A couple of years ago one of my clients, David Kimmerle, had just started going out with a young lady. Eventually it got to the point where David was to meet her parents. Before David came to her house for dinner that night, her mother decided to look him up online. What happened next shocked both her and David. After entering David’s name into a search engine, the first images that came up were from a pornographic website. The website had edited David’s picture to include explicit content onto his body. Needless to say, the dinner did not go as smoothly as planned…
When someone uses an image of you, an image you took, or an image that you created without your permission it can cause serious reputation and economic damages. So what do you do if someone is using your picture without your permission?
- Is it yours?
You first need to make sure that it is in fact your picture. The fact that it caught your eye in the first place is a good start but you need to do some investigating to be sure that it is actually your picture. Pursuing any legal action against someone without first being able to verify that it is in fact your picture can have serious consequences.
- Save it!
The very nature of online postings allow things to be moved, deleted, and changed very quickly. If you are certain that the picture is yours, be sure to take a screenshot of where the picture is being used and to gather as much information about the person, website, or company that is using your image. It is also important to make sure that you still have the originals. It is even better if the originals have some indication of the date they were created or published.
- Take action, maybe…
Now that you’ve confirmed that someone is using your picture without your permission, you have documented its’ use, and you have found out who is behind the unauthorized use; it is time to choose your next step. Many people’s first response is to sue for copyright infringement. While that may certainly be an option, there are several other courses of action that you should be aware of before going with any particular route. Also keep in mind that some people choose not to take any action at all and rather see the use of the picture as a way of gaining exposure. One suggestion if you do decide to not take action is to at least make sure that you are mentioned or provided with credit for the picture.
So here are some of your options:
- Is this something that can be solved amicably? Sometimes simply contacting the person who used your picture can be enough to have them take it down. This is especially true if they inadvertently used your picture. If you do decide to reach out to whoever is using your picture, be sure to save a copy of the email or letter as it may be able to be used later on if they refuse to cooperate.
DMCA Takedown Notice
- If you don’t feel like being so amicable or if reaching out to the user was unsuccessful, one of your next steps could be to send out a DMCA takedown notice. DMCA stands for Digital Millenium Copyright Act and a takedown notice allows you to request that the internet service provider (ISP) who is hosting the image take down the infringing picture. Sending a DMCA takedown is something that you can do on your own but depending on the circumstances, it may be best to have a legal professional do it for you.
Cease and Desist Letter
- A cease and desist letter is seen as a formal demand for a person to stop a particular activity. This is generally sent to the individual who is using your picture without your permission. Although anyone can send a cease and desist letter, how effective it is can depend on a number of things. Having an attorney prepare or at least review a cease and desist letter can help increase the chances that the letter will result in your picture being taken down. In some cases, cease and desist letters from non-attorneys may even be disregarded or ignored by the infringing party.
Small Claims Court
- Small claims courts are courts which only hear matters of small disputes. The maximum amount of recovery that can be requested will vary from county to county and from state to state. An advantage with suing through small claims is that you may not have to hire an attorney and can usually bring the case on yourself. The rules that govern small claims courts are usually very user friendly and are not like the rules that govern other courts of law.
Litigation can by far be the most time consuming and costly option to go with as far as having your picture taken down. But it is by no means a rare occurrence. Copyright infringement suits, particularly those involving the right to use someone’s image, are very common. A successful lawsuit will almost always require you to hire an attorney to bring the lawsuit. The process of litigation varies in different jurisdiction, but generally speaking, a lawsuit is filed with the court against the other party and the other party has a certain amount of time to respond to the lawsuit. This time period is where most of the settlement negotiations take place as the other party will realize that you mean business and will attempt to avoid large legal fees or a judgement against them. If there is no settlement during this time, the case continues down the normal process of litigation.
In conclusion, your image and the images that you create are important to you for one way another. Whether it be because of your reputation or because it is how you earn your livelihood. Regardless, it is important to keep watch for infringing activities. While there is no single way to completely monitor the internet for the unauthorized use of your image, keeping a vigil eye and knowing your options is certainly a step in the right direction.