To Catch a Thief: Discovering Your Photo Has Been Stolen

UPDATE: After removing the photo from the site, the owner wrote an apology. I responded and she responded in kind. No harm, no foul.

There’s nothing like the feeling of having your image stolen. First you’re flattered, then you get angry, and then you get nasty.

This was the case last night.

Bears Rule! is one of my most famous, and lucrative images. It was not licensed or commissioned for use on other websites.

In an early post, I ranted about this very image being copied and sold at an Aspen, Colo., print shop without my permission.

In the post “Do Unto Other What You Want Done Unto You,” I went through the steps required to stop the shop from selling copies of this bear photo.

It was tedious and time consuming, yet necessary. It wasn’t his image to sell.

He bought a print and then photocopied it. Here is a lesson. When you buy a print, you are not purchasing the image, but the time and materials it takes to place the image on the paper or medium.

It is not your image and unauthorized use is breaking the law.

Simply put, I believe copyright infraction is nothing but theft. The perpetrator did not ask for permission to use it.

It’s equivalent to you going over to your neighbor’s house and “borrowing” the lawnmower with no intention of returning it. You think it’s OK as your neighbor is not home for the winter and, therefore, won’t notice until they get back in the spring.

Taking a photo off a website is the same thing. You’re taking something that’s not yours without telling the owner, and when the owner catches you, you return it and apologize.

The fact remains: you took it with out permission. COPYRIGHT INFRACTION IS STILL THEFT.

Copyright is the one true value a photograph has and you must maintain control of it or lose it forever. You must protect your copyright.

While working on my Foto del Dia blog entry, I happened across a cool site.

Somehow I bumped into the website TinEye. It’s a reverse image search tool. It’s simple and easy to use. There are two ways to activate a search:

The website owner who poached my image has been contacted and the blog entry deleted.

1. Enter the URL of an image and it will find where that image is being used. Warning, this only works if there is only ONE image on the page. If there are multiple images, it uses the first. It’s a bit ineffective if you’re wanting to do a search on another image.

2. Upload a low-res image and it will search where that one is being used. This is more effective as it uses just that image. But, I beleive there are limitations on this.

Take for instance this photo of the bear. If you crop out just the mama bear standing and attempt to use that, it won’t find the other images which also contain the cub in the tree.

Therein lies both the beauty and the bane of the technology era. It’s not only easy to show your work to millions, but also it’s easier to have your work stolen. And as technology grows,

it’s easy to find who the thief is.

So for fun, I used one of my more famous bear images: Bears Rule!

Didn’t expect to see much, but I did find several blogs that were using it without attribution or permission.

One was a description of a bear outside their house and how they couldn’t get to their car. What’s funny is the description of the bear and then it states: “The worst part of the event was that the camera was still in the car. So I’ll post a black bear picture swiped from the World Wide Waste-of-time …”

Here’s a screen capture of of the blog:

So they not only use my photo without permission, but also blatantly state the “swiped” it from the web.

I immediately wrote a letter to the blog owner. Simply stated, I was flattered and outraged at the same time. It is copyright infraction to use a photo without permission.

I gave them two options and I expected them to follow neither.

The comment I posted on the blog. The blog entry was soon deleted.

1. Pay my standard website usage fee of $500.00  or

2. Face a copyright infraction lawsuit that may cost thousands.

I also tweeted the incident which was reposted on Facebook.

Not only did I leave a comment, I also subscribed to the blog.

All not to vain. This morning, the entry was deleted and the owner wrote a letter of apology. That’s all good.

The webiste owner removed the blog entry and wrote an apology.

I’m sure the blog owner was shocked. Imaging getting a letter such as that.

This was only a private blog, so there is no sense of accomplishment.

If this were a corporate entity, the battle lines would’ve been drawn and it would’ve gotten much further and much more nasty.

thank you for your time

Paul Conrad

Pablo Conrad Photography


  1. people with no idea of the hard work behind takeing great photos see no harm in “borrowing” or “swiping” photos off the net, and this is the rub.. its such a great tool to get your work out to the public… however it leaves us open for such disregard for the copyright and intellectual ownership … I’m glad there are people like yourself out there willing to put up a fight and show the Joe schmoes out there why what they are doing is so wrong !


    1. I’m sure that many people who just “right-click” don’t realize that taking an image off the web is petty theft. The more blatant thieves use if for the benefit of promoting their company.

      This happened to my friend Dan Bayer who lives in Aspen, Colo. I saw one of his images on the back of a truck here in Seattle and sent him a text with the picture.

      I’m sure the owner knew what he was doing was illegal as he is the owner of a sign company.


  2. Pablo,
    Thanks for the reminder that all our art on the web is subject to theft, whether unintentional or outright thievery.
    The National Association of Photoshop Professionals has had several articles in their magazine dealing just with such copyright infringement and how to deal with it. Apparently, this theft of digital art is a large and growing problem. It’s worth the price of a membership just for such articles.
    I’m glad the blog’s owner took responsibility and took down the post without further adieu from you (or the rest of us!)


    1. Thanks Geo for visiting.

      Yes, the site’s owner took it down without hesitation. Sad thing is I had to get out of character and be a dick. I don’t like that.

      But it is imperative we stand our ground.

      What’s that saying? If you want your rights, fight for them, if not then let them go.

      Thanks again Geo.


  3. Update: The owner of the blog responded to my response. As there has been no harm, there’s been no foul. All’s good in the world of the Internet.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  4. Paul,
    I feel your pain, your frustration and anger.

    I didn’t use to watermark my images because it did ruin the image but I got tired of people just right clicking and using the image.

    Disabling “hotlinking” is an option too but at times, it’s convenient having the ability to do that if you had to post something online.

    Thanks for the tip on Tineye.

    I’m sure you know of “photography” websites which don’t take their own pictures or articles. They just scour the net for both words and pictures then put ads on their blogs. Now those are the ones that really bug me. But don’t get me started.


    1. Thanks Peter.

      It was quite a shock. I also found it on a Japanese website which disappeared after the one blog owner took hers down. I think they were linked.

      Two birds with one stone.

      I think programs like TinEye are great tools for photographers. I believe it would be good to have a gallery that TinEye could monitor and send you an e-mail if it finds anything.

      Thanks again Peter.


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