December 16, 2016

Graham Ashton

The State of Image Theft in 2016

Photo by: Ryan Tauss

How were photographer's images stolen in 2016?

Pixsy surveyed over 800 members of the photographic community about how their images were used -- or misused -- in 2016.Read more for the most important findings from the report published as infographic cards, along with supporting statistics that paint a clearer picture of how images are stolen online.

#1 A majority of photographers had their work stolen last year.


Although most photographers did not experience image theft more than 50 times last year, the number of work stolen still exceeded our expectations. We also got a better idea of how thin legal options were for the average photographer -- Only 22% could afford a legal team. When it comes to full-time photographers, the numbers get even grimmer.6% of professionals refused to seek legal resources, citing reasons that include: a general lack of legal help in their country of residence, preferring to resolve the case on their own, or they simply don't need it.

#2 Who misused the most in 2016?


Out of the usual photo theft suspects, social media and bloggers remain the most prolific. This label covers a broad range of online entities, including lifestyle gurus and Facebook fan-pages. We see a lot of copyright myths and excuses on this topic, however, what you need to know is that any unauthorized use of your work can still be an infringement even if it's non-commercial.

Even if there's no ill-will towards a fellow online creative, there's no excuse forusing someone's work without credit and removing their watermark to build-up followers and traffic. Especially when it takes so little effort to track down the artist, ask for permission and/or pay a small license fee.

#3 Does watermarking actually protect your work?


Watermarking images is a standard practice in commercial photography. Some artists make them large and obtrusive. Others, realize they have market value when you add a website address or social media handle.Pixsy has published articles on the drawbacks of watermarks:

  • Not all copies of a photograph will have one
  • It jeopardizes the visual appeal of your work
  • There are better alternatives (such as adding photo metadata)

We've also looked at reasons to watermark images:

  • The mark has to be manually removed
  • They can be automatically added with Wordpress plugins, etc.
  • Removing them is a strong indication of willful copyright infringement

#4 Are DMCA takedowns too time-consuming?


When compensation is not an option, or when an infringer is unresponsive, DMCA Takedowns are a quick solution to image theft. Better yet, as we showed in our post on how to send a DMCA Takedown, anyone can do it. The problem is, an individual can spend up to 15-20 minutes researching an infringer's contact information and drafting a single takedown. This is time that could be costly to any working professional.

We introduced the Pixsy Takedowns tool last year, and already over 20% of respondents say it's their primary method of sending DMCA Takedowns. It reduces the whole process to a few simple clicks and is a standard feature for all our premium users.

#5 Taking an aggressive route to stop image theft


You can try and scare someone on Facebook or Twitter into removing your image, but it won’t earn you any compensation. We understand that user-submitted content like social media sites isn't always suitable for resolution. However, if they refuse to take down or credit your image and you later decide to take legal action, publicly harassing your infringer might harm your case. The fact that many photographers see this method as a last, and perhaps only resort to fighting image theft, should be worrying to anyone. There are lots of other creative ways to protect against photo theft that you should consider first.


Image theft is a serious issue for most photographers. But some find it too hard to deal with - according to our survey results, 41% of full-time photographers can't afford or don't have time for legal resources. Remember the meagre 22% we mentioned earlier who could afford a legal team? What we didn't tell you is these photographers said they rely on their craft to put food on the table. Image theft isn't always nefarious, but even if the stolen photo isn't earning the user money, each use represents lost income for its creator.


As explained, the presence of a watermark doesn't seem to deter infringers. 87% of photographers had watermarked images stolen in 2016. The big offenders were social media users and bloggers - 47% found their work stripped of a watermark by this group.


15% of photographers earn $1000+ a year resolving image theft. But how? 56% use Pixsy to recover stolen work. It also pays to take precautionary measures to protect your work - watermarking and registering with the U.S. Copyright Office for example.


As your experience in photography grows, the more likely you are to have your work stolen. 64% of pro photographers had their works stolen over 200 times last year. Compare that to 56% of hobbyists who never had their work stolen. Clearly, being a pro has its price.The amount of work stolen last year is disheartening, but that doesn't mean 2017 has to be a repeat.

Graham Ashton

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