The Daily Mail Stole My Photos and I Got Paid

I’ve got a little story for you today, and a valuable lesson for photographers everywhere. On the Monday before last, a post that I wrote the week before started to go viral. I was receiving more traffic than I had ever experienced before, and from sites that I had never heard of. Fantastic. Only, along with the good news, we have some bad news.

Sites like PetaPixel, Gizmodo, HardOCP, and foto.microsiervos (which I had never heard of before) all picked up the story, using my images, often rewriting or quoting a lot of the text, and then linking to my site at the end. This is all fine. Perfectly acceptable. They didn’t ask to use my photos, but they’re providing me with recognition, while filling a small gap in their content. No problem.

But then we have The Daily Mail.

My brother rang me while I was in the super market, telling me my ugly mug was on the homepage of their website. Shocked, I got home and immediately checked. Yep, I was indeed gracing their homepage with my presence. This was different though, they had used my photos, quoted a lot of my text, but there was no link. Nothing at all. They mentioned the name of my website, but no link was present. Without a link to my website, it’s really doing nothing for me, so why do they think that they can use my photos like that?

Time Out

Before I go any further, I’d like to explain the importance of a link to anyone who may not get it. As someone who runs a photography website for a living, website traffic is what I’m looking for. It’s incredibly important. So if someone much bigger than myself wants to take my photos and send me traffic, then I’m all for it. But when a huge website takes my photos, and ignores the fact that everyone else is linking to me, then this is not acceptable.

Time In

They can call it a news story, but that does not give them the right to use my photos, especially without my permission. And permission is easy to find, I have all the necessary contact details on my website, so they could have contacted me and asked me at anytime. I’ll let you into a little secret… I would have said yes.

For anyone who’s not familiar with The Daily Mail, it’s a tabloid paper here in the UK. Their content ranges much more on their website than in their paper, and it often covers a lot of celebrity ‘news’. They also think that everything gives you cancer. I’m not here to talk about their content though; each their own.

Ok, so a website has taken my photos, but neglected to leave a link. No biggy, I’ll contact them.

In the past, I’ve found that the best way to contact someone is to use Twitter. It’s short and to the point, and I can find the contact information of the original author almost immediately. Some people laugh at this, but it’s actually a really good way of getting it done. I tweeted the author (couldn’t find his email address) and waited.

And waited.

In the meantime though, I went through other channels to try and get the job done. I emailed both their feedback email address and their editorial address.

Here’s what I sent to both:


I run and you’ve quoted and used my photos without my permission on your website. I have no problem with this if you include my link at the bottom of your post, but as it stands there is no link. The other sites that have written about this article have all linked to my original link. Please can you add one in return for the use of my photos in the article.

My link:

Please get back to me ASAP as this is a time sensitive issue.

Kind regards,
Josh Dunlop

Then I waited. And waited.

As I mentioned in the email, it’s a time sensitive issue, so not wanting to waste any time, I tried other methods. I left a couple comments on the post to see if that would work. Unsurprising to me the comments are moderated (I moderate all of mine), so it didn’t show up. But half an hour later, there’s been another 10 comments, but mine is nowhere to be seen. So someone has read it, and decided to ignore it, even though it wasn’t negative, just something along the lines of ‘Can you please link to me’.

Ok, how else can I do this. I know, I’ve got close to 8,000 Twitter followers, maybe they can help. I sent out a simple tweet contacting TDM, and then another asking my followers to ReTweet it. And assuming that there’s someone running their Twitter (there is), they would have received the same tweet 23 times.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking by now, ‘tweeting, commenting, are you sure this is going to work?’. The answer: No. But it did.

Annoyed, but busy, I let it go for the evening. The next day, roughly 24 hours after tweeting the author, he tweets back, and gets a link added that afternoon. But unfortunately, it was too little, too late. They barely sent anyone to my humble photography website, so little in fact that the top referrer sent me 56 times more traffic.

What do?

Well, if you’ve taken my photos, and not given me anything in return, then it’s time to get paid. No excuses.

I might have let it be and chalked one more up to the big corporation, but after looking into the problem a little further, I found that there was more to the problem than meets the eye.

  1. Firstly, the author would have found my article through PetaPixel or Gizmondo, seen that both had linked to me, but decided that he didn’t need to. That’s not playing by the rules.
  2. The images had been enlarged from 600px wide to 640, which made them look terrible.
  3. This was apparently a pretty common occurrence for The Daily Mail.

I found this article that talks about a very similar situation, only much more serious. The photos belonged to a very good photographer, who wasn’t contacted either, had his watermarks removed, and images resized. They weren’t the sort of photos that were taken in about 30 minutes in your office…

And you want to know the real kicker? That article was written just two days before my photos were stolen. Clearly having not learnt their lesson, I decided it was time to get paid.

I Got Paid

Here’s what I did. I did what I should have done the day I saw my photos, I contacted their online picture desk.

I get through to TDM, and before I can finish the sentence ‘Can you put me through to your online picture desk’, another dial tone sounds and I’m on my way. It was clear from the disappointment in the voice of the man I spoke to that he was not going to enjoy this phonecall, stating that he was getting tired of this happening. So yeah, it must happen a fair bit.

The man I spoke with was excellent. I’ll give him that, he got the problem solved for me.

Here’s how it went:

I start explaining the situation, and before I can finish, he responds that the person I need to talk to is the author, and says he will send me his email address. I explain that this isn’t acceptable, because I’m sure that the online picture editor is much better person to get an invoice paid than the author. I explain further what’s happened, and why I was looking to pursue it, and mention the article detailing that this had happened before.

It turns out that the man I was speaking to was the one who dealt with the other photographer, just days before. Knowing that he wasn’t going to hang up on me, and that they do pay out for this sort of situation, I push on. After about 10 minutes of talking, we came to an arrangement.

We talk for a couple minutes about what I wanted out of the situation. I didn’t lecture him about why they shouldn’t have done it, he knew full well. He made me an offer. He was willing to pay me their standard fee of use of each photo, or if it was recognition I wanted, I could talk to the author. If I wanted more money than he was offering, I could have gone down another avenue, which would have made a point, but would have ultimately taken more time and money than it was worth.

I agreed to their standard payment for use of online photos, although it probably should have been a bit more, and there should be a fee for using the photos without my permission. I could have pursed it further, but I didn’t for two reasons. Firstly, I’m very busy at the moment (lots of work and moving house, ergh), and I felt that I had made my point.

If you do wonder what you should be getting paid though, then here’s an excellent resource for online photos, and sizes.

The reason I was able get paid so quickly is largely because major news outlets have a budget for images like this, and a system in place. They just think that they’re big enough to get away with it. Or that it simply doesn’t matter.

Among the excuses I got from the picture desk were that they do try to contact everyone about their photos first, and although I believe that this is what the man I spoke to would personally do, I don’t feel the same about some of their authors. He also mentioned that the reason this happens sometimes is that the authors see the photos getting shared across the internet, and assume that they must be happy for the recognition.

Take Precautions

Watermark your images. If they edit out the watermark and don’t ask your permission, then that’s a pretty good sign of being guilty.

If you see your photos being used, the first thing you’re going to want to do is use Versionista. This records any changes that are made to online webpages, so if they decide to change or remove anything, you’ve still got a copy.

Take screen shots, it’s simple, but it’s a good way to keep a record, and they’re timestamped.

Get Paid

Don’t bother with email (too easily ignored), or Tweets (although it worked for getting credit), go straight to the phone, and go in knowing what you want to get from them.

Do you want the photos taken down? Say so, but don’t expect to get an invoice paid.

You want proper recognition? Time is money, get it done fast, or you can expect to not get it done at all. In media outlets like TDM, yesterday’s news comes about pretty quickly.

Want an invoice paid? Talk to their picture editor, and don’t allow them to sponge you off on someone else. Talk on the phone, not by email. You can’t ignore someone who’s on the phone to you. They’re the best person to be talking to, and although they are effectively having to do someone else’s job (the author’s) of paying you, it’s not your job to go round chasing up stolen photos either. This proved to be the fastest way around it.

Act professionally, even if they haven’t. It’s not a time to get bitchy, it’s a time to get paid. You don’t need to repeat yourself a hundred times to get your point across, even if they’re trying to talk over you. In my experience, talking slowly and calmly had provided much better results.

Lastly, don’t let them get away with it. I nearly did, and I’m glad I didn’t. This sort of thing needs to be stopped, and the only way that we can put a stop to it is to continually chase people up when they do this sort of thing. Just because you can do something well, and with ease, it doesn’t mean you should do it for free.

About the author: Joshua Dunlop is an England-based photographer who runs the website ExpertPhotography. This post was originally published here.

  • Samcornwell

    “Watermark your images” is the only part of the story I disagree with. Never, ever, ever under any circumstances feel the need to degrade your own work by putting your crappy little logo or name on your photo. 

  • Jari Perho

    I agree. You wouldn’t watermark a video either, now would you?

  • Bas ter Beek

    The ‘crappyness’ of that watermark is something you have in your hand. Create something elegant, something simple!

  • Jefpare

    hope the guy whose concept but less developed SEO will get a share. Otherwise you don’t deserve a damn penny

  • Idio

    Thank you for perpetuating the idea that anyone can take photos off the web and simply provide a link. And, at worst, paying the same amount as would have been paid if permission to license was sought beforehand.

    You dumbass.

  • David

    Yes, you would; it’s called the Credits, and everyone who works on a project, from the director to the production intern, expects to get one.  A photograph is like a video that consists of one frame, so that’s where the credit goes.

  • spim spimmer

    unfortunately, you as a photographer are completely wrong on this whole issue. no one is required to link back to your site, and everyone you cited is free to use your photo without compensating you and without attributing you, because they have all used your photo for editorial purposes.

    in all of the cases mentions, all of the blogs and nes sites, they all used your photo legally and you are not free to make any claims. they are using your photo for the purpose of commenting on the photo, for describing what the photo contains, and what its purpose was.

    however copying article text is different. you have more right to sue for their use of using your written text, which they are legally required to attribute to you, as the author. when they copy your written text, and do not attribute the source, it is read as if it is their own, which is copyright infringement. if they DID attribute that you wrote the text, then you have no rights, because these are editorial uses, which fall under fair use.

    if they said they took the photo and the photo is of them, then you can sue. but that is not the case.

  • Craig McDean

    You can digitally watermark an image – it’s invisible. 

    Welcome to the 21st Century.

  • Patrick DeMarchelier

    Something doesn’t add up. Twitter is the best way to contact a newspaper or any other business?  It’s not direct, therefore it’s not a legitimate means of communication, from a legal standpoint.  He gets angry because they don’t respond within 24 hours of his tweet!?  And after stating all he’s after is a link, THEY PROVIDE A LINK!

    He gets upset when only 56 people care to follow up on a story about a man taking a self-portrait in a mirror. (riveting stuff)  THIS is the point he starts demanding payment?

    Sir, you’ve got it all wrong.  Yes, they used your image AND credited you.  No link? What legal obligation do they have to link to your site?  I don’t see much legal standing for this idea.  You may set it as your terms when you negotiate, but this is about unauthorized usage.

    You had a case for payment until you tweeted your terms (legally binding I might add) and the Mail did in fact put up a link.  Getting upset just because your photography wasn’t the most fascinating read between pictures of Pippa’s bum and last night’s footie match is childish and unprofessional.

    And that man you spoke with on the phone?  And whatever speech he gave you? Newspapers steal content – it’s how they survive. The Mail pays you the standard rate – you walk away feeling somewhat vindicated and the cycles continues.  All your advice is well taken, but it won’t stop the practice and won’t change the experience of the next poor bastard all that much.

  • JoshExpertPhotography

    Why do I not deserve a penny? They’re my photos. What has the copy write of a photo got to do with a concept? They could have used his photos, and they were easy to find, but for whatever reason, they chose mine. 

  • JoshExpertPhotography

    Unfortunately it’s not as black and white as that. Sites like PetaPixel know that if they use my photos to link to my website, then they’re effectively advertising my website for me, and I’m all for that. If you’re a small-time, local photographer, and a corporation uses your photo in another country, then a link to your website isn’t going to do you many favours in terms of turning that traffic into potential clients. It’s about reciprocity, and dealing with each individual case as it comes. 

  • JoshExpertPhotography

    If you’ve read the whole article properly, then you’ll see that I clearly state emailing to two different email addresses at the same time as trying to contact the author through Twitter (a method which, however unusual, worked), and comments on the post. 

    The content of my post is not in question here, it’s not up to me to decide whether the average Daily Mail reader would be interested in reading it. I personally think that is had no place on their website in the first place. 

    This is why I demanded payment: With a link to my website, the article is effectively an advertisement. Without a link, they’re just using my photos for their own gains, and that is not acceptable. 

    There is no legal obligation for them to provide me with a link. It’s unauthorised usage as you say, I’m merely saying that if they had provided me with a link, then the article is acting as an advert for my site, and I’m getting something in return, so I’m happy with it. PetaPixel used my photos without asking, but I’m not about to send them an invoice. 

    If you think I’ve gone to all this effort just because it wasn’t the most popular article on their website, then you’re entirely wrong. After a year of running my website and reading the comments of anonymous strangers, such as those who comment on the Daily Mail, I no longer take anything I read to heart. 

    The reason I chose to follow up with TDM because they took my photos, and I got nothing (or next to nothing) in return. This is unacceptable for a company such as theirs, and you shouldn’t let this thing slide or it will continue to happen.

    I’m under no illusions that this will have very little effect on their practices, but rather that hopefully anyone who reads this will not stand for such practices in the future. 

  • Nigel Humphries

    I hope you gave some of the money to the guy whose idea the whole thing was…

  • Gakuranman

    I have to admit, as much as I appreciate the difficulties involved, I was rather disappointed to see you let the Daily Mail settle by paying you their incredibly low fees. Of course, if you are happy with that then it’s fine, but I think given the circumstances and the nature of your photography, you were entitled to receive a lot more.

    Even I settled for less than the NUJ fees, but for a much better price than the Daily Mail offers. If it hadn’t been for their extremely apologetic picture editor, I likely wouldn’t have lowered my price at all though. He genuinely seemed very sorry and it sounded as though he has yet to get the staff under control, having only been in the job a few months. I certainly hope he does though – it sounds like a very stressful job if he’s getting complaints like this every week.

  • Gakuranman

    I disagree. As for whether or not a watermark degrades work – that’s entirely down the watermark, artistic styling and the viewer. It’s not a fact that all watermarks degrade work. I personally feel that they can even add to the work in the right situations, and if done well are pretty neutral. The benefits of watermarking images though, are plenty. The most meaningful being that it provides the viewer with a way to contact the original photographer.

  • Samcornwell

    No, unless a watermark/stamp (whatever you want to call it) is part of the work, it’s degenerate. It’s a shameful way of advertising and there’s very few, if any circumstances that it’s required. If your photographs are really that good, they will stand out from the crowd and will be recognised as something you have created. 

    Do Leibovitz, Gursky, Becher, Adams or Walker Evans watermark their photos? I damn well hope not. 

    Saying that though, every photographer in the digital age will go through the process of adding their name to their photo for whatever reason. Maybe to follow the crowd, maybe out of pride, or maybe because they’re scared of getting their work ‘stolen’ – I cringe when fledging photographers say this. But every photographer will do it (I did) and will also grow out of it with time and experience.

  • Jari Perho

    It makes no sense to equate opening/ending credits of a film with a watermark.

  • Alejandro

    Since the 18th century it has been the standard to sign your painting. Watermarks don’t necessarily degrade the quality. I do agree most people overdo it and end up degrading the picture.

  • Samcornwell

    Indeed! There’s nothing wrong with signing a physical print in a discreet corner. Perhaps a digital alternative would be more acceptable. One that doesn’t act as a stamp of anxiousness.

  • Gakuranman

    As I said, that’s your opinion. You’re entitled to it, of course, but please don’t talk as if it is a fact. Whether watermarks negatively affect images in some way is a matter of debate.

  • Three_fitty

    In which case I hope you give some credit to the guy who already said this. Its a mute point. 

  • nicholassmith

    I’ll agree with this comment, never ever let them settle for standard fees, they’ll pay higher and by us all pushing them when they take images without consent we hit them where they actually care, their wallet.

  • Jefpare

    Yep maybe. If you copy Shakespeare, is using your typewriter makes it yours! This would get you thrown out of any self-respecting university. This is not a photography of the Eiffel tower, it is just a copy of someones neat “magic trick”.

    Gray zone probably, still…

  • kendon

     to everyone who is bitching about giving credit to the “one and only person” who had the idea: do i need to give credit to the author of the camera manual that says “press the shutter to take a picture”? to the dude who had the idea use the eye to look through the viewfinder? at some point it stops being “someones idea”, and when it comes down to something as simple as this, this is the point. just because nobody has any creativity on his or her own on the internet anymore it doesn’t mean everything is stolen. oh and please don’t forget to credit tim berners lee for the internet while writing this post.

  • Paul

    This seems a lot like ‘don’t pay your bills until someone complains’. You should have gone for more otherwise they’ll do it again and again and again.

  • Anon

    Pretty much every single thing in this post is wrong.

    The photo is his, thus the copyright is his. That the same concept has been used before is in no way comparable to written plagiarism. Copying another’s written work is a breach of copyright as the work is exactly the same. A photograph, even using the same concept, is manifestly not the same work, and cannot be said to be the same work.Needless to say your quip about this getting the author thrown out of any self-respecting university is also ludicrous.

  • Amanda

    That is false… NONE of the people who took the image used it legally. Just google yourself some “copyright” and see this for yourself.

  • Peter Dolinaj

    I just had a similar problem when DailyMail used my video taken from YouTube to post on their frontpage online. I emailed them and asked to either compensate me or remove the video. They are now offering £50 but isn’t this too low? What are your thoughts. How much realistically could I ask? Thank you.

  • Larry

    The complainant/photographer here sounds like a nice guy but got big time ripped off. You should change the title to “the daily mail stole my photo, and i basically let them slide”. Too many people have danced around the facts on the subject for too long. Let’s be very truthful on the issue. Listen, you didn’t want to buck em and so you took the first offer they threw at you with their sob story. You just want to be an artist and don’t want to deal with uncomfortable business issues such as this. These guys understand copyright a lot more than you. They know what they’re doing. You didn’t, even though you seem to have many wrong preconceptions. Your incident is nothing but case in point to why companies like The Daily Mail keep stealing photos. Copyright watermarks are not necessary. Copyright is federal. You started off completely wrong by not registering your images with the copyright office before you published them yourself. If you had done that simple step, you could have really made them pay, not the peanuts they threw in your face, for damaging you. Register, register, REGISTER! and for pete’s sake, don’t call them up acting like their friend, giving them a heads up! They knowingly stole from you! You contact a copyright lawyer, tell the lawyer who has infringed on your registered image and ask them go after The Daily Mail or whoever the copyright offendor is . Like I said, the guy who wrote this is a wonderful person I’m sure, but he is completely misguiding you in what should be done. Do NOT follow what he did as an example. Register your images, then contact a lawyer, not the OFFENDER! Take yourself work seriously enough to protect it the same way The Daily Mail protects theirs. This comes from someone with experience who registers all images, and has been infringed. Good luck in the future to the everyone including the photographer who wrote this.

  • matthew odom

    hell yes that’s too low !