When Sharing Is Stealing | Using “Found” Photos Online

steal a picture
From Sophia Reed on Inspirably

If you’re taking someone’s image and posting without permission, did you steal a picture? When you post pictures online, do you have to credit the party who took the picture or the company that owns the picture?  This is a question that has been asked over and over by many and I’m asking it again.  What if you don’t have a website and you’re only posting it to say, a group discussion online? Should you post it as if it were your own or should you give credit to the photo’s owner?

I'm a very black and white kind of person and to me it seems very clear - stealing is stealing PERIOD. Click To Tweet
Last year my friend Karla posted something about this on her website last year titled, “To watermark or not to watermark: How do you protect your photos?” I would say that about 99% of the time I’m using my own photographs.  But on those rare occasions when I’m not, you better bet that I’m giving credit to the person or company who owns the photograph unless I am absolutely unable to determine who that is.  I have been known to go out of my way to identify the owner of a photograph, especially if it is one that I find on social media or in a message board.  That includes asking permission to use a photograph as well as give them credit while using it.  People are usually flattered when they’re asked and I have yet to meet with any opposition to my requests.

That’s why when I sometimes find my photographs not only used without my permission, but edited in some way to ruin the original creative elements and the finished product, I get upset.  Why would you steal a picture? These photographs (as well as my website) I treat like and consider my children.  I take great care in choosing my equipment, my travel plans, what I will photograph, how I will photograph, and when I’m finished, in the end they are my memories and souvenirs from every trip I’ve taken.  I recently heard about digital kidnapping in the news where people steal photos off social media of children and then act as if they are their own.  In a sense, that is what is happening here when you steal a picture.

But is it just lifting someone’s photograph and using it without their permission? Let’s take it one step further and take a look at the two pictures here.  The photo on the left is my original image with my watermark.  The image on the right might be what someone might do to one of my pictures. They might crop it to get rid of the watermark and “enhance” it using photo editing software.  The picture loses my creative elements and yet, it is still my image.  The moral of the story here is that if you want to use the image, just ask, but please don’t take it without asking first.

The same is true of pinning something on Pinterest.  If you pin an image, that image should link to the original author’s work and image.  If you pin it but have the image link back to your own work and/or don’t give credit to the original user, is that stealing? This is the topic of conversation that’s been going on and documented in the post “The Misuse of Social Media – #TLPicks” on traveldudes.org. I’m a very black and white kind of person and to me it seems very clear – stealing is stealing PERIOD.  If you aren’t giving credit to the photographer or company and you’re benefiting from the use of the picture, either in comments, traffic, or even monetarily, then you are STEALING.

LifeHacker has an extremely detailed and thorough post about this topic on their site called, “The Best Ways to Be Sure You’re Legally Using Online Photos.”  If you’re online and “borrowing” pictures, I suggest you read to avoid any problems in your future.

The best way to avoid this issue altogether is to travel more, take your own pictures, and don’t worry about what photographs someone else has.  When images are put online, they’re not there for you to pick and choose like you’re at a buffet.  So please, use your own images and leave those that don’t belong to you alone.

What are your thoughts on this topic?