You are casually scrolling through social media or your favorite magazine, and a certain picture catches your eye. Upon further inspection, you realize that published image is yours! You quickly get excited and begin looking for your name in the photo credits, and it dawns on you... the image was used without your permission! Now what??
As frustrating as this can be, you are not alone. There are a few steps you can take before you run to contact an attorney, because let's be real: attorneys are expensive!
The first thing you want to do it use PPA's Copyright Infringement Tool. This quick questionnaire will help you assess your copyright abuse situation and tell you what your best course of action is, depending on each particular case.
Second, as annoyed as you might be, contact the infringing party. Talk to them, ask how they got your image, and let them know you are the proper copyright owner of the image in question. Sometimes, the image is used carelessly; other times, someone dropped the ball somewhere.
Often, your connecting with them will rectify the situation and will get the image removed. But there are situations where this won't work.
If, after talking to the infringer and explaining that your work was used without your permission, the person(s) still do not cooperate, the next thing to do is to send a certified copyright infringement letter. In this letter, you will cite Federal copyright law and why the use of the image without your permission is a violation of your copyright. You can also include additional demands, such as payment or simply the requirement to stop using the image. Sending this certified letter also puts the infringing party on notice, which is a requirement before any legal proceedings can begin.
If your image was infringed on a digital format (social media, website, etc.), you should also send a Digital Millennium Copyright Act Letter (DMCA Letter). This cease and desist DMCA letter once again puts the infringer on notice. Attempt to address the letter to someone who is in charge of publishing or upper management such as a director, manger, etc., as they are familiar with the legal implications of this letter.
If, after sending a letter and putting the infringing party on notice, they still refuse to comply, at this point it may be appropriate to have a local attorney inform the infringing party that they are in violation of Copyright law.
Most of the time, the combination of these steps will get your image removed and can even provide you with compensation.
Keep in mind that with the current makeup of copyright law, it may not be worth pursuing a claim in Federal Court, since you may spend more than you will get back. That is why it is so important, now more than ever, to push Congress for a Copyright Small Claims process! This would allow photographers like you to resolve infringement cases without having to spend thousands of dollars in court.