It is often difficult to know what to do if someone steals your images but hopefully this guide will give you the results you are looking for, whether that may be removal and an apology, or reimbursement for a commercial use.
Before we go much further it is wise to point out that there are levels on infringement and that you may want to tailor your response to the way in which your images have been stolen.
If an individual is using a photo which they have taken from your website on their own social media, but there is no advertising involved and the use is not for financial gain in any way, then contacting the infringer is most appropriate. If their response is unsatisfactory, you may wish to use these links to the DMCA takedown request forms for Facebook and Instagram respectively.
Instagram: Report an Intellectual Property Infringement
Complete these forms in full. If you miss anything out you will find they are not successful.
This is not a fool proof system. Before COVID, a report made in this way usually resulted in the infringing material being removed by the appropriate platform quite quickly.
Recently, however, I have been getting "bot" responses asking me for more information. They typically ask me to prove copyright ownership of the material on their platform (even though you have to do this in the original report form anyway. Another response tells me that they believe the image constitutes "fair use" in the US legal sense because it is being used for Commentary, Criticism or Parody.
This is a misuse of the US legislation because that Fair use would have to be commentary or criticism of the photograph(er) and normally stolen images are not being used for that.
That Fair Use is also irrelevant in UK Law.
Facebook are exempt from prosecution under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act if they respond to IP infringement reports by immediately removing the offending posts. If they do not (as described above) then they have lost their "safe harbour" and "mere conduit" defences and you are now in a position to pursue them legally if you so wished.
Your next approach my be a formal DMCA takedown request in email form.
Copy and past this email and send it to email@example.com:
Date: (today’s date) VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL To the Designated Copyright Agent; My name is XXXXX. Your website, or a website that your company is hosting, is infringing a copyright-protected image that I am the legal rights owner of. This image was copied onto your servers without my permission. The original images, entitled “(Title of Image)", to which I own the exclusive copyrights, can be found at: (Link to the image on my website) The unauthorized and infringing copy is published at: (Link to the infringing PAGE) The image is hosted at: (Direct SERVER URL to the infringing IMAGE) Consider this email as official notification of the infringement and my legal request for my image to be permanently deleted and all access disabled. If you are hosting the image for another party, I request that you immediately notify the infringer of this notice, inform them of their duty to remove the infringing material immediately, and notify them to cease any further posting of infringing material to your server in the future. Under Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), you are to expediently remove the infringing work upon receipt of this notice. The Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act grants service providers immunity from liability so long as it investigates and corrects this copyright violation in a timely manner. Should your company fail to do so, in a timely manner, I will consider taking legal action. I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law. I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed. Should you wish to discuss this with me please contact me directly. Regards, XXXX (by electronic signature) (Physical address here)
If, on the other hand, your image is being used in a commercial way, advertising a product for example, you may want to pursue the matter legally.
This is assuming you want a financial settlement, rather than a Facebook/Instagram DMCA takedown notice, for which links are above.
First of all, refer to this excellent article written by qualified solicitor Simon Croft for EPUK (Editorial Photographers UK): https://www.epuk.org/opinion/stolen-photographs-what-to-do. Some of his advice is really important so read it all before you start, long though it is. For example, use of “without prejudice” at the correct point may be crucial.
1. Don’t invoice. There’s no contract and therefore no debt or case if they don’t pay it.
2. Collect the evidence. If online take screenshots (oh, the irony), preferably with a timestamp visible. Easy if in print but get hold of copies and keep them safe.
3. Contact the infringer politely requesting evidence of a licence to use the image(s).
There are two sample letters, depending on how you feel about flagrancy, in the article linked.
Write to them and keep all letters/email in open correspondence. We want a judge to see our efforts to settle and hope that the defendant may dig themselves a hole. If you do make a settlement offer, make a ‘without prejudice’ offer to settle - so the letter or email is admissible by the court, but the figure offered is not enforceable.
You can also apply limits to the offer, e.g. it must be accepted and paid in full within 14 days. Set an expiry time for the offer at which time it will be formally withdrawn, so the defendant can’t say “well he offered to settle for £300, not the £2,000 he’s now seeking...”
Failing all that you are going to IPEC, The Intellectual Property Enterprise Court. This is designed to streamline the legal process but still requires work from the copyright owner. Hopefully, when the infringer receives the notification of a claim being filed against them, they will back down and agree to a payment.
More info licensing my images.