Are you a photo thief?

With the rise of social media and internet advertising, there are more and more examples of people using images inappropriately and illegally. Here's what you can and can’t do with other people’s photos

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If a photo has a watermark like this, it means it is being used illegally. By the way, we have permission to publish this image in order to illustrate the point!

The New Zealand competition season is well underway, but alarmingly, and to photographers’ frustration, every day we see more examples of people using photos inappropriately – and illegally.

You may be an enthusiast amateur rider who has quite an Instagram following, or a professional rider aiming for national honours. Perhaps you run a business. We’ve seen illegal use of images in all cases, so this article should help you understand what is appropriate, legal, and fair.

Perhaps some of the younger culprits – or those new to the sport – can plead ignorance at their first offence, and as long as they remedy the situation when asked (by either paying for use of the image, or removing it from their social media or other unauthorised use) most photographers will be forgiving. But sadly, there are many repeat offenders, who should know better. It could prove costly for them.

So – just what you can do and can’t do with images on the internet?

Copyright law – who owns the image?

The copyright owner is the photographer who took the image. The only exception is when the photographer is commissioned or takes the photograph as an employee, and then the copyright is held by the person/business commissioning the photos.

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Just a few of the battalion of photographers at this year’s Olympics

The person who creates a photograph or video retains the copyright when it is uploaded anywhere, including social media. Anyone wanting to use an image or video not taken by them must seek permission first from the originator, credit the person, and pay if requested. On social media, sharing a post, reposting on Instagram or retweeting is the only other acceptable way to use a copyrighted image.

But the photograph is of me – it must be mine! An argument used many times. It’s wrong. We repeat: the photographer owns the copyright. You have come to an equestrian event, knowing (and probably hoping) there may be photographers there, so that means you have given implied consent for your photo to be taken. If you don’t want your picture taken, or used on websites or social media, just tell the photographer or the event concerned.

But I’ve bought the photo – I can use it however I like! This is another frequent argument. It’s wrong, too. What you have purchased is a print or a digital copy of the image, and a licence to use it under certain conditions. Private use means you can put it on the wall in your house and/or use it as your screensaver, and can also (but doesn’t always) mean that you can put it on your own social media networks. You will need to negotiate – and probably pay more – if you want to use the picture in other situations, especially for commercial gain. For example, if you want to use it to advertise your horse for sale, to advertise your own equestrian business, or give it to your sponsor to use, you MUST check with the photographer first.

Some photographers will be happy to give you this permission, simply for asking. Others will ask for an additional fee. This is completely within their rights.

What really get photographers’ backs up is when they see their images being used illegally for commercial gain. Even the most obvious of watermarks, stating: “If you see this watermark, this image is stolen” don’t seem to put people off. We’ve seen horses and ponies advertised on Trade Me for more than $20,000, but using stolen images! Photographers can (and will) report you to Trade Me for breach of copyright, and can then send you an invoice for far more than it would have cost you for the image if you had purchased it legally.

Share – don’t copy

There are certain situations where you can use other people’s images. NZ Horse & Pony, like many other businesses with Facebook pages, publishes a lot of images. It is acceptable to share these posts or images, by clicking on the share button. That is considered fair use, as it is obvious where they were sourced from and you are pointing people back to the original page. We like it when you share our images, as do most other pages, including photographers. It helps us reach new people. But don’t download the images and upload them to your own site or page without acknowledgement or reference to where they came from – this is copyright infringement.

It doesn’t matter if the image is watermarked or not, if it’s taken by a professional or a happy snapping amateur, you cannot COPY it unless the copyright holder (ie. the photographer) expressly states you can. If it’s on Facebook, you can like the picture and share it to your page so that it is obvious where the picture came from, but you cannot copy or upload it for your own use. If it’s on Twitter, just retweet. If it’s on Instagram, then repost giving credit. If in doubt, contact the photographer!

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Hard-working equestrian photographer Jan Sutherland on the job

Photographers are trying to earn a living

There has been a lot of discussion between photographers about this growing issue, as they see their images used illegally on various social media platforms and websites. Some have got to the point where they will no longer take pictures of certain riders, due to their history of stealing images. There are even some events which they won’t go to, because of the amount of illegal copying of images at that show.

If you are one of those people who has frequently used images illegally online, don’t be surprised if you find fewer and fewer photos of yourself are taken. Photographers do talk to each other, and word will soon get around that you are a thief.

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Well-known Kiwi equestrian photographers Barbara Thomson and Libby Law

We have some very talented photographers at equestrian events here. Most sell directly to the riders, some also sell to magazines and websites such as ours, and others sell their work through agents for wider distribution. It is a competitive business to be in, and photographers work hard to earn a living.

It is not the glamorous profession you may think. Yes, photographers get to go to some fabulous horse shows, but there are hours of work afterwards, editing, captioning, dispatching, loading to websites and marketing, as well as all the office work involved in running a business, such as sending invoices.

It’s not always fun standing outside all day at a horse event, especially when there is a cold wind and driving rain trying to ruin your expensive gear. A magazine editor wanting an action shot of the winner in a class of 50+ entries will only hire a photographer who can deliver – rain, hail or sunburn – in time to meet a tight deadline.

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Standing in a paddock all day taking pictures isn’t quite the glamorous occupation it may appear!

Your own brand

You may also like to consider the damage you are doing to your own brand, or reputation, if you continually use watermarked images; it screams the message that you are either ignorant or a thief. Either way, it’s probably not the look you are after. If you have aspirations for a bright future, you may be jeopardising that by stealing images. Employers and prospective sponsors do check out your social media, so think about what they will see. Don’t let yourself down by having watermarked images – delete them.

And if you are selling your horse, and use images with watermarks, you are already saying you can’t be trusted. Why should any purchaser believe what you are saying about your horse if they can see you are desperate enough to steal photos?

Further reading

There are many articles on this topic. Craig Payne has an interesting one on this link. Chronicle of the Horse has another along the same theme – and written by a photographer who is going to quit thanks to all the riders stealing the photos. Here’s the link to that article. The issue is obviously a worldwide one. Here’s another good article from Australia on this link.

Horse & Pony Mag has an Instagram account too
Horse & Pony Mag has an Instagram account too and we love seeing the wonderful images on other equestrian-lovers accounts – legal ones!