • Hi Punky!

      Thank you for your kind words and support. Yes, it has been quite a horrible experience and I find that I have retreated from the internet because of it. Hopefull, in time, things will work themselves out and I will figure out how best to keep my photography on the web without making it vulnerable to theft.

      I haven’t been on the CS Forum in years. Sigh. It is funny that you write now since I am shoulder-deep in a house-wide closet organization project that I’m sure folks on the forum would love to hear about (professional-looking results on a budget! :-) )

      Thanks for the link. I will check it out.

      Take care! :-)

  14. Great post with a lot of good information. While I do think some people blatantly steal, I also think there is an issue of ignorance and by raising awareness as you are, it is a step in the right direction.

    • Thank you, Tammy! I agree and I know the industry is trying to find solutions to this wide-spread issue that should help us artists out!

  15. This is really awful. The response only makes sense in a pig’s eye. There are couple of images of mine that get repeated numbers of hits that probably have been ripped off – I’ve haven’t checked in a while. I certainly haven’t watermarked mine. Time to check the stats again…

    • Yes, awful indeed, Tom. :-(

      We all have to be diligent! I find stolen images every day since even tho I’m watermarking mine, there are still un-watermarked files out there in the image searches. Eventually, they should be eliminated from cache. Until then, my battle continues!

      Thanks for your comment and support! :-)

        • tomwhelan
        • Posted October 8, 2012 at 10:39 pm
        • Permalink

        I just tried using the src-img page, and I didn’t find any misuse of my stuff – one was a “best of” list that helps attract people to my blog. I did pick some images that get a lot of hits, month after month.

        I guess my stuff just isn’t commercial enough for people to rip off – or maybe I just haven’t dug around enough yet.

      • You should be happy no one has stolen your images! My guess is you are well-known so no one would dare…

  16. Hi Tracy. I hope you find a way to blog, I miss your posts. Hope you are fine, despite all this. I take a little doze of picture searching now and then, because it is indeed a hard job to find a way to communicate, many has turned comments off. Which indicate that they know that they are cheating – In Danish we would say “De har ikke rent mel i posen”. A funny way to say it, : “They don´t have clean flour in the bag”. :-) Have a nice day.

    • Awwwww, thank you Birgitte. You are very sweet. :-)

      I am okay. Not as good as I’d hoped. I was finding more and more stolen images day after day and at one point, I’d simply had enough and had to walk away. I am really soured on the whole internet at the moment and giving myself time away to work on real-life things. Im finding it to be therapeutic for me.

      I hope to post again. Perhaps after our vacation later this month.

      Take care and thank you for checking in on me! ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

  17. Your fight against copyright infringement stands as a model for anyone concerned about protecting their work of art. Your experience is heartbreaking, but sadly not surprising. There are just too many people and organisations out there that don’t care as long as they can benefit themselves. The Ladywildlife is surely as bad as they gets. Hopefully it will not keep you from using internet and/or continue blogging. I for one would look forward to seeing posts by you again. Keep the spirit up!

    • Thank you, Munchow, for your very kind words. I am struggling with this as evident by my utter lack of posting. Putting my images on the internet has only served to hurt me and I am wondering why I should bother. Sigh.

      FOr now, I am throwing myself into the physical world of life and giving the internet a rest. I do hope to return as I continue to photograph!

      I so appreciate your support. Hugs. :-)

  18. Hi Tracy.
    When will you blog again?
    It´s almost Christmas, and a long time has passed since your latest post. I hope you are well and will make a Christmas post, so your blogfriends can wish you a Merry Christmas. :-)

    • Hi Giiid. Yes, it has been a looonnnnng time. Sigh.

      I will be posting in a few minutes. I so appreciate your checking up on me. I’ve just not been up to being on the internet but I do so miss everyone! I’ve been enjoying the season…oh where has December gone to? I took photos of this year’s holiday decorations and hope to post those soon.

      A very Merry Christmas to you!


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