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A consequence of living in the online world is that your images (and other media) are at risk of being appropriated and misused by others. In this post I provide some advice on how you can protect your branding photographs.

To kick things off I should emphasise that there are few fail-safe solutions to protect your images. There is always a chance your images might be used without permission; that’s the risk we all take when posting online.

The proliferation of social media sites as marketing platforms has unfortunately created a mindset that everything is fair game and that it is OK to use someone else’s images without their permission so long as you give them credit.

This way of thinking is naive at best. At worst, it is likely running foul of the law.

So how do you go about protecting your personal branding photography?

Contact the copyright holder

When it comes to photography the law in the UK is clear: copyright is automatically granted to whoever takes the photograph the moment it is taken.

As a client, you do no own the copyright of the images from your shoot (unless your photographer is feeling particularly generous!) Instead what is typically granted to you is a license to use the images in a specific, pre-agreed manner. This license will usually only extend to you, the client.

If you run into issues of someone stealing your personal branding images off social media and using them against your wishes, contact the photographer. Sometimes a tag-team approach can be more effective in reaching a resolution – especially when the copyright holder is involved.

There is not a professional photographer out there who has not had their images misused in some way, shape or form – myself included – and with that comes experience and ideas as to how to help resolve the situation.

Avoid posting high-resolution images

With the superb image quality coming out of cameras these days, low-resolution is usually more than sufficient for the majority of online uses. If your images are primarily (if not entirely) being viewed on a phone screen then you do not need maximum quality and / or size.

There are two benefits to this.

Firstly, it makes your website faster to load which in turn improves user experience.

Secondly, it means that if your images are nabbed it limits the risk of them being used for anything grander than their original purpose. For example, that low-resolution image you posted on LinkedIn will not be suitable for large-scale printing.

If you are permitted to allow others use your images, consider where they are used

Your personal branding images are a reflection of you and your business, so be wary of where they are being used. It can be flattering if another business asks if they can use your images, but take a moment before instinctively saying yes.

Look closely at the business making the request. Do they align with your own values and culture? Do you share the same kind of clients? Having your images associated with a business that has the opposite ideals as you is not a good look.

If they haven’t asked permission then contact them and ask them to remove the post. Now to inject a bit of reality: reporting the offence to the Instagram police is most likely going to go nowhere. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a stand and call out such behaviour. The more it happens the more it perpetuates the myth that it is OK.

And don’t forget: unless the license with your photographer explicitly allows you to sell / have another business use your images, permission to do so ultimately resides with the copyright holder – the photographer. Read the T&Cs before agreeing to anything.

Monitor similar social media pages

I don’t want to advocate policing the internet as, frankly, we all have better things to do with our time! But it doesn’t hurt to occasionally check if there are any other social media pages out there with similar handles to your own.

Only a couple of weeks ago I saw a photographer on Instagram having to report another user for setting up an identical page and stealing all of their images. It was extremely easy to overlook because the fake site used a very subtle mis-spelling of the photographer’s name.

It’s impossible to know exactly what to look for but every now and then it doesn’t hurt to search social media sites for pages with handles that are similar to your own or use variations on your spelling. It may sound paranoid but you will be astonished by the number of stories I have come across like the one above.

Do you have any other tips to help protect your images? Comment below to share any ideas or stories of your own. And if you need any advice (from a non-lawyer!) then feel free to get in touch.

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