Anyone who takes images, whether with a digital back on a Hasselblad, or a humble mobile phone, owns the copyright on that content. Even if it was a picture of your cat, nobody has the right to take it and use it without permission. On a larger scale, professional photographers and visual image libraries like SilverHub Media generate income with their creative work. Taking photos off the internet without permission is much the same as walking into someone’s front room and half-inching their TV.
With the global presence of the internet, lots of people are finding that their images turn up on someone else’s site. Many of these are personal sites, with no commercial intent. They probably don’t know much about copyright law. However that cannot be said for major internet organisations like facebook, Linked-in, or Pinterest. These sites are making money from using peoples’ creative work without payment as they sell advertising based on people viewing content.
There are two ways of asserting your copyright ownership – firstly by putting a visible watermark on the image, and secondly by inserting metadata – which is like an index card – into the image header, for example, you need to have at least the name of the copyright holder and the date. Most commercial images have far more than this, including keywords and description, so the image is easier to find by picture researchers and photo buyers, and usually have caption material added as well.
Most of the major social networking sites strip off the metadata from uploaded pictures and other media. Sadly even Photoshop did this until relatively recently. The reason was probably that the data increased the file size of the image, in the ancient eons of the internet….circa 1995. That is not the case now when you can stream HD to your smartphone. But major organisations continue to do this. The IPTC Embedded Metadata Project tested various social media sites and Facebook, Pinterest and Linked in came out bottom of the class. This is also illegal under US and EU law.