This photo is stolen:
Not by me. From me. Every day. All the time. For years.
Please allow me a moment to talk directly to the, um, enthusiastic fans of the photo:
I'm happy you love my circa 2008 "mommy blogger" photo. It's from a really old post I wrote about the potential of mom bloggers to work with brands, way back before we were regularly working with brands. Super old post with now-lame-duck ideas but super cute pictures, right?
If you have stolen it or, let's be calm, used it without permission or credit, don't feel too bad. You aren't alone.
Your reasoning for copying it from who knows where and not crediting the source is probably the same reason I hear most every time:
"I'm so sorry! I had no idea it was yours! I took it from somewhere else."
I'm flattered that you would not steal from me, absolutely, because we're cool, right? But I'm befuddled as to why it's cool to steal from someone else. So we should probably talk.
Done? Great. Now, back to that friendly talk we need to have.
Why did you use an image for which you could not find the original source? Or, at the very least, why didn't you link to the source who stole it before you took it from them?
We won't get into the fact that you should have asked permission to use the photo from whoever you found using it. Let's limit this strictly to crediting sources.
You need to credit your sources. Would you have been crediting a source who stole this photo from someone who stole this photo from someone else who stole this photo from a commercial site's page who stole it from a little blogger who stole it from me?
But each link in the chain of theft helps.
And, pssst, honestly? Tracking down every time this photo is stolen isn't really worth it for me. Seriously. Even copying and pasting pleasant takedown requests into comment fields on strangers' posts is a bad use of my energy. It makes me feel stupid, if we're being frank.
But still. Know what makes me feel even more stupid? Seeing this photo pop up in Facebook ads. Or on brand pages. Or in advertising campaigns.
You are making me feel stupid. You seem nice. I'd like to think you never meant to do that.
You didn't mean to plagiarize. It just happened. Just this once.
So, we cool? You fixed it and won't do it again? To anyone? Even if you are in a hurry? Awesome.
Because, sugar, this is me being kind. I have an incredibly short fuse when it comes to blown second chances and alligators live in my backyard. ;)
But we're cool. Brilliant.
• • •
Whew. Thanks for letting me take care of that little bit of business.
Are you just... crazy, right? I don't even know what to tell you.
So, how can you protect your own photos?
Watermark. Back in 2008, I didn't watermark my images and I still don't really do so now. I'm not a photographer and my images are generally not worth stealing. However, had I watermarked that image the first time, none of this would have happened.
If you Google search this particular photo and view "all sizes," you'll see that a lot of people have watermarked it. With their own blog name. Awesome. (sigh)
I know this is confusing. Guidelines for proper image attribution seem to change all the time. When I first started blogging in 2007, I had no idea what I was doing and need to go back and fix a lot of mistakes.
So what if it's too late now? Your image is already out there. How do you discover if someone is using your images without permission?
Google image search is fabulous. Copy the image URL of your photo and paste that in the search field, then click "search by image."
TinEye.com is a valuable reverse image search tool, as well. For the next 72 hours, you can see the results for my own TinEye search of my "mommy blogger" photo. (results expire after 72 hours, though just enter the image URL and you can search again)
What can you do if people are using your image without your permission? With or without credit? I genuinely try to take a relaxed approach. Maybe once a year, often when I see the image pop up on a commercial site without credit or permission, I'll do one of these image searches. Then I copy and paste a patient credit or takedown request into the comments of the post or directly via email.
If they don't comply? I either report them to their platform host or (now this isn't cool, but it's true) publicly reprimand them.
Every once in a while I'll blow a fuse and go straight to the public reprimand, usually when it's a commercial site that should really know better, but I'm not proud of that behavior and don't recommend it.
After more than four years of finding this photo stolen by everyone from small bloggers (that may genuinely not know better and don't understand how to credit sources appropriately) to large corporations (I just won't name them, but seriously, brands you know and love and absolutely know better), the toothpaste is out of the tube.
However, I share this story (and hope you will, too) because
- I am seeing this photo stolen significantly more often and, subsequently...
- Plagiarism in all its forms is growing into such a many-headed beast online that awareness is integral to the solution.
Half the time a blogger discovers that their content has been stolen because a reader recognizes the theft and notifies them. Nearly every time I have been plagiarized, a reader finds it first and lets me know.
Let each other know when you see plagiarism. If you see this photo used elsewhere without citing VelveteenMind.com as the source? Please let me know.
Keep your eyes open out there. Watch out for each other.
Be cool. Again, I don't recommend leaping straight to public reprimands. In my case, most of the time the offenders profusely apologize and fix it. Several times, we have become friends or, at the very least, friendly. It's an opportunity to show grace and educate.
But then? If they refuse? I'm all for dropping the hammer. Because this is enough.
What say you?