AMITIAE - Sunday 15 March 2015

Cassandra: Stealing Photos - British, Thai and Brazilian Style

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


The Internet has made access to content wonderfully easy, which is great for students and those in places where access to resources is limited. However, with the vast amount of information now available online, not many would regard books as their prime source of information these days. The comparative free access to information, however, does have several copyright problems.

Many of those who provide content have sought ways to monetize what they produce. They work hard to provide online content, but unlike print where users can physically hold the copy, the virtual nature of the internet gives the impression to many that it is free.

Although many sites (including this) do provide content without charge, I hope to derive some income from advertisements (click and I earn more) or occasionally from donations. The amount of income does not pay the bills.

Like many of those who work online, I am annoyed by those who take my content and use it as theirs. An example came to light recently when local tourism writer, Richard Barrow, who communicates a great deal via Twitter as well as his sites, complained that his images were being stolen, despite being watermarked.

He places his name in a neat white text at the bottom right of an image. A user had cropped that and used it without attribution. Richard is more open than me to his images being used, although does insist (rightly) that the watermark is retained. I contacted him to ask if I could use on of his images (with watermark) to include in this article and he agreed readily: "I am ok as long as there is a link to my site (not FB) and prefer people to ask"

Richard Barrow Twitter Pic
Picture by Richard Barrow - Reproduced with kind permission

Others have also had this type of theft occur, with some finding not only images used on websites with no attribution, but text too. Using some text to inform the reader, then providing a link to the original, is OK. I also think it reasonable if a site uses some text to base comment or opinion on, building their own content, as long as the original can still be accessed from that piece.

When major news organisations do this, it is unforgivable and there have been many cases in which this has happened, with the original creator not even getting thanks. Some sites do negotiate properly, although even the BBC says it will take images without asking if it is a question of breaking news.

I find this particularly egregious, as the BBC's own control of copyright content is among the most stringent online, with several examples of content being unavailable to users specifically because of location. Another offender is the online Daily Mail (inaccessible from Thailand currently), though if pushed they may pay up. These are not the only examples and a Google search will quickly bring up more.

Note that if you have a FaceBook account, by signing up you give the images to FaceBook.


I use a lot of original content on my own site: photographs, screenshots and other input. Creating and editing the images takes time. I do not often use images from other sites (the example from Richard Barrow is a rare exception). If there is content from another source, I will provide attribution and links to the original.

Unfortunately, some sites believe that if an image is online, it is free for the taking. Like others, a number of my images have appeared on other sites. When I can, I change the image and add a sharp comment. In one case a couple of years back, when photographs I had taken of a new iMac appeared on a site, I did this and the new image with my message was displayed for many months.

I have also had entire articles copied, with the only editing being the removal of my name: one site doing this in California some years back was taking content from many other sources and managed to stay online for less than a week.

Last year, not long after I had put online my articles on System Preferences in OS X 10.10, Yosemite, a series of hits in the site statistics alerted me to an example of image borrowing: again, no link to my site and no acknowledgement. I tracked this to a college in Singapore, but was unable initially to contact the person who had put the page up. He did contact me later and there was an acid series of exchanges, but the image was taken down.

This month, when checking statstics for my site, I have found that one of the top referrers (links to the site) was a source in Brazil. I looked at the site a number of times, but was unable to detect what was being linked.

Parental Controls This morning, I realised that the icon for Parental Control in System Preferences, was displayed on the page. I dragged that from the site to the Finder and then checked the Information (Command + i), which shows that the original source for this was my own site.

I wrote to the site owner requesting that the image be taken down, not expecting much, but within an hour, there was a reply in English, apologising and telling me that the image would be removed. I thanked them. A short while later, a second email arrived, apologising for the English (I wish people would not do that - they are at least communicating) and asking me if they could keep the link as it expresses the child-friendly idea they want to convey.

I considered this and agreed, with the request that a link to eXtensions be placed at the bottom of the page. In that way, some traffic will be driven to my site.

This is not a victory, because so many other sites will continue stealing work displayed on web-sites: if not from me, from the many others who work to provide online content. It was a reminder for the site owner in Brazil, who reacted reasonably once the problem was pointed out.

I will use this (and the example of Richard Barrow's cropped photograph) in a class I teach: Ethics and Morals for Computer Engineers. The subject this week includes patent law, trademarks, copyright and plagiarism. All are concerned with the ways that content is created. And used.

Those who wish to use what others have created, need to provide attribution or links and in most cases should seek permission beforehand. That permission may not always be granted. If the site is commercial, suitable payment should be agreed.

See also:

New Version of the Plum Amazing Watermarking Software for iOS Devices: iWatermark+

Cassandra: Ownership of Images on Social Networking Sites - A Murky World with Little User Benefit

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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