Imagine this: You’re an aspiring model who has posted some great photos from your portfolio online to help you find representation or modeling jobs. Flash forward a few weeks, and you get an email from a friend saying, “Is this you?” And it IS a picture of you! Except, the photos you uploaded were stolen by another website and are being used for commercial purposes, or even on a dating website! Not only did you not give your permission for your photos to be used, but you also are not being compensated for them.
Certainly, this is not what you signed up for, but you’re also not earning any money, and your pictures are being used without your permission solely for the financial gain of the person or company that stole your pictures. So, what do you do now?
The best way to deal with this situation is to prevent it from happening in the first place by doing your research before uploading your photos to a site. But that won’t help you much once it’s already occurred. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to safeguard yourself from a situation like this in the first place, and if you are already represented by a modeling agency, they can help prevent your photos from being stolen by people outside of the industry, and ultimately go after them if they do.
One of the first things you should check out before uploading your photos anywhere is if they can be kept private or if they are made available to the public. If your photos can be viewed by the public, they are available to anyone who may want to steal your photos and use without your permission. On the flip side, if your photos are not available to the public you may limit your opportunities for new clients to see you. It’s a dilemma. It is a good time to think about editing your photos down to what you are okay with appearing online and what you are willing to share with clients that you’ve had an opportunity to screen before showing them everything.
If you’ve signed a contract with a modeling agency or a release form with a photographer, always be sure the check the fine print to see how they will be allowed to use your photos. It may be that your photos weren’t stolen at all, but you’ve given them permission to use them as they wish. It also applies to websites like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and even dating websites. Always check the Terms of Service of sites to see if there are provisions as to how your photos can be used.
If you do find yourself in the unfortunate situation of your modeling photos being stolen and used without your permission, you have several options.
Many sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have standard online forms you can submit to file a complaint. Be sure to include all the information they require so they can act quickly and remove your photos as soon as possible.
It may be that the owner of the website is unaware that your photos are being used without your permission. They may have hired a web designer or have an art department that thought it was easier just to steal a photo rather than pay for it. Look for a contact page on the website with information on how you can either email or phone the company directly.
If the website owner has refused to remove your material, your next step is to file a complaint with the web hosting company. Web hosting companies are obligated under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to remove material that has been published without the owner’s permission.
The hosting company will contact the website owner notifying them of your complaint, and if they still refuse to remove your material the web hosting company can remove the offender’s entire website from their servers.
To find out who hosts a website start with a WHOIS search. Enter the domain name of the website and look for the Name Servers. The information in the Name Server will give you a clue to what hosting company is being used.
If the suggestions above don’t work, it does not necessarily mean all hope is lost in your case, so it is best to contact a lawyer to figure out what you can do about it.
If possible try to find a lawyer that specializes in internet fraud, intellectual property, or copyright law. A lawyer may have tools that aren’t available to you and will be able to find out more about who and how the offender is operating. Sometimes just receiving a letter from a lawyer (or from your modeling agency) threatening legal action is enough to get the fraudulent company to correct their actions.
Chances are if your photos were stolen so were the photos of other models. Do your part by warning other models. Social media is a great tool to get the word out about a bad client or website.
As a model, you are a self-employed, independent contractor. You are essentially running your own small business. Like any business owner, you must be protective of your assets; and your photos, image, and brand are everything you have. Keep your ears and eyes open for potential problems so you can nip them in the bud before they become a big problem.