Copyright Infringement By Other Wedding Vendors
The wedding photograph above was taken by me at at Elm Farm Country House in 2016. This whole sorry episode has nothing to do with the venue.
As photographers, at some stage you’re likely going to find someone using one or more of your photographs without permission. Sadly, as a wedding photographer this is a common occurrence. This can either be another wedding photographer passing your image(s) off as their own or a wedding vendor using an image to promote their business.
I do allow other vendors to use my images on their websites but there are conditions attached (made in writing) such as crediting me and linking to my website. An image being used for any commercial purpose would attract a cost unless there was a very good business case not to that was an advantage to my business (that use would still be in writing). I retain the copyright to all my images and I make that very clear in my wedding contract. My main reason for doing so is to ensure I keep control my images.
Before I start, if you’re going through this right now make sure you collect all the evidence of the copyright Infringement straight away. Screen dump everything, keep all emails and place them all in a folder to be used later if you need to!
So, this story begins here.
On Tuesday of last week, I added a post to my website and published it via the Google Search Console, I then checked to see how it had been indexed. All looked great and I then moved on to have a browse in the image section of the search engine. Images from my post were appearing and as I scrolled down something caught my eye.
I spotted the image above. Upon closer look, I noticed it had been edited with text added to advertise a wedding fair. Not only did the image have all the details for the event, the image had the name of the wedding vendor, their telephone number, their web address and their Facebook Business page name on it.
I’ve blacked out the details of the wedding vendor but this is the photograph I discovered.
The odd thing however was that the image didn’t link back to the vendor on the image but to someone different offering a wedding service at a different website.
I’ve never given anyone permission to use this image!
So hacked off at this, I sent a sarcastic email to the vendor to see if they were happy for me use their products for free.
Hi xxxxxx and xxxxxx,
I was wondering if I could have the use of one of your (insert here what they supply, removed so they can’t be identified) for free please?
A short time later I received a reply asking who I was and what it is for. So I thought well lets just get down to it.
I will cut to the chase.
I am a professional photographer and every six months I take a selection of my images and check to see if they are being used without my permission.
(removed the URL of the offending post containing the image)
I found the above image today on your website. I am the copyright owner of that image and you never sought permission to use it or add text to it for a commercial reason.
So I would like you to delete it from your website as soon as you can please.
The Reply and More
If you’re a wedding photographer you’ll be amazed at the reply I got back!
It would have been a lot simpler if you had said that in the first place or called us to ask why it was on there, my number is xxxxxxxxxxx if you would like to discuss this in person.
The photo was actually used by (name of wedding vendor removed) in (location removed) as an advert for their wedding fair back in 2016, hence why it has their details on there about their wedding fair, we simply exhibited there and were told to use that advert that they created obviously using your image. Absolutely fine for us to remove it from the website, I will forward your email across to our IT department now and they will action this today.
As you can appreciate, we have simply used an advert which was sent to us to advertise a wedding show. We had no reason to question that it was originally obtained without your permission. There would have been over 40 suppliers who used that advert, pretty much anyone who was exhibiting at that show.
I had to read it a couple times for it to sink in. In their rush to provide an excuse, I found out a lot more.
Those in the legal trade might call this “a full and frank admission”, something I wasn’t expecting.
So I called the person above. When confronting a business that’s breaching your copyright as a general rule two things happen. Firstly, they don’t like being told they have and secondly they give an excuse and normally it’s to blame someone else. They reiterated what they has said in the email and promised to remove the image that day. Today as I am writing this section is the 28th September 2019 and the image has still not been removed.
I was astounded. Not only has another wedding vendor used my image without permission for commercial use and profited from it, it also appears it was sent around to 40 other wedding vendors to do the same.
Clearly my image had been used for commercial gain.
Excellent. They’re all making money from my work! Except me!
UK Copyright Law
So at this point it would be a good idea to discuss copyright. In the UK “people” can use copyright images in certain circumstances.
The government website does a good job at explaining these here: Exceptions to Copyright
None of those circumstances apply in this situation.
If you want to know more about avoiding copyright infringement in the UK and the possible consequences to your business in infringing someone else copyright please check out this link: Avoiding Copyright Infringement
More information for photographers: Photographers Copyright
So let’s me deal straight away with the excuse given.
The Blame Game Excuse – It Wasn’t Me
As a business owner you’re responsible for the content on your website. If you use an image you need to know that you’ve permission to use that image. Especially wedding photographs! Especially a photograph used for financial gain. By default (in most cases) professional wedding photographs are subject to copyright. Simply saying saying that someone said that you could use it doesn’t negate your responsibility to be absolutely sure. The buck stops with you. The “it was someone else” excuse doesn’t work if you’ve breached copyright.
Try going to court as a business owner, standing up and confirming that you did use an image for commercial gain but someone else gave you the image and it’s not your fault. You’re responsible for your own decisions.
Any photograph you use for financial/commercial gain is a potential time bomb and you need to be 100% sure you can use it. In this case the business made the mistake that the person who gave them the edited photograph to use had done their due diligence and they hadn’t. But the image is still a matter of copyright.
If you’re a business using a copyright image for commercial gain and you don’t have permission to use it you don’t have an excuse!
Secondly, as a wedding vendor consider your reputation and the damage to your business along with the costs that using images inappropriately could bring.
I did a simple rate/cost check online as to the value of an image used in this way for commercial purpose, it came out as £300.
So the original wedding vendor who took my image, edited it and then distributed it to another 40 wedding vendors, has cost me in the region of £12,000. That doesn’t include costs for breaching my copyright and editing my image without permission.
The Mr Big in This Case
It was time to actually call “Mr Big” behind all of this. So I called the offending wedding vendor and spoke to a lady who told me she was the owner of the business. She had obviously already been warned that she might be hearing from me.
The call followed the same pattern of indignation and excuse.
In summary I was told the image was given to her by the bride (that she asked her for). Secondly, she explained they were no longer using the image so it didn’t matter anymore suggesting it was too late for me to do to do anything about it.
The line however that really got me was “I don’t like your tone, we’re a professional business”. She was dismissive and basically disinterested. As a business owner in this situation she handled the call in the worse possibly way when faced with this situation. Hold that thought.
So what did I learn. She admitted to using my image and she obtained it from the bride.
I will repeat this again and again. Professional wedding photographs are nearly always (99.9%) subject to copyright of the photographer. In my case it’s stated in my wedding contract. I retain the copyright to all my images. In my experience, wedding vendors try to circumnavigate the photographer by going to the bride for photographs. I point this out to the bride when they sign the wedding contract and tell them any requests for wedding photographs should be directed to me.
As a “professional business” you should be aware of the law on copyright. If you want to use a wedding photograph in your business for commercial use you need to go direct to the person who took that image. You’re a grown up and you should know that. You have no excuse.
The wedding vendor tried to dismiss me by saying the image was no longer being used by them. Well that isn’t relevant (or true). My photograph was used for commercial gain and the edited version they created and distributed was still on the internet for all to see.
So I checked their Facebook Business page.
On their list of posts was my edited image. Posted on two separate occasions. So in fact it was still in use by them.
A Second Unauthorised Copyright Infringement
Upon checking, I also found the above photograph of mine also being used commercially for the same wedding fair.
But more than that, the image was used again a year later again edited with all the details of the new event with added text. In fact it was used on four separate occasions to advertise their new wedding fair. Now saying the images were no longer in use was clearly not correct. If they were not in use how could I have found them? What she actually meant was the event they had used them for was not a current one. I suspect they’d forgotten they were still on their Facebook Business page!
I downloaded this image from “Mr Bigs” Facebook Business page. I then opened it up in Adobe Camera RAW and checked the IPTC Core EXIF data. Guess what I found? I found the creator was I and it had my copyright notice in the copyright notice section. This information is well worth embedding in your wedding photographs.
What To Do Now
As I stated at the start make sure you collect all the evidence by screen dumping and keeping each case of misuse safe in a folder. I’m going to write to the wedding vendor and list all the copyright infringements. Secondly, I’m going to invoice them for the authorised use of my images.
What Happens If They Ignore You
This sort of behaviour has become widespread in photography. So much so the courts have made it much easier to obtain a legal solution to these issue’s that’s low cost via the HM Courts and Tribunals Services. It’s all handled online. You can create an account for this service here and make a claim: Money Claim Online
There is more useful information here regarding the protocols required before making a claim against a company: Useful information re clams and protocols
In my experience, companies will try and ignore you believing you’ll not seek a legal remedy regarding these issues due to the cost. This is no longer the case. The costs are very affordable.
|Claim amount||Paper form fee||Online claim fee|
|Up to £300||£35||£25|
|£300.01 to £500||£50||£35|
|£500.01 to £1,000||£70||£60|
|£1,000.01 to £1,500||£80||£70|
|£1,500.01 to £3,000||£115||£105|
|£3,000.01 to £5,000||£205||£185|
|£5,000.01 to £10,000||£455||£410|
|£10,000.01 to £100,000||5% of the claim||4.5% of the claim|
In addition you can also claim interest on the amount owed. See the web-page for more information.
Having come from a legal background I’m more than happy to take the legal route if I’m forced to and you should to if forced to do so if someone has breached your copyright.
What To Do If You’re Faced With a Breach of Copyright Claim
If you’re a business owner and are contacted regarding a breach of copyright what should you do? Firstly, be nice! Find out the facts. Ask what this is regarding and how you may have breached copyright. Do not give an excuse. Take full details and go and investigate for yourself what may have happened.
Do you have anything in writing that gives you permission to use the image in question the way you have?
Ask yourself this question, do I really have permission to use the image the way I have. Be absolutely honest with yourself on that question. Without permission of the copyright owner, in writing, then you’ve very little to defend yourself if you’ve used a copyright image for commercial gain. Seek legal advise from a professional straight away.
Never forget, first contact is the most important! Be nice and be polite, I can’t overstate this! It’s easier to resolve if people like you.
In this case the attitude of the wedding vendor made me dig deeper and I found out more breaches of my copyright by them.
What To Do If You’re a Photographer
If you’re a photographer make sure your have the original images in RAW and if you have a contract that will help. As the taker of the image you own the copyright. It belongs to you.
Gather all your evidence in once place and record everything. Work out how much the image would cost to supply for the use it has been put to. There are many rate checkers online that will do that for you. The court will potentially want to see how you arrived at that figure if you have to go to court. Write a letter to the vendor and carefully explain how they have breached your copyright. Include an invoice for the money you have lost.
In my case the breach is obvious and flagrant. I’ve already stated that the vendor owes me in the regain of £12000 for use of just the one image that was sent to 40 other wedding vendors. That didn’t include the second breach. I’ll actually invoice then for far less. That demonstrates to the court I’m being very reasonable and not taking advantage of my position. It also keeps the costs down if I’m forced to go the legal route.
Update on the Original Image
The original wedding vendor has now removed my image from their website and I hope they’ve genuinely learnt about the dangers of this sort of thing. I wasn’t really interested in their “indiscretion” it was “Mr Big” who took my work, edited for their own advantage and then handed it around to others for their own profit.
Not once, but as I now know, twice!
Do I assume the second image was handed around to another 40 wedding vendors? I’ve no evidence of that but I know for sure “Mr Big” has used it for their commercial gain.
I’ll be invoicing the wedding vendor today and I’ll be giving them 30 days to pay.
I’ll keep this post updated as and when there’s new information to tell.