How Should I Respond to Copied Photos?

closeThis post was published 13 years 5 months 4 days ago. A number of changes have been made to the site since then, so please contact me if anything is broken or seems wrong.

Update (2009-11-02): I had the content removed this summer. Pretty fast, too; Facebook’s DMCA team had both offending albums deleted within about 24 hours.

All right, it’s time to get this issue out there.  I tweeted it a few times before, many months ago, but last night I was just reminded of the issue by an entire Facebook album of photos uploaded by someone I went canoeing with last summer — but represented as original works.  No credit, no acknowledgment, not even anything about the fact that someone else took the photos!

Fine, I did upload the photos to Picasa Web Albums and set them as public, and I did send everyone on the trip the URL of the gallery page… But still, those are my pictures that have been taken without any attribution and uploaded to a social website that claims a ton of rights to user-submitted content in the fine print of its user agreements:

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

In short:

[…] this means you’re giving up copyright control of your material. If you upload a photo to Facebook, they can sell copies of it without paying you a cent. If you write lengthy notes (or import your blog posts!), Facebook can turn them into a book, sell a million copies, and pay you nothing. This deserves careful consideration!

Both of the above quotes were copied from a great post at Legal Andrew on the subject of Facebook.  (See?  Attribution is so easy to give, and yet it’s so often left out.)

So there are issues with Facebook’s terms of service.  There are also issues with the emotional connection I feel with my own photos, and my desire to be credited for my work, and my wish to be recognized by others for what I’ve done.  Oh, and let’s not forget the horrible feeling that comes from knowing other people think someone else created your work.

I’m not going to mention who copied my photos, not by name.  That doesn’t matter; I can handle that person’s abuse easily enough, once I decide what course of action to take.  Which brings me to the point of this post.

Using a question as a post title isn’t something I do often (despite it being advised).  That means I really want reader feedback on the post, even more than normal.  So, it’s a simple question:

How should I handle this unauthorized, unattributed uploading of my content to Facebook?

Should I contact the person through the messaging system (or email)?  Or just send Facebook a DMCA notice for the images and be done with it?

I look forward to any and all opinions on this matter.


I am an avid technology and software user, in addition to being reasonably well-versed in CSS, JavaScript, HTML, PHP, Python, and (though it still scares me) Perl. Aside from my technological tendencies, I am also a theatre technician, sound designer, violinist, singer, and actor.


  1. Ouch. That’s got to hurt.

    I’d suggest messaging this person and attempting to clear the matter up first. Bringing the matter up directly with Facebook would, while perhaps being the most efficient route, probably make the guy angry with you, especially if it was just an honest slip of the mind, however unlikely.

    If he refuses to add credit or remove the pictures in accordance with your wishes, or takes too long to respond (this seems like it would be fairly time sensitive), then more extreme measures could be taken, and methinks rightfully so.

    Hope you get this worked out. Having content stolen is not cool.

  2. Oh, I should mention that I found a lone copied photo a while back in the same person’s account. She (sorry, you guessed wrong 😛 ) just evaded the question when I asked where she’d gotten it. That was months ago. I suppose I could try again…

  3. That’s really unfortunate. Using a photo taken by someone else without giving credit happens a lot (not saying that it is good), but uploading other people’s photos to Facebook is just ridiculous.

  4. @88michael: I’ve seen bigger stinks made about using photos without permission/attribution (did y’all hear about the uproar over the “Here Comes Another Bubble” video?), and it obviously is a significant problem. But what makes Facebook ridiculous (in your words) is the fact that you’re not just violating someone’s rights; you’re giving away a ton of their rights without permission. Ain’t that great?

  5. Margaret Sch.

    What is I want to post an irate rant that’s in agreement with your own indignant protest? Anyway, did you end up asking that person to give you credit for your photos? Did he or she readily do so, as one would expect?

  6. Margaret Sch.

    I wanted to say, of course, “what IF I want to post an irate rant that’s in agreement with your own indignant protest?”

  7. @Margaret: If you want to write a post of your own that’s related or in reference to someone else’s, you can just link to the post you’re talking about. For example, I’m writing about something Legal Andrew posted in this very post, and I just linked to it (“a great post at Legal Andrew”, above). Something similar to that would work.

    You might write (not to put words in your mouth, but just as an example): “A post my friend dgw wrote at the end of last summer got me thinking…” and so on.

    Note that if I used WordPress, I could fix your comment for you, but Blogger is rather limited. In the future… I’m planning to switch at some point in the next few years.

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