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As much as I am an author, I am first and foremost a photographer. Both of these professions are rife with piracy. Something about the art world makes assholes think it’s ok to take what they want and never give back.

So when I was alerted by a great service called Pixsy that one of my photos was being used on a high end real estate website without my knowledge, consent, or usual fee, I was, understandably, livid.

No, I don’t work for “exposure.” I am not a teenager just starting out. The only exposure I need is my ass in your face as I come round to collect my fee. If I had a nickel for every time some crusty rich white guy told me I should be glad for the exposure, but didn’t actually credit me with the photo, I’d have enough to put in a sock and whack the everloving fuck out of said crusty rich white guys.

I make photos for two reasons: personal for family, friends, and myself and professional for money. I don’t come into your real estate office and steal houses from you, so don’t steal photos from me. I can tell you that the particular image they used would normally go for well over $300. The amount of work and timing to get that photo perfect (I don’t post process in photoshop unless something went really wrong. I started out in film where you have one chance and that philosophy has stuck with me) was insane. It had to be at a certain time of the day at a certain time of year and I had to wait for over an hour to get the perfect combination of nature/people/light to get it to work.  I let them off easy by offering to be paid off for a third of what it’s worth.

Mostly because I hate real estate agents more than pirates. I once had a terrible one walk into my house unannounced with a male client (the agent was male, too), and walk into the bathroom while I was alone and showering behind a clear glass door.  I don’t want to deal with them any more than I have to.

I didn’t think much about piracy before becoming a paid artist. Now I have to enlist the help of special services to constantly scour the internet for it.

As much as I liked that Pixsy pointed out the violations, they have thus far been no help recovering money for me. There has been some excuse for every photo. I can easily take down the Pinterest crap that has stemmed from one asshole Tumblr that stole my photo and then uploaded it to Pinterest as her own. I have to deal with that one all the time. But Pixsy refused to help me with a non-profit that stole a photo. Hellooo? NPs have a shit ton of money; more than you think.  And being a NP doesn’t grant you immunity from theft. Another one is outside their jurisdiction, in Russia. Another “looks like a personal site,” but it has ads, so she’s making money.

Even if they did recover money, I’d have to give them a cut. Taking matters into my own hands means I am keeping the whole thing.

How did I accomplish this?

I sent them offenders a letter based on a template I found online:

Hello. I am the professional photographer who took the <redacted> photograph that <redacted> is currently using  online:

(url of stolen photo)

My original photograph is here:

(url of my original photo)

I don’t have a record of licensing this image to <redacted> for commercial use. My regular fee that covers this sort of online marketing is $250-300. I am formally requesting compensation for past usage and future usage in the amount of $100 to settle this today. Taking down the image will not hinder me from seeking compensation as I have already registered your site as using it with the proper legal channels, including Pixsy, a photographer’s advocate who regularly recovers compensation from websites like yours that use photos without permission.  I do not give away my photos for free and you have used my my photo for profit while neither compensating nor crediting me.

You must compensate me for the past usage of my image and credit any future usage–copyright (me)

I don’t mean to be harsh, but photography is how I make my living. You may call me to discuss this matter further.

I got a half assed reply telling me it was their web designer and someone would be contacting me sometime today. Ummm…no.

Second letter:

Yes, I am expecting this call today. I have been informed that the image has been removed from your website. However, I do have many screenshots of each image in use on your website as well as screenshots of the image url which proves that someone in your organization intentionally downloaded the image from my site and uploaded it on your WordPress site.
 As of one minute ago, this image was still online with your infringing url. This is unacceptable and highly unprofessional and, as I stated before, merely removing the image will not hinder my entitlement to compensation.
 You have made sales using my image as an advertisement and have broken copyright law by not compensating or crediting me and my website for example image. I did not grant you or your website designer permission to use it.  This represents a loss of sales on my end and an unlawful gain on yours. We can work this out today without further escalation, but please know that I possess evidence of copyright infringement in your group’s name. 
Let’s settle this today. I am willing to work this out right now. 

I cannot sell a photo that looks like it has already been sold. Sad but true. They owed me for loss of wages.

Within twenty minutes someone called and we worked out the deal. I expect a check tomorrow waiting in their office.

The lesson here is to NEVER let a copyright infringer get away with it. If you create, you deserve to get paid for it. Maybe you won’t get the hundreds you were expecting, but any amount you get from thieves is a reminder to them they are being punished for their crimes.

Piper Doone is the author of the highly rated gay erotic romance, Playing Hard To Forget. Available from Amazon and Dreamspinner Press in paperback and ebook.

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