It feels personal.
That was what surprised me, when I first found some of my photographs posted to somebody else’s account. They were fairly innocuous choices – a landscape, some flowers, a shot of my living room; mercifully the photos of my daughter had been left alone, yet I still felt alarmingly invaded. It was like strolling into my living room one day, & finding a stranger grubbily fingering the family albums.

We share these little squares of our life publicly, but it does’t mean they’re any less precious or personal to us. It’s a real jolt to find people taking our images, reposting them as their own, sometimes even ‘borrowing’ whole chunks of our lives. Have you come across the baby role play accounts? That’s messed up in ways I can’t even comprehend.*

After a couple of years on Instagram, I’m pretty used to it all now; I no longer get annoyed or upset, though I do still feel irrational spikes of rage when discovering somebody has unnecessarily added a yellow-toned filter whilst reposting my work. I mean, seriously: reposting is one thing, but to throw on a 2012-era filter is like digitally urinating all over my stolen photographs. Not cool.

Aaanyway, I’ve got my rational response pretty much figured out these days, and so I thought I’d share it here.

What to do if someone steals your photograph

  • Step 1: Take a screen grab. Check the rest of the account and screen grab any other images of your own that have been used – these will come in handy if you get blocked at a later step of the process.
  • Step 2: Comment on each picture, politely asking to be credited. The vast majority of picture-reposters genuinely don’t realise they’re doing anything wrong, and will immediately comply. Problem solved, delete the pics from step 1.
  • Step 3: If that doesn’t work, it’s time to consider how much this really matters to you. Points to consider are, how big is this account? Who do you think is behind it? What’s the likely harm from allowing the posts to remain on their feed? Before you decide, read my notes below on why people do take other’s images.
  • Step 4: File a copyright infringement, using the link here. Don’t bother using the ‘report as spam or abuse’ options on the photo post – the photograph is technically neither, and this will have no affect. Just keep clicking through, fill in the form, provide links to each stolen image, and links to your own work as evidence. Instagram will always remove the offending posts within 24 hours.
    A few points worth noting about this process: it’s a lengthy form, and you’ll need to include your address, but it won’t be shared anywhere. Often I found it wouldn’t load properly, and took two or three tries to open or submit before I could file a complaint. (The cynic in me thinks this is probably deliberate, as the man-power for Instagram to individually respond to these reports must be fairly weighty; A buggy form means only the most persistent and genuine claims are likely to be submitted.)
    Instagram won’t ban or delete the account for you. Even if every image in their gallery was stolen from you – they’ll simply delete each image you report, and let you know when this has been done, so it’s still worth blocking the account whilst also keeping an eye out for further transgressions.

Why do people do this?

In my experience, the vast majority of the offenders here are actually just really young teenage girls. Many are used to Pinterest & Tumblr where reposting images is standard, and are seeking to create ‘inspiration’ accounts on Instagram, or play pretend at being someone else.
As far as I can tell, the same is even true of those creepy role play accounts, though I maintain that they are  effed up, and wholeheartedly urge the kids in question to go out & take up quilling or lacrosse instead.
There also seem to be cultural differences in how people use Instagram around the world; a few times I’ve found followers in other countries who use a photograph of me as their own profile picture. When I’ve commented that I find this strange, they’ve been genuinely surprised – but I just really like you! – and struggled to understand why I wanted them to change it. I went through a whole language-barriered battle getting one friendly girl to remove her profile shot of me, only to finally have her replace it with a different one. At this point I realised the futility, and that I simply needed to get over it; it really wasn’t harming me, apart from all the time I was wasting on fighting it!

Way back last year I posted on Instagram about a copying problem, and got some really thoughtful responses, including this from the awesome kirstenricket:

“As time had passed I have reached a place where I don’t let it bother me and have decidedly learnt to take it as a compliment. I have the choice to make my images private, but I don’t and this is largely because I want to appreciated and celebrated. I also have things all over Pinterest and in print magazines and I would not be bothered if a kid cut out the image from a mag and stuck it on her bedroom wall, so why be bothered by it being used on her virtual wall. Daily I see people using images of my daughters as their profile pics, and generally it is not sinister, it is a celebration. I am happy the beauty is spread and I try and set my ego aside. Sometimes it takes enormous courage to do so. So long as no one is making money from my work, then I am zen with it and bend like the willow. It makes for a graceful journey”.

I recall at the time that I slightly struggled to share her perspective. I’d just found some weird account that was acting out my actual life, and I was mad and grumpy and insecure. Perhaps our perception of the damage of regramming ties in with our own sense of success; now, a year on, more confident and successful, I find I’ve come to the exact same conclusions as Kirsten on my own.

How can I protect myself from it?

Sadly, short of setting your account to private, you pretty much can’t. Watermarks tend to be ugly & invasive, and do little to deter the reposters. The more popular your account, the more likely you are to attract this sort of stuff. Share the names of dodgy accounts quietly with your instafriends so you can all block them, & use my list to work through any problems.

Have you experienced this, or anything similar?  How did you handle it? I’d love to chat in the comments below.

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More in this series:

* a gentle reminder here not to blame the victims. The problem isn’t the people sharing online, it is creeps & baddies using stuff inappropriately.

23 Comments

  • Karmela Mirriam Ebreo

  • July 25, 2016

Hi, Sara! I’ve had my fair share of this and my Instagram isn’t even as big as yours. I hate it when I see people posting my photos as their own. I’m like “but I worked hard to capture that photograph”. Well, I do take them as a compliment. Not giving credit is what really bothers me though. Kirsten was right though. We do this because we want to be appreciated and celebrated. Maybe, it’s high time I learn to not bother about it. Thanks for a wonderful post ?

  • Ché Dyer

  • February 21, 2016

Hey Sara- I LOVED reading through this and I can completely relate! I’ve had someone create an entire blog using entirely my images and photos – which was completely unnerving! (particularly her sharing her “Valentine’s Day dinner with her boyfriend” {my husband}) haha.

Since then I’ve launched a new instagram account where I often share personal doodles and illustrated bits and pieces – they are SO often used by HUGE accounts without credit and as much as I hate to admit it, my ego does get super fired up (and simultaneously burned) when it happens, because I feel like I deserve the credit for taking the time, effort and patience to sit and draw those graphics myself. Yes, anyone could trace over those images/ illustrations – but they choose not to because it’s such a lot of time – when it’s easier to just use the image that they’ve already found via google – but that is my frustration exactly – the person who is putting in the time and effort deserves to be appropriately credited… not the accounts who are skimming off everyone else’s work.

In one instance, I did exactly as you mentioned in step one and two, and posted on the woman’s feed asking kindly for credit, after which posting on my own feed tagging her- and she came back at me with WILD FURY at how I was singling her out when “everyone is doing it” 🙁 SO frustrating!

Anywhoo!!! This comment turned into an essay! (Clearly a very big issue of mine, but I’m working on it!) Am new to your blog, Freya from Nishaantishu has been telling me about you! x

  • Laurie Elle

  • July 20, 2015

Your photos are beautiful!!

I’ve also had people steal my photos before, I really hate people using photos of me for ‘roleplay’ accounts they are creepy! Love this post!

LaurieElle.com xx

  • Lisa

  • July 18, 2015

It happened to me before. Thankfully just with ‘unimportant’ images and not pictures of Lilia.. Still it felt strangely personal. Once an account using dozens of Kirsten Rickerts pictures popped up on my instagram.. When I messaged her to let her know, I got a very thoughtful message back. I think she is right, but I really dont know if I could be that relaxed if it is about my daughter..

  • Sara Tasker

  • July 12, 2015

Thanks for the compliment! I personally love having people share my photos elsewhere wth credit. It’s all good stuff! Thanks for sharing 🙂 x

  • Sara Tasker

  • July 12, 2015

Ah, so awkward! But well done for responding so positively! It’s a weirdly unpleasant experience. I suppose digital watermarks will be a thing before too long…? I’m basing that on science fiction, admittedly, but how hard can it be?

  • Zoë Power

  • July 12, 2015

Really interesting post Sara – thanks for sharing. This has happened to me a bit and sometimes I’ve had success simply commenting on the photos and asking them to remove them. I think you’re right in that many people don’t realise that what they are doing is wrong!

I’ve also been pondering what I think about re-posting other people’s images when they are credited, but not asked. I used to get annoyed, but not do anything about it….It can be good exposure if the person sharing has a lot of followers….But then again, I’ve put a lot of effort into my photos and is it right that others claim them as part of their photostream/lifestyle (not everyone reads the credit note)? But really I’ve come to the conclusion that little harm is really done, taken it as a compliment and keep doing what I’m doing. I think the best thing to do is keep coming up with good original content and that will win out in the end…

  • Sara

  • July 12, 2015

This is an awesome post. As my followers grow I have started thinking about this issue a lot more frequently. Your points make me think a little more rationally without initially seeing red.

  • olga

  • July 12, 2015

Hi Sara. Thank you very much for sharing this information. I’m fairly new to instagram and wasn’t aware of all this horrible stuff going on. How do you even find out if someone else is using your images? Is there a search you can do to check?

It’s quite terrifying, esp. those baby role play people. Not sure how they can just get away with it. I know there’s lots of weird people out there, but was hoping instagram would avoid them as I thought they are monitoring their users and what they post. I think it’s sort of easier if one’s feed is food or flowers and people steal their images, but gets tricky once you put pics of your kids and family life.

I’ve noticed recently you have fewer pics of Orla on your feed. Is that an intentional decision to protect her? I def. wouldn’t be comfortable if someone stole a photo of my kid, so I think I’ll try and post only faceless pics of him at least. The rest of the pictures I wouldn’t be bothered about, really, but I think I’m not at the stage where people would be tempted to do that yet :-).

  • megan

  • July 12, 2015

I’ve never had this happen before, but it is a little strange to use another person’s face as your own profile picture..awkward…I will say that I follow a lot of talented Instagram accounts (yours included) 🙂 and I often share the photos on my tumblr, but I always make sure to credit any picture that is not my own.. http://ilovefrostedcupcakes.tumblr.com/

  • Autumn

  • July 11, 2015

I had someone take a photo I had taken and they claimed it as theirs on facebook. It was very awkward when I complimented her for liking the photo, but asked her to credit it. She was nice about it, but I would just prefer it not to happen again.

  • Kathi

  • July 11, 2015

I just compared them again and now it’s not as striking. Maybe it’s just me, but I remember when I first saw it, I did find it strange how much similarity in colour, focus and choice of objects there was, at least in some pictures. Referring to minafagerlund…
x Kathi

  • Sara Tasker

  • July 11, 2015

It’s definitely annoying – hoping it never happens to you x Of course, now I *have* to ask which account you’re referring to? Super curious! x

  • Sara Tasker

  • July 11, 2015

Yes! Been there! I’ve heard Instagram really frown on the ‘calling out’ type reactions and people have had their accounts suspended for ‘bullying’ as a result! But it’s so tempting in the heat of the moment.
I kept Orla ‘faceless’ pretty much her first year. It felt strange to post my first real photo of her facing the camera, but I found myself feeling really resentful that I couldn’t share whatever I wanted. I applaud you for keepingn it up – it’s great to protect our little’s privacy wherever we can. I still prefer the faceless shots, like above, if given the choice.

  • Sara Tasker

  • July 11, 2015

Yes! I defo agree. I’ve read stories of people having their whole identity stolen online, by people who make up entirely fictitious lives for them. Whoever needs to do that has some serious problems in their real life, & you have to hope that in time those will be resolved and people will move on to more productive things! x

  • Kathi

  • July 11, 2015

Wow, I’m shocked about this. Given that my account is small, I’ve never had a problem like this, but I think it would really annoy me. I mean, I already found it irritating when I stumbled across an account that copied the style of yours.

  • Rachael Smith

  • July 11, 2015

Yes I’ve had this a few times. The first time I was so angry and posted about it telling everyone to go block them and report them. Helped for about 5 minutes and then I just felt pretty stupid. So dealt with it all a bit quieter next time.

This is also why all my pics of my kids are faceless. I just know I wouldn’t manage to let it go as easily if it was a pic of my kid or that freaky role play thing.

  • Francesca Stone

  • July 11, 2015

Luckily I’ve never experienced this, but I imagine when you do find someone playing at being you it can be pretty gut wrenching. I think it’s healthy not to get too hung up on these accounts. Most likely the person will eventually get bored of making a digital scrapbook and try to take some photos of their own! Let’s hope so anyway 😉

  • Sara Tasker

  • July 11, 2015

This. I still can’t fathom how that’s a *thing*; I just kept saying, but it’s MY face! x

  • Erin

  • July 11, 2015

It really is creepy to use a picture of someone else as your profile picture. The internet is a weird place.

Erin | http://beingeirn.com

  • Mikaelah

  • July 11, 2015

Well when watermarking I make sure to put it somewhere on the photo that can’t just easily be cropped off (but still make sure it doesn’t detract from the image I’m sharing!). If someone wants to repost my image and credit me for it then I’m all for it because that can get more traffic to my page but when people take your work and try to pass it off as their own, for me I think its more of a moral thing. I put so much time and effort into shooting that photo and making it look nice so someone just passing it off as their own really irritates me. I think it may have potential to harm a business if someone sees the image on the stealers account first and then they may think the actual photographer is stealing other peoples work but mainly its a moral thing, if someone has put time and effort into something, do the right thing and credit them. xx

  • Sara Tasker

  • July 10, 2015

Interesting! Thanks for sharing this Michaelah – I’m really interested to check out your watermarks and photography! It sounds like a great solution for you.
Sadly I’ve found plenty of people’s watermarked images alongside my own stolen posts on lots of those accounts, and ones where they’ve tried to crop the watermark off. I guess it depends on the reason they’re stealing in the first place, too.
Do you feel that people taking credit for your images harms your livelihood, or has the potential to? Or is it more of a moral thing for you?
S xx

  • Mikaelah

  • July 10, 2015

People stealing photos is really important to me since photography is my life, I always watermark my instagram posts. Just a little watermark of my IG username somewhere thats not obvious. you have to look a little sometimes but it stops people taking them because they can’t pass them off as their own! and if they do take them, people know its not theirs as they can see my watermark. problem solved!

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