For years, 'Amateur Photographer' (AP) has reported on the sorry tales of readers who have fallen victim to copyright theft. Now I have joined the army of amateur and professional photographers who battle daily to enforce rights over their digital images in the picture-grabbing internet era.
My original tweet, showing 007 actor Daniel Craig before filming near Trafalgar Square, London on 31 May 2015
Here’s what happened. Two websites were forced to remove my street photos of James Bond actor Daniel Craig. They had been taken, it seems, from my personal Twitter account without permission.
The culprits were the Viet Times, a newspaper based in Australia, which published two photos, and Clicknews, a website in the US that sources photos from its readers worldwide. Clicknews published three of my images:
The Viet Times, a 15-year-old newspaper for the Vietnamese community based in Melbourne, perhaps should have known better. This is how one of the shots was displayed on the Viet Times website:
The modus operandi of Clicknews, which was set up earlier this year, is to ‘fill a void among other lighthearted content-driven social media sites’.
The Clicknews website adds: ‘We let You, the reader, sign up and fill our site with various content, guided by our extensive list of categories. Either way, together we aim to entertain. Have fun!’
I had taken the photos in London during May and June 2015 for a personal project on the filming of upcoming James Bond movie Spectre.
I took hundreds of behind-the-scenes images, often late into the night. Parts of central London, including tourist hotspots such as Trafalgar Square and Westminster Bridge, were completely shut down for the filming, which often didn’t finish until 5.30am.
Before uploading images to my Flickr account, with copyright notices emblazoned across each one, I had posted a few on Twitter and thought nothing of it.
The long-distance grab-shots, often captured in low light, were not particularly high quality. Nor did I think they were especially newsworthy, as national newspaper websites had already wasted no time in publishing photos by paparazzi armed with £8,000 super-telephoto lenses.
I wouldn’t have minded so much if the culprits had taken the trouble to credit me.
Sadly, in the gone-in-sixty-seconds cycle of social news media, it is far from clear if the offenders bothered to even check the source of the photos.
They had popped up somewhere on Twitter, so they were fair game. Right?
Actually no, because as the photographer I am the legal copyright holder – as borne out by Twitter’s terms and conditions, which state: ‘You retain your rights to any content you submit, post or display on or through the [Twitter] services. ’
Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have expected the worst and embedded copyright notices on my Twitter images too, just in case they ended up in the wrong hands.
Seeking redress, I wrote to both infringing websites (from my personal email account), pointing out my rights.
A staff member at Clicknews, which encourages its audience to report offending material, was quick to respond. Perhaps they had heard it all before.
In an email, Clicknews wrote: ‘Hi! As requested we have deleted those three stills from the post. Apparently upploaded [sic] by one of our guest authors. He’s been yelled at now, so he won’t make that mistake twice.’
The Viet Times did not respond to my email directly, but a website article featuring the offending pictures was swiftly removed and replaced by the following message:
The Viet Times article was replaced with a notice saying the page does not exist
I am not alone. I am aware of another keen photographer who pounded the streets in the early hours of cold London nights to discover that his Spectre photos had also been published online without his consent.
How did I find out about these dastardly copyright breaches? Basically, on a hunch. Last weekend I did a reverse Google image search on a few random images.
And there may well be other wrongdoers. But it would probably take me from now until 26 October, when the Spectre film is released in the UK, to pin down any other potential offenders.
I made sure that other photos, uploaded to my Flickr account (below), bore a visible copyright watermark