March 22, 2018

Your image was stolen. Now what?

Find copyright Infringement
Photo by Soragrit Wongsa

It can be alarming to discover that your copyrighted work has been used without authorization. We've put together these five steps so you can take action on unauthorized use of your work.

1. Decide what you want

Before starting a dialogue with the image user, decide what you want the outcome of your negotiations to be. Who has used the image? Have they published it for commercial or personal use? Do you simply want your work taken down or is it possible to negotiate a fee? Have a goal in mind, and understand that any action you take at this stage can affect the outcome of any proceedings later on.

For example, if you ask for a certain amount of money or suggest that attribution will resolve the matter, you will likely limit any further courses of action if the image user does not comply and legal action becomes necessary. Ask yourself: What is my best-case scenario? What is the true value of this work, and what is its worth in this specific context? Have clear answers to those questions before engaging in negotiations, to make sure you do your work justice.

2. Collect the evidence

Take screenshots that clearly show the unauthorized use of your work.  Create a high-resolution screenshot of the webpage including the image and the URL on the same screen. Print the page as a time-stamped PDF to secure conclusive evidence of the exact date that the image was published on the webpage. Additionally, save the webpage to so it’s also held by a third party.

3. Consider a takedown notice

If you don’t want to contact the person or business personally, consider sending a takedown notice – which is the quickest way to get your image removed, but highly unlikely to secure you any compensation (more on all that here). Takedown notices can be sent directly to the host of the site, or to the person managing the website. In many countries, the ISP or host is legally required to take action on receipt of a takedown request.

4. Use a service

If you’re having trouble deciding how to proceed, now is a good stage to get a service like Pixsy involved. Having an experienced advocate to answer your questions and negotiate on your behalf can speed up the process and help you achieve your desired outcome. Creators routinely undervalue their work, and, without the weight of an organization or lawyer behind them, are routinely forced to settle for less than what their work is worth.

5. Contact the image user

Approaching the image user personally can do more harm than good. It’s never advisable to take action without full knowledge of your rights. If you do decide to contact them, remember:

  • Remain calm and composed, and refrain from posting about the unauthorized use in public forums or on social media.
  • Use email or other easily trackable written evidence.
  • Document evidence of the unauthorized use of your image prior to making contact.
  • Be clear about the purpose of your contact and want you want to achieve.
  • If you regularly license work, attach an invoice with clearly defined standard rates.
  • If you’re unsure about the value of the work in question, do not mention a fee in the initial communication. Undervaluing work at this stage can make it difficult, or even impossible, to seek fair payment later. Using a tool like FotoQuote may help to determine the value of your work.
  • Best practice is to open a line of communication with the image user and communicate the issue. This helps to gauge whether or not they are going to address the license fee request.
  • Set a deadline with next steps and stick to it.



  • If you discover your work has been used without permission, think before you act. Decide what you want to achieve and adopt a methodical approach.
  • Remember that creative work has an inherent value – do not undervalue it when speaking to an image user.
  • If you are more interested in having your work removed than obtaining payment, consider issuing a takedown notice.
  • Reclaiming compensation for misused work can be difficult without experience. Consider using a lawyer or service like Pixsy.
  • Take care when contacting image users about a misuse of your work, as the contents of your communications will likely affect the outcome of any legal proceedings that may follow.
  • Consider the circumstances that led to the infringement and any proactive steps you can take to avoid or manage such situations in the future.

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