What to do when your images are stolen

So it's Wednesday,

I shan't fib to you friends, the beginning of this week was a bit of a struggle, but luckily things are definitely on the way up! Typically, my natural reaction to weird business dealings is to blog about it. This week is a little 'text heavy' and niche but hopefully will be helpful to anyone else struggling with image theft. For those who couldn't care less (fair enough) I promise next week I have something picture heavy and exciting lined up. So lets delve in...

 

Delving in

Sometimes really good stuff happens and other times really shitty stuff happens, as is life. The last few weeks have been a total whirlwind packed full of exciting news and good times so I guess it's to be expected that some rubbish stuff had to come along to screw my head back on. Ying and Yang eh?

 

Skulduggery afoot 

Lately I've received so many messages from you lovely bunch telling me that my images - one in particular - are being used by other people. The main image in question is of my santa hat, and you may recall - it has my face in it.

 This face ^

This face ^

To my dismay, it turns out companies near and far have been using this image, to sell 'their' santa hats. ...As I'm sure you can imagine, this doesn't sit well with me. Not only is it illegal, misrepresentative and a total copyright infringement ...IT HAS MY FACE IN IT. I know it may seem like an over reaction to some, but on Sunday evening there were over 30 businesses using an image of me to sell a knock off version of my product, without my permission, and using my actual face to do so. It felt very much out of my control and if I'm honest, it felt like a total violation.

It takes a lot for me to take a goofy picture and post it for my friends and customers to see. I'm well aware that I put it out there into the world, but I do so with my brand attached to it. To have that taken unknowingly by random people and used to their advantage was more than a little confusing and hurtful. 

 

Quality control

Let's also just visit the fact that I sell my Santa Hats for £35 on my website (because that's how much it costs to buy the wool, make it, post it, and have some kind of profit left over to keep me going.) But apparently every Tom, Dick and Harry can flog them on Amazon for £4.99!  (The wool costs me more than 3 times that) Shall we just pause for a moment to consider the quality of such a garment? I can only imagine! This misrepresentation and let's face it, dodgy product, now has my face associated with it, although I'm extremely lucky to have such a loyal support network of customers and 'followers' who know it's not actually me, it's still a terrible connection for my business, not to mention a total bummer for the poor folk who think they're buying a nice soft, chunky knit santa hat made from quality merino wool. (I'm so tempted to buy one just to see what it actually looks like!)

 

You guys tho...

On Sunday night it was brought to my attention by a number of people that a very big business was using my image on Facebook and selling 'the hats' on their website for £20. However, as with all these things, there's always good to come of it and so often it's a case of you guys being bloody wonderful. It's amazing that when one knobber acts badly, so many more come back with love and it's completely heartwarming... (not that you're knobbers, y'know what I mean right?) The magic of human nature came to my rescue, my fellow NOTHS partners, social media friends and my lovely husband all stood up for me and I had messages from so many people offering help and support.  

The messages I get, the comments people leave defending my honour and the help that people offer is truly incredible. When I realised what was going on on Sunday night with this big company, I'm not ashamed to say that I felt totally out of control and overwhelmed and I just cried. Like a little girl who'd been told she can't have ice-cream before her dinner. Like my 15 year old self after I watch Titanic for the first time. Cried. How does someone like me, one tiny person, stand up to a huge business with over 600,000 followers? 

 

It’s just a case of knowing that your creations are your own and they are worth protecting.
— Holly Surplice

So whatdoyado?

I know for a fact that I'm not alone in feeling this way and that sadly, so many of us get ripped off by other companies big and small everyday. It's so heart wrenching seeing your work and images literally taken from you and used to promote someone else who's done no work for it (and is simply lying to their customers!) It feels daunting to say the least and if you're anything like me, you won't have a clue what to do (other than make a cup of tea and have a bit of a cry). So I thought I'd write a blog about what I've learnt in the hopes that - if it does happen to you, you'll know what to do.

 Natural reaction: Make a cup of tea and hide.

Natural reaction: Make a cup of tea and hide.

 

Actual Proper Advice

Luckily for me I went to school with the worlds greatest IP lawyer, Kiera. She came to my rescue and offered advice and help when I was clearly floundering and clueless. Not everybody has a Kiera so I asked if she could share some advice on what the bloody hell to do in this situation. Here are her top tips - 

Points to think about:


- where you can, try to obtain registered protection. Most designs if they are new (i.e. not common place in the field of design) are registrable. Brand names and product names/logos can also be registered. See https://www.gov.uk/browse/business/intellectual-property for further information.


- Some of your creative output (e.g. photographs, artistic works, blog posts etc) will automatically be protected by copyright. There is no need to register copyright in the UK. You can automatically enforce copyright in your works if someone copies them or communicates them to the public without your consent.


- Use the resources available to you. If someone is selling an infringing product online, most of the online marketplaces (such as eBay, Amazon, Alibaba or Facebook) have infringement programs where you can report infringements online and get them taken down.


- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! If you have exhausted all possible avenues and the infringer still isn’t playing ball, a robust letter from a solicitor can often do the trick. Just make sure you obtain fee quotes and agree a clear scope of work in advance; as a small business you don’t want to be left with out of proportion legal costs!

 

  what I did & what you can do too

After taking all of Kiera's advice on board, I did what I could do myself first. (And by 'myself' I mean - I made tea and santa hats while Helen from the Creative Business Network did all the admin and hard work and talked me through her findings so I could grimace and attempt to help wherever possible - she's helped me explain what we did here...) 

First we reported the Biggie to Facebook who were amazing and took the illegal post down within an hour or our report. (I did get in touch with the company directly and they gave me a rather feeble apology saying they didn't know it was my image - I think more to the point, they knew it wasn't theirs so why use it in the first place?! Anyway...) We then went straight to Amazon and Ebay who were the main culprits. As Keira mentioned, they both have simple instructions to report an infringement so that's where we started. You can find Amazon's link here and Ebay's here (Ebay is a little bit more confusing so I'll start with Amazon.) 

Reporting listings on Amazon - First of all we had to find all the businesses using my images - this is where your SEO comes in really handy, pesky as it may be at times, it's worth doing for events like this! - Chunky Knit Santa Hat, Christmas Hat, Chunky knitted tree topper etc etc - we searched them all and found all the shops using my face to promote their products. We then put the URL of those products into the form on Amazon (you can add up to 50 products on the same form which is great as you don't have to keep filling in your details over and over again!) Once you've put the URL in, the link will come up. You have to tick the box on the right to say whether the seller is infringing on your copyright or the images are infringing. Initially we ticked seller but Amazon came back with a 'NO' so we went back and clicked the images that were an infringement. This was reeeeaaaallly time consuming but worth it when Amazon replied (really quickly) saying 'YES' they were an infringement and the images taken down *air punch*. 

One thing to note is that sometime sellers used their own image as the main shot and the stolen one as the second/third etc so they're more time consuming to find.

Reporting listings on Ebay - this was a little trickier, we couldn't find the information easily (however Helen nailed it so hopefully that'll make it easy for anyone else who needs it - it's a NOCI form here) Which claims it needs to be signed and faxed... (FAX?? Does anyone in the world still own a fax machine?!) and once we'd got the form open it said you could only report 3 at a time which meant we *cough* Helen *cough* had to fill in loads of forms (Sorry love!). We found another link saying you could email, so once they were all filled in, we printed them off, signed them, scanned them, then emailed them to the VeRO (Verified Rights Owner) programme - I'm still waiting on the results.

What Googles Saying - The next task was to go through the entire internet *face palm*. Obviously we've not done all of it as it would take an age, but we've made a start. First of all we worked on a 'cease and desist' letter, there are standard templates online to download if you don't have a handy IP lawyer friend! 

For each infringement we had to email a letter linking the infringement URL and put in details of when I first published the image online and links to my original product on my website. Therefore, each letter had to be original to the advertiser we were contacting.

We used Google to find where my face was being used. Another of Helens handy tips - If you upload the image you want to find to images.google.com (click the camera to the right of the search box and then 'upload image' - we tried it the other way but it didn't work for us) and it will come up with all the matches it can find. A lot of them were my own site, NOTHS, Etsy and others I have used, but there were a hell of a lot that weren't! So we got on the case sending copyright infringement after copyright infringement out. We emailed every one we could find details for, and for those we couldn't, we sent it in the 'contact me' box. Take that copycats!

 (seemed like the perfect opportunity to reuse this image) 

(seemed like the perfect opportunity to reuse this image) 

 

Some things Just have to be done

It's a really sad thing to do and can feel like a total waste of time when you have hundreds of orders waiting to be made but actually it really needs to be done to protect your brand. I was talking to the lovely and talented Holly Surplice about it as she's suffered a lot with this kind of thing with her beautiful illustrations and paintings, her wise advice is still ringing in my ears because it's so very true, she said - "It's just a case of knowing that your creations are your own and they are worth protecting.  It's hard but if you give in then you feel worse than you do if you fight!" And that's exactly how it felt.

From our day of hard work we've had a number of companies come back saying they will take my images down, I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt (part of the reason I don't like to 'name and shame' and understand that not everyone does it to be sneaky or spiteful, some people simply don't realise - it doesn't necessarily make it OK but it does help to understand. I fully appreciate that this task is enormous and I could spend my entire life chasing so I've come away feeling like the key will be knowing when to get involved and when to leave it....something I'm currently working on.

 

A hilarious side note

I couldn't do this blog and not give a shout out to this picture - it's my favourite thing to come out of the whole affair. I even have it printed out above my desk for when I need a lol. This is one of the listings we found...it's genuinely an improvement right? hahaha

LaurenAstonDesignsblurredface.jpg

 

Take it as a compliment

My final word on the matter is that people so often default to cliches such as 'take it as a compliment' and 'imitation is the best form of flattery' and I really feel the need to say - Yes, absolutely ....if the imitation in question is someone buying the same top as you, how lovely that you've influenced their style decisions. However when it comes to your intellectual property, it is not a compliment - it is theft. Someone is taking what is yours and that is not OK. If someone walked into your home and stole your TV, you wouldn't say "Well, it's nice that they liked it enough to take it though" You'd say "That bastard stole my TV!" ...It's still theft, the only difference is that you can't watch X-Factor on it.

 

Lets crack on

I guess what I've learnt throughout all of this is that there are some really shitty people out there who are happy to take images that don't belong to them. There's also clueless people and lazy people who can't be bothered to come up with there own ideas (see my previous post on Copying if you please). But there are also some AMAZING people who support you and lift you up, help you to sort it or just tell you that they think you're doing a good job, and it's those people that actually matter. They're the ones we need to give our energy to (not the knobbers.) 

I really do feel for those customers who order from the naughty sellers and I'm mad that those sellers are bringing me into something that is just plain wrong. I hope that by dealing with this rubbish will come in handy in the end, hopefully it'll keep pushing me forward and help me stay one step ahead of the competition/thieves! Other than the odd day chasing out the naughty ones, I'm going to crack on and attempt to come up with some new knitted ideas to keep the world snug as a bug (whilst grumbling on to you about it all to you, of course.)

Thanks for all your support friends, it really means the world. Here's to the creatives *clink*(the actual creative ones though yeah?) 

L x