instagram tips: how to deal with image theft

report copyright infringement on instagram

It feels personal.
That was what surprised me, when I first found some of my photographs posted to somebody else’s account. They were fairly innocuous choices – a landscape, some flowers, a shot of my living room; mercifully the photos of my daughter had been left alone, yet I still felt alarmingly invaded. It was like strolling into my living room one day, & finding a stranger grubbily fingering the family albums.

We share these little squares of our life publicly, but it does’t mean they’re any less precious or personal to us. It’s a real jolt to find people taking our images, reposting them as their own, sometimes even ‘borrowing’ whole chunks of our lives. Have you come across the baby role play accounts? That’s messed up in ways I can’t even comprehend.*

After a couple of years on Instagram, I’m pretty used to it all now; I no longer get annoyed or upset, though I do still feel irrational spikes of rage when discovering somebody has unnecessarily added a yellow-toned filter whilst reposting my work. I mean, seriously: reposting is one thing, but to throw on a 2012-era filter is like digitally urinating all over my stolen photographs. Not cool.

Aaanyway, I’ve got my rational response pretty much figured out these days, and so I thought I’d share it here.

What to do if someone steals your photograph

  • Step 1: Take a screen grab. Check the rest of the account and screen grab any other images of your own that have been used – these will come in handy if you get blocked at a later step of the process.
  • Step 2: Comment on each picture, politely asking to be credited. The vast majority of picture-reposters genuinely don’t realise they’re doing anything wrong, and will immediately comply. Problem solved, delete the pics from step 1.
  • Step 3: If that doesn’t work, it’s time to consider how much this really matters to you. Points to consider are, how big is this account? Who do you think is behind it? What’s the likely harm from allowing the posts to remain on their feed? Before you decide, read my notes below on why people do take other’s images.
  • Step 4: File a copyright infringement, using the link here. Don’t bother using the ‘report as spam or abuse’ options on the photo post – the photograph is technically neither, and this will have no affect. Just keep clicking through, fill in the form, provide links to each stolen image, and links to your own work as evidence. Instagram will always remove the offending posts within 24 hours.
    A few points worth noting about this process: it’s a lengthy form, and you’ll need to include your address, but it won’t be shared anywhere. Often I found it wouldn’t load properly, and took two or three tries to open or submit before I could file a complaint. (The cynic in me thinks this is probably deliberate, as the man-power for Instagram to individually respond to these reports must be fairly weighty; A buggy form means only the most persistent and genuine claims are likely to be submitted.)
    Instagram won’t ban or delete the account for you. Even if every image in their gallery was stolen from you – they’ll simply delete each image you report, and let you know when this has been done, so it’s still worth blocking the account whilst also keeping an eye out for further transgressions.


Why do people do this?

In my experience, the vast majority of the offenders here are actually just really young teenage girls. Many are used to Pinterest & Tumblr where reposting images is standard, and are seeking to create ‘inspiration’ accounts on Instagram, or play pretend at being someone else.
As far as I can tell, the same is even true of those creepy role play accounts, though I maintain that they are  effed up, and wholeheartedly urge the kids in question to go out & take up quilling or lacrosse instead.
There also seem to be cultural differences in how people use Instagram around the world; a few times I’ve found followers in other countries who use a photograph of me as their own profile picture. When I’ve commented that I find this strange, they’ve been genuinely surprised – but I just really like you! – and struggled to understand why I wanted them to change it. I went through a whole language-barriered battle getting one friendly girl to remove her profile shot of me, only to finally have her replace it with a different one. At this point I realised the futility, and that I simply needed to get over it; it really wasn’t harming me, apart from all the time I was wasting on fighting it!

Way back last year I posted on Instagram about a copying problem, and got some really thoughtful responses, including this from the awesome kirstenricket:

“As time had passed I have reached a place where I don’t let it bother me and have decidedly learnt to take it as a compliment. I have the choice to make my images private, but I don’t and this is largely because I want to appreciated and celebrated. I also have things all over Pinterest and in print magazines and I would not be bothered if a kid cut out the image from a mag and stuck it on her bedroom wall, so why be bothered by it being used on her virtual wall. Daily I see people using images of my daughters as their profile pics, and generally it is not sinister, it is a celebration. I am happy the beauty is spread and I try and set my ego aside. Sometimes it takes enormous courage to do so. So long as no one is making money from my work, then I am zen with it and bend like the willow. It makes for a graceful journey”.

I recall at the time that I slightly struggled to share her perspective. I’d just found some weird account that was acting out my actual life, and I was mad and grumpy and insecure. Perhaps our perception of the damage of regramming ties in with our own sense of success; now, a year on, more confident and successful, I find I’ve come to the exact same conclusions as Kirsten on my own.

How can I protect myself from it?

Sadly, short of setting your account to private, you pretty much can’t. Watermarks tend to be ugly & invasive, and do little to deter the reposters. The more popular your account, the more likely you are to attract this sort of stuff. Share the names of dodgy accounts quietly with your instafriends so you can all block them, & use my list to work through any problems.

Have you experienced this, or anything similar?  How did you handle it? I’d love to chat in the comments below.



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* a gentle reminder here not to blame the victims. The problem isn’t the people sharing online, it is creeps & baddies using stuff inappropriately.