What to do when you discover your images used without permission.
By Tony Donaldson | March 07, 2011
You're browsing through a website and you see a great looking image. One that is awfully familiar. Heyyyy... Wait a minute! That image is YOURS! And you know you never authorized that use.
I've just been talking with a friend who is dealing with this now. We've all experienced it. But what do you do about it?
Sadly, especially in the extreme sports world, one of two things usually happen. Either the photographer writes it off, or goes to the other extreme and turns into an entitled kid or a whiny bitch about it, raising hell and making a lot of noise about it like a spoiled brat.
Neither one is correct. The former teaches others to walk all over you, the latter is unprofessional and childish.
Let's take my friend's situation as an example. He photographed a professional, sponsored driver for a car company's PR department. His paperwork clearly gives them the rights to distribute it for PR use, but not for advertising. The driver is sponsored by several other companies for helmets and wheels and tires and exhaust and... well, you get the idea. He even discussed with the driver (a friend of his) that the images were for the car company's PR use only, but if any of the driver's sponsors was interested in using the images, they could contact him directly. The driver agreed.
One of those companies ended up using the images on their website and in their catalog, and no permission was given. Friend (photographer) discovered those and was angry, of course, when he discovered this. But instead of flying off the handle, he went the best and most diplomatic and professional way.
First, he called his client and explained what had happened. Not pointing fingers, not angry, just stating what had happened to try to find out how the other company came into possession of the high-res versions of the images. He didn't accuse the driver or the client of any wrong-doing. He just wanted to be properly compensated, as he should have been, for the use.
The client understood, and though they didn't confront the other cosponsoring company, they offered to pay for it. Everyone ended up winning, because the client respected the photographer for standing up for what he should have, he will get a check for it, and the relationship is stronger for it.
Getting angry and threatening lawsuits from the beginning doesn't serve this purpose, being professional and helping to educate clients on proper usage and fees does. I'm very proud of my friend for handling his situation the way he did.
Before you fly off the handle with a client, take a moment, step back, and choose the way to handle the situation that brands you as a professional who commands respect, don't be an entitled prima donna. You'll build stronger relationships and earn more work.
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