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Sign this petition to limit future camera gear theft

A masked person trying to break into a car.

San Francisco-based photographer Louis Chan was robbed at gunpoint late last month after being followed home from a shoot at the Golden Gate Bridge. He told his full story in a video on Tony and Chelsea Northrup’s YouTube channel (who he happens to be friends with), and now he’s started a petition calling for camera manufacturers to do more to protect photographers from gear theft

We’d suggest watching the video as it includes security camera footage of the whole incident. But be warned, parts of it are intense. 

What happened?

Chan and a friend were shooting photos of the Golden Gate Bridge in the fog from Battery Spencer Overlook when they noticed two men watching them. They ignored them and headed home at around 8 p.m., 40 minutes after sunset. 

The drive home—including a stop to drop his friend off—took Chan around an hour. When he got back to his house, as he was parking his car, a man approached his front window and knocked on it. Chan rolled the window down “just an inch” and the guy asked, “Which direction is the freeway?” He quickly realized something suspicious was happening as a second man walked past the window to the back of the car. 

Chan immediately locked the car and started honking on the horn to attract attention. As he did so, the man at the rear of the car broke the back windshield and grabbed Chan’s camera bag. 

Chan, panicking a bit at this point, put his car into drive and tried to chase down the thieves. He was stopped from running them down by some cinderblocks in his driveway, but he managed to ram their getaway car (despite his Tesla doing its best to prevent the collision). 

Escalation

At this point, things escalated further. One of the thieves pulled a gun and pointed it at Chan. As the thief got into the getaway car, Chan’s neighbors and family were running to see what was happening. The thief fired a single shot at the approaching people, before the pair drove off. 

Thankfully, no one was hurt. Chan’s Tesla and security cameras were able to record almost all of the incident and capture the getaway car’s licence plate details. The police quickly responded and later took the shooter into custody (who already had a criminal conviction for robbing a photographer). Although it seems they have yet to catch the second thief. 

It’s worth stressing here that Chan acted incredibly dangerously. While his actions were instinctual, he escalated the situation from a simple theft to attempted murder. This isn’t to blame Chan—but to say that if you are being robbed, you should not take this as a model for how to respond.

One of many

Chan’s story, while certainly dramatic, is not unique. A quick Google search turns up dozens of different stories—including some where the photographer gets hurt or killed

Being robbed is most photographers worst fear for a good reason. I’ve personally noticed people eyeing up my camera when I’ve been on shoots. Though thankfully have yet to find myself in a situation like Chan’s. 

Easy to do

The problem, as Chan points out in his Change.org petition, is that “camera gear is the perfect thing to steal. It is of high value, holds its resale value, and is compact and easy to conceal.”

While smartphone, laptops, and lots of the other tech gear that people carry around used to be a popular target for thieves, the increase in fingerprint or facial recognition locks, encrypted hardware, GPS tracking, and remote disabling has meant they’re much harder to resell, and thus often not worth the risk. 

Camera gear, however, has no security features of note. Anyone can take a camera and start shooting with it straight away. Likewise, anyone can steal a lens and use it with another camera of their choosing.

Camera manufacturers could do more

Chan’s petition is calling on camera manufacturers to do more to protect photographers and their gear. He has a couple of reasonable suggestions on ways they could do it, including:

  • The option to add a passcode to your camera
  • Lenses being able to be paired to a single camera

He also had some other suggestions that would take a lot more work, like:

  • GPS- or internet-based tracking
  • Biometric security like fingerprint scanners
  • Remote disabling

But whatever the specifics of Chan’s suggestions, let’s make one thing clear: camera manufacturers absolutely have the capacity to make cameras more secure. Modern digital cameras are computers—they have high powered processors, and many have GPS and networking capabilities. Giving photographers the option to add a passcode at the very least is not unreasonable. And if you agree, go sign the petition! I have.

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How to Deal With Online Image Theft

How to Deal With Online Image Theft

Image theft is both morally wrong and also incredibly frustrating. As a photographer, my images have been stolen so many times that it now no longer upsets nor surprises me. Until recently there wasn’t a great deal I would do about it, but now I have a great system.

For me, image theft is a fact of life. It comes in many forms, from the blogger who simply doesn’t know better, to the ad agency that are publishing outside of the usage agreement. Both of which are usually fixed with little issue through a nice conversation. Then we have the stranger ones, there are currently a few photographers out there who are using my images in their portfolios, a few ad agencies far away in different countries who are claiming that my work is their own, and even a few companies offering prints of my images seemingly from nowhere in the world. 

Dealing with these types in the past has been so far down my list of things to do. Dealing with people who are committing theft is never fun, there will be no reasoning with them and the time you will lose just really isn’t worth it. I also find it to be a very negative experience, and I would rather spend that time and emotional effort in a more positive way of making money. That is until I came across this latest method and system that I discuss in my video. It both removes any stress from you, and gets someone else to do all of the leg work!

How do you deal with image theft?

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“A lot of photographers find out about image theft when the culprits tag them in social media’

"A lot of photographers find out about image theft when the culprits tag them in social media'

Image theft is a big problem for a lot of photographers and despite some efforts by Google to thwart it via Google Images, it’s still a worry for many. There are several companies claiming to help photographers fight back, including PhotoClaim. We caught up with company spokeperson Anna Predja to find out the current size of the image theft problem, and what photographers can do to protect themselves.

Just how bad is image theft in Europe at the moment?
Image theft is not something you read about every day in the news. Searching for reliable data can be difficult and time-consuming. We provide you with our data, statistics and observations based on the experience of working with image theft every single day since a couple of years. Over the past ix years, we have detected image theft in 55 countries all around the world.

We work with nearly 250 photographers and this is still a fraction of those who need help. In times of constant content creation and an incredible need for visuals, we suspect that most of both professional and amateur photographers have their pictures stolen. A lot of them are simply still not aware that they photo copyrights are being violated and how to claim their rights.

The current number of the cases of infringements we opened for our clients is close to 6 000 000 and we have regaied over 6 000 000 Euros (and we are still counting). We have photographers from all around the world joining our community every day. Copyright awareness seems to be slowly growing but its phase and spread need to accelerate to stop unlawful practices. It is not just the infringers that do not know and violate copyright law. At the same time, a lot of photographers who face image theft still do not know how to fight for their rights.

How do most people find out their images have been used without permission?
Our experience shows that a lot of copyright infringements are being discovered on social media. It happens that photographers come across their pictures themselves or get notified by their followers. Another common practice, which may seem a bit of a paradox, is companies tagging the photographers whose pictures they use without their consent!

Such behaviour surely derives from the lack of knowledge of the copyright law. It also happens that photographers use Google Reverse Image Search out of curiosity. Not really suspecting anything, they discover their photos have been stolen. This was a case of the founder of PhotoClaim – Nico Trinkhaus and it’s how the idea for our company was born.

"A lot of photographers find out about image theft when the culprits tag them in social media' 1

PhotoClaim founder Nico Trinkhaus

On a stormy day, Nico Trinkhaus captured a bolt of lightning striking the television tower in Berlin. The photo (below) went viral and a press agency contacted him. The picture was published in several newspapers and on the web, but the agency didn’t inform him, where they sold it. He decided to find out on his own. After two days of research, he found 150 commercial uses of his pictures. And he didn’t get paid for one. Soon he realised that he is surely not the only photographer whose photos are getting stolen and the problem of image theft is a pressing issue. He had to find a way to tackle it. Claiming his rights on his own felt like tilting at windmills. He decided to set something up with lawyers and create a team of copyright and photography experts to help other photographers get back the money the deserve from their copyrights.

"A lot of photographers find out about image theft when the culprits tag them in social media' 2

What is your organisation doing to help?
At PhotoClaim we protect photographers’ rights and get back the money they deserve from their work. Every day we monitor our photographers’ portfolios and check for copyright infringements. As soon as we detect a stolen image, we save the evidence and start the process of regaining damages. We assign a partner attorney to each case and the infringer is ordered to cease and desist. At this stage, there are no court proceedings involved. Being represented by lawyer brings higher settlements for photographers.

Photographers also get their personal assistant who keeps them posted about their cases and are always there to answer all questions and concerns. A lot of our clients say the personal approach is what truly matters to them. We are not the only such service on the market but the crucial thing we do differently is not using post-licensing. With post-licensing, no legal fees are charged which means that the opponents pay just the amount they would have to pay for the license. Why would anyone buy licenses then, while they can simply get away with it? And, just in case, it costs the same when they steal or buy it. Through our actions, we also educate and spread copyright law awareness.

We regularly provide photographers with news from the copyright. We also share resources and tips that help them boost their careers and have their copyrights protected in our Knowledge Base section. We do our best do avoid court proceedings and work on no win, no fee basis. We do not ask photographers to pay us anything until we regain the money for them.

Do you think Google etc should be doing more to help?
Google has already implemented some practices, to make it more difficult to download images, by e.g. blocking the image URL link. This can be annoying for potential thieves but will not prevent image theft. Still much more could and should be done. It is hard to count how many times we heard the argument: “I found it on Google so I can use it for free.”

There are actual forum discussions that start with a question: “Is saving images from Google images stealing?” Campaigns aimed at spreading copyright law awareness provided by such a powerful medium could have a huge impact and make a big change in understanding what is legal and what is classified as copyright infringements when it comes to the usage of pictures.

How can photographers help themselves in the meantime?
It is all about spreading the word, creating awareness, and showing good practices. The more photographers talk about the issue and the further they reach with their knowledge, the higher chance for image theft practise to start diminishing. We keep on reminding our clients’ photographers how important it is to spread the info about image theft with their friends’ photographers. Just send them a short message or share the links to some educational, eye-opening articles.

We currently offer a free guideline on How to Register Your Copyrights in 5 Steps, that can be downloaded from our homepage. If you are a photographer and your pictures got stolen, share how did you find out that your pictures are being used without your consent. Write about it in the blog section on your website, post short info on your Facebook or Instagram page. Send testimonials to a company that helped you regain the money from you copyrights. Since current times make it way more difficult to meet in one place for a workshop or discussion, it is crucial to use the potential of online tools. Some of our clients put on their websites PhotoClaim badges which state that their rights are protected by our organisation. Once a photographer comes across it, they know where to seek assistance.

"A lot of photographers find out about image theft when the culprits tag them in social media' 3

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