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It is no secret that Christmas is¬†the one and only holiday for which I go ALL OUT. When early December rolls around, the boxes come out of the attic and it is on. ūüôā

The goal each year is to look at what we have with fresh eyes¬†(try it – ¬†it’s like shopping your own stuff) and¬†rarely do items end up in the same location from year to year¬†(‘cuz¬†that would be boring now wouldn’t it? ūüėČ )

Don’t believe me? Well, you can check out the 2010 and 2011 line-ups to see what I’m talking about.¬†If I do say so myself, I think I just may have out-done myself this year. So, grab a glass of eggnog and turn up your favorite holiday music (Trans Siberian Orchestra is playing here) and enjoy the tour! ūüôā

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A very blessed and Merry Christmas to all!

Unto Us, a Child is Born

“Unto Us, a Child is Born” (Nativity Scene) Nikon D300, 55mm, F/2.8, 1/30s, -1.0EV, ISO 1250, Built-in Rear-Curtain Flash w/Gary Fong ‘Puffer’ diffuser, -1.0EV, Nik Silver Efex Pro ‘Stained’ Filter, Nik Color Efex Pro ‘GG’ Filter


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 community, please 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.

This post marks the first ever editorial on my blog. I have good reason for it as this has not been a good day.

Earlier today, I was introduced to a bookmarklet that allows you to search the internet for your own images to see if they are being used somewhere without your permission. What I have uncovered has been no less than shocking and disheartening.

Now, I expected to find the occasional repost of an image on someone’s blog or site but was in no way prepared to discover the blatant and outright theft of my images! Do copyrights mean nothing?? I’ve merely scratched the surface and have already found the following offenses:

  • Three individuals have stolen my images for use as their avatars.
  • Dozens of individuals have reposted my images on their blogs/websites and have decidedly¬†CROPPED OUT my copyright stamp. No credit, no link back.
  • Dozens of individuals have reposted my images on their blogs or websites with¬†the copyright stamp BUT, without my permission and without the decency of including a link back to the original posting of the image. (Ironically, one site even had their own copyright statement at the bottom of each web page asking visitors to respect copyright laws when the author herself was stealing and violating¬†other artists’ copyrights! Unbelievable!)
  • Several individuals have posted altered versions of my images, mostly adding text and basically, using the image like a background. No credit, no link back. One individual even claimed the altered image as their own.
  • I found¬†three commercial sites using¬†my images – two to¬†sell products and one as the lead logo¬†image for their site.
  • I found two instances where my images were used in YouTube videos.
  • One site is using one of my images as wallpaper.

However, the worst offense so far is an English singer/songwriter who has used one of my images for his EP cover. I was never asked for permission nor have I been compensated for its use. I am still trying to come to grips with this one and am currently corresponding with said artist.

Just because an image is on the web does not make it free for anyone to use or claim. I own and maintain rights to ALL my images. If you follow this blog and like my work, I thank you for your support. I also ask you to respect my work and to not steal it. It can be easy to forget that there is a working artist behind these photos and when you steal them, it is no different from stealing a product from a store. (Oh, and if you come across one of my images on a blog or site, please contact me with a link so that I can verify if its use is valid or not, k?)

What can we do? Well, what I’ve been doing is contacting any offender asking them to immediately cease and desist. In some cases, I ask why they have stolen my image without my permission and state they should show some respect for artists who are desperately trying to make a living at photography. I’ve already received several apologies and two sites so far have removed my images. I hope this trend continues.

In addition, I am researching ways to prevent future theft. I have found several great resources for protecting images and content (example here) as well as what to do when you do find an image is being used without your permission (here and here). It is good to know there are concrete things we can do to protect ourselves and to fight against this kind of theft.

Spread the word.

Update August 21, 2012:

Still working on getting some images removed; others, well, I may have to let be. You will notice changes to my blog with regards to my images. I’m in the process of adding a¬†watermark to each image as well as disabling the¬†inability to click on an image to view in a separate window. Just precautions I’ve been (reluctantly)¬†forced to put in place in order to discourage future theft. This has been a learning experience for sure and I’ll admit, that I didn’t handle this very well but with time, I’m coming to grips with what I can control and what I cannot. Please bear with me as I find my way through this and (hopefully) return back to the happy-go-lucky, optimistic, “the world is good” person that I once was.

Update August 30, 2012: SPECIAL NOTE re: Pinterest

If you’ve arrived at this page because of a message you’ve received from Pinterest, please know that I feel just awful about having to so abruptly pull off all my images! I never once thought anyone on Pinterest had bad intentions; I simply did not comprehend the widespread damage that would result from having my images pinned. How could any of us know that¬†once on Pinterest, the images could then be downloaded, copied, printed, etc., and used without my knowledge?


Now that I am placing a visible center watermark to all my images here on WP (a slow process but I am getting there), I will certainly allow the watermarked work to be pinned on Pinterest! The images can then be out there without the fear of them being used without my permission. A win-win for everyone. ūüôā

I have no way of knowing which image you had pinned (there were far too many images and too many pins/repins to keep track of) but if it is one that now has a visible center watermark, you have my permission to pin it again. 

If it isn’t watermarked yet, please let me know and I will contact you as soon as the watermark is added. I so appreciate that you like my work enough to highlight it! I truly had no idea.

And, just as a FYI, I have a Pinterest board of my own and will be adding my watermarked images there as well. Something I have been meaning to do but glad I hadn’t quite gotten to it yet because I would have been pinning my un-watermarked images and oh, boy(!), the mess I would have placed myself in! This has indeed been a learning experience for everyone, myself included.

Thank you for reading and for your understanding and patience!

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