Dealing with the inevitable

If you put your photos where they can be viewed publicly, inevitably someone will do something with them that you probably don’t approve of. The internet makes this easier than ever. You could hunt down and sue every infringer but frankly I think it’s probably better to pick your battles. Case in point: I was alerted this morning to the use of one of my photographs in a contest at a site called, ironically, Here’s the contest entry:

Contest entry

And here is my original photograph:

Road to heaven
Road to Heaven
(Click to enlarge)

I’d critique the artistic direction the contester took my photo in but I think it speaks volumes for itself. The sad individual who used my photo for this contest will gain nothing from it but a bad reputation. Honestly, rather than be upset, I’m actually embarrassed for and the person who created this contest entry. (And a little perplexed that would open themselves up to such a potentially large liability.)

One of the most interesting comments on the contest entry was from the artist himself responding to criticism from another member of the site about the source of the background photo. He wrote, “Who is going to find out?”

Some may look at this as another example of why they don’t publish their photos on the internet. Let me propose an alternative view: these same shenanigans happen to your photos no matter where you put them. But on the internet, I found out about it within hours of the modified version going online.

How do you deal with this sort of thing? And does your response vary depending on the use and who the abuser is? I’m not looking for advice. I’m just curious how you feel about the issue. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Update: As of this morning, the contester has changed his entry, but not out of any sense of wrongdoing or newfound ethics. He writes, “Well if you all give this entry low ratings because it’s copyrighted I might as well delete this one cause that wouldn’t make any sense.” Don’t be too hard on him though, I have a feeling he’s just a kid. It’s our duty to educate children, not attack them.


By John Watson

John Watson is the original founder of Photodoto. If you're interested in what John has been up to, you can browse his personal blog.


  1. I understand your concern and frankly, I would feel the same way, no matter if the entry with the stolen picture is any good or not.

    I’d like to stand up for though. You said you feel embarrassed for (and the author) because of that. Please keep in mind that it has been a member of that informed you of the illegal use of your photo. In the comments you can read that no one (expept the author) takes this kind of misbehavior easy. The entry got “redflagged” many times because of it and will be taken off the site shortly because of those red flags.

    I am a member of the site also and I do feel that most people there are very much concerned about the copyrights and artists works. Many of them take up some kind of supervising action there. As soon as someone finds out that an entry has parts of copyrighted material in it, it’s “dead”. The checkbox “red flag” for the entries was implemented because of that some time ago, a function that was very welcomed by the members.


  2. Up to now it only have been private blogs or in one case one person on flickr using my pictures.
    In the flickr case I stayed pretty calm and just asked very politely to remove the shot from flickr and it happened without a problem (I think).

    I think,l if someone would make some money with my shots, I would get slightly mad though 😉

  3. Hi John,

    I am glad someone else notified you about the use of picture.

    I was the one who basicly pointed it out there that it was copyright work and who he replied to with a “whos going to find out”

    This reply so totally is a refelction the morals and vallues that seems to be “normal” these days.

    I myself would have emailed you and asked if i could use it.. a no is a no if i dont get a reply.. then i dont use the picture… thats the respect i would like to receive if it was about my work so i think its normal to give it in return. Even MOST times i even contact the authors from pictures on freestock sites that I have used there picture and i send them a link with my work if they want it.

    Its like borowing something that you know you are alowed to borow/use.

    hugs ela

  4. Hi John – This is an issue that I deal with from time to time. You are right – you have to pick your battles. A few years ago, before I even started my business, another photographer suggested putting a watermark on your online images that was a copyright with your web address. That way if your images are lifted and used, at least they would be promoting your own business. However, I’m sure someone who is half way decent with Photoshop will likely find away to erase the watermark. You may want to contact the person who did this and ask that they list some type of credit to you for use of the background image. Seeing this as an opportunity to market yourself may be something worth considering, but that may not apply if you’re fairly conservative on how your images are used and/or manipulated. Just a thought. Anyway, I’ve been bad about not writing another article. The last few weeks have been very busy for me with assignments. I will try to get something in soon.

  5. As long as someone isn’t making money from my stuff, it really doesn’t bother me all that much. I’d like credit for taking it, and if I find out I’ll ask someone to do that, but anything more is just silly for something like this contest.

    Unless they won money, then I want a share.

  6. Derivatix, I appreciate what you are saying and I believe that most people are honest and good and will try to do the right thing. It’s awesome that several people spoke up almost immediately and I received that email. Unfortunately, to casual observers, this sort of thing leaves a taint on the entire site and makes *everyone* there look bad, especially the administrators of the site for not enforcing a policy discouraging it. In my mind, this sort of thing deserves nothing less than deleting the offender’s account.

  7. I honestly don’t see what the big deal is. If someone were making money off of it, or was using it in an ad or something, I could understand your being so upset about it.

    But this example is just part of what makes the internet so engaging. I have a share and share alike Creative Commons license on all my photos. So I have no problem with people doing mashups with my stuff.

    They should have contacted you before the contest started and gotten your permission first, but other than that, I would have a blast seeing what everyone did with my photo.

    And I think the winning entry is hilarious!

  8. Mike, I’m not upset about it. That’s why I haven’t pursued any action against the poster or the site and rather chose to bring it up as a topic of dicussion instead. But you should know that the site does show advertising and awards cash prizes for contests. It’s clearly a commercial, for-profit venture.

  9. yes technically this image was used for commercial purpose by this author who snagged it from john…

    more then anything else.. he didnt showed the proper respect for someone elses work while wanting to get credit for his… and he mainly seems to have taken it down because of the negative responces from the other ppl on the site, which on itself does bring a lil spark of positivity back to the site.. like derivatix said.. most members do care about the copyright issues and will try to educate those that dont…

    I think its the users that determines if the site is succesfull or not.. and we, the users did take immidiatly proper action… we warned the person.. we informed you… we redflagged the entry ( which means that we the owner gets a lil warning from us that theres something going on that he needs to check out.)

    That on itself should shows a very positive thing about our community on pst.

    you can count on it that ppl on pst will keep an eye on this person for a lil while and double check this guys entries.. After all we as users want that site to be something to be proud of to be part of as well.. no?

    hugs ela

  10. Imagine if your photo ended up as an attachment to a joke email sent to thousands of people? That’s what happened to one of my photos. It’s a photo of a woman petting some ducklings while the mother steals money from her handbag. You may know it already?

    The first I got to know of it was when it was featured on, and since then it was published without attribution on Cuteoverload (until I email the admin there) and various other sites.

    So, if you see the thieving duck, please send them to it’s original home at 🙂

  11. Oh, I wasn’t aware of that John. That’s a completely different story if they award cash prizes. And I suppose the advertising angle is part of the issue as well.

    Funnily enough, I just had a girl leave a comment on a Flickr photo of mine asking if she could use it for a craiglist listing for her apartment (it shows a view of the Seattle skyline that is similar to the view from her apt).

    Obviously I said, “no problem”. But there’s an example of someone who went out of their way to ask permission for use of something that she very easily could have just taken.

  12. I use a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommerical license for all of my photos, so like Mike, I wouldn’t have a problem as long as they attributed the photo to me and didn’t use it for commercial purposes.

    Obviously, entering the photo into a cash-prize contest would violate those terms.

  13. well i like the fake more then the original .
    lets make love not war .
    its just a picture dont make so much fuzz over it .

  14. i really don’t know why everyone ( special eladine) is making so much problems about a contest picture .. is she a police officer or what? let everyone do what he want, its internet for god sake.
    get a life , we have police enough in the real world !

  15. John,

    That site Photoshoptalent is not a qualilty site from checking it out and I would be mortified to have my art posted there. It’s great you have a sense of humor about it but if you take a gander around in there you will find some atrocious copyright infringment and hacked pieces.

    I personally have had hotlinking and stealing of bandwidth of images as I specialize in manga art and graphics. This is either an outrage or a truly hysterical event. Thanks for showing us this

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