One of the primary concerns most artists have with displaying their work online is fear of unauthorized use; however, the marketing and exposure possibilities the web affords leave most artists opting to publish their work digitally with fingers crossed that no one will take their work and display it without permission.
How do you know if someone else is using your work? Google provides one of the best tools in your arsenal thanks to its “Search by image” feature, which it rolled out in 2009.
If we wanted to see if there are any other instances online of this 2011 photo I took of Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, we can find out by right clicking the image and selecting “Copy image URL.”
Once you have the URL copied, head on over to Google Images (http://www.google.com/imghp) and select the camera icon next to the microphone icon to activate the search by image dialogue.
Slap in the URL you copied earlier into the prompt, or alternately, upload an image you have previously saved, and Google will let you know if there are any matches.
You can see we have a wide assortment of matches besides the authorized use in my alma mater’s online news site, csceagle.com.
Another nice feature of Google’s image search is that the images don’t have to match exactly for Google to pick up on the similarities.
For example, if the user crops the photo, adjusts saturation, disproportionately skews it, or even overlays text, like in the below social media meme, Google will most likely still be able to detect the similarities.
In all of the half-dozen or so unauthorized uses, none of them even properly attributed the photo. One site that used the photo ran a general disclaimer at the end of every article, claiming fair use and stating:
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance a more in-depth understanding of critical issues facing the world. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.
Even though a discussion of fair use and its limitations is beyond the scope of this post, now that we have identified multiple instances of unauthorized use, how do you go about resolving the issue?
If your goal is to have the content removed, filling out a form with Google (www.google.com/dmca.html) might do the trick. Google requires that you demonstrate “authorized use” via a page where the content is displayed in a sanctioned manner.
Consider demonstrating your content ownership by using a link to the page that first hosted the content. For example, I published the photo of Gov. Heineman in October 2011 on csceagle.com (its first published use online); however, if I also posted it to my personal website in 2012 or to a photo-sharing site at a later time, I would want to use the original link on csceagle.com (if available) to demonstrate ownership.
While not the only test, Google will have an easier time proving your ownership if it can verify that you published the content first.
As an experiment, I submitted DCMA takedown requests to Google on July 20, 2013 for each unauthorized use of my Heineman image. Nine days later, Google informed me that it approved three of the four requests, and that the fourth (the social media meme on Facebook) was still pending.