Using The DMCA To Stop the Copyright Infringement of Your Photos


Over the years I have been finding more and more of my photos being used on the Web without my permission. This is a quick guide to detecting and enforcing copyright.

Note: The DMCA is a U.S. law that governs U.S. hosting providers. If the site hosting your copyrighted material is hosted outside the U.S. the DMCA does not apply. I have found my images hosted on servers in China and Russia and all over the Middle East and I have come to the conclusion that those infringements are best left alone. The European Union does have the European Directive on Electronic Commerce (EDEC) which I have not researched.

The first step is to find if your image is being used. For this tutorial I will use one of my more frequently purloined photos. This photo of the Downtown Houston skyline is just such a photo.

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The first thing you need to determine is whether or not your photo is being used on the Internet without your permission. To do this, go to Here you will notice an icon in the search box that looks like a camera.

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Click on the camera and select “Search By Image” and this will bring up a dialogue box that will take you through uploading your image or providing a URL link to your image and searching Google with it.

(For those using Google Chrome there is a nifty plugin called Search by Image that will, once installed, allow you to right click an image on the Web and search Google with it. Either way, the results are returned in the same way.)

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As you can see in this example, Google shows you a set of images that are similar. Not surprising, there are a number of photos of the downtown Houston skyline by other photographers. But the list below is more telling. As you can see, there are several links to pages hosting my exact photo. Some of them are mine (obviously) and some of them are sites that I have licensed the photo to. And then there are the others. The copyright infringers.

At this point I click the link on a suspected infringer and collect the URL to do some research. For this example I will use my own Web site so as not to incur the wrath of an infringer who might take issue with me calling them out in a public forum.

Here we see this guy named Jay Lee who is portraying my photo as his own. What a jerk!

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Now at this point you have two choices. You can peruse the Web site hosting your image and try to find contact info for the person or company and try to deal with them directly. This method yields a variety of results. Sometimes the infringer will agree to remove the image, or they might offer to license the image or, more frequently than I care for, they will tell your something along the lines of “too bad, so sad” or even ignore you entirely. Some infringers tend to get downright nasty.

Due to the large number of infringers I tend to come across I opt to deal with the hosting providers. Most hosting providers have provisions for dealing with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices that will put the hosting provider in the position of dealing with their customer instead of you.

To go this route does, however, require some research and effort.

The first thing to do is find the I.P. address of the Web site. Simply opening a command prompt and using NSLOOKUP will accomplish this easily.

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Now that we know the Web site is hosted at we just need to know the controlling entity for that IP address. To learn this we go to the American Registry For Internet Numbers, also known as ARIN.

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Using their Whois search to search the IP address we can see that Softlayer is the hosting entity for this Web site. We can then click on the Abuse Point Of Contact link to find out who to send our notice to. It is worth noting that if the hosting entity is outside of the USA, you might not get any response to your DMCA notice. If the IP address comes back as belonging to the RIPE Network Coordination Centre you are likely wasting your time if you try to file a DMCA.

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As we see here, the abuse contact for SoftLayer is [email protected] This is who we need to send our notice to.

As per the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), there is a specific formula for submitting a valid notice of copyright infringement. This is the template I use and has been very successful.

Compose a new email with the subject: “Notice of Copyright Infringement“.

Then, in the body of the email include the following text and links:

The copyrighted work at issue is located at:

[Insert the URL of the page infringing on your copyright here]

Specifically, this image:

[If possible, provide the direct link to the infringed image itself. You can usually find it by right-clicking the image and selecting “Copy Image URL” and then pasting the link in to your message. This works well in Chrome most of the time. In some cases you have to view the source of the Web site to dig this link out. If you can’t find it, don’t sweat it.]

The corresponding URL where our copyrighted material is located:

[Insert link to YOUR image on your Flickr page, blog page, whatever.]

You can reach me at [insert your email address] for further information or clarification.

I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

[Your name]
[Your company (if you have one)]
[Your web site]
[Your physical address]
[Your phone number]

The above template meets the required standards of a legitimate DMCA notice.

It is worth noting that some hosting sites provide online DMCA forms. These are preferable over sending an email when they are available. If you suspect a hosting provider might have such a form, a Google search using the name of the provider along with DMCA will usually lead you to the form.

Below are links to the more common hosting site DMCA forms”

Once you have submitted your DMCA notice, whether by email or by online form, you can usually expect a notification that your notice has been received. Often it will include a tracking number that will be used for any communications and updates to the status of your notice. In my experience most hosting providers will have the issue resolved pretty quickly. Some of my notices have been addressed in less than 24 hours. The longest I have had to wait is about 3 or 4 business days.

Closing Thoughts

Not every notice will succeed. You will have to determine how much effort you are willing to expend enforcing your copyright. I would say my success rate, inside the USA, it about 95%. Your results may vary.

Many copyright infringers don’t know that they are doing anything wrong. They think the Internet is a bucket full of royalty free images and content. These kinds of infringers are often very apologetic and will remove the content.

Some infringers outsource their Web design to a third party. The Web site owner is lead to believe that their Web designer is making sure that the rights to the content are in place. Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous Web designers.

And then there are the infringers who simply don’t care about your rights. They think that if you posted the image online, you should expect it will get stolen. The reactions of this type of infringer can sometimes be quite frightening.

Remember, if you are asserting copyright in the form of a DMCA Notice, you must be prepared to back it up legally. Once you have claimed your copyright you could be presented with a counter challenge if the person or company believes they have rights to the content.

And one last closing thought. In most cases, when you file a DMCA notice, the hosting provider will disable access only to the content you specify and leave the rest of their site in place. The one exception to this I have found is GoDaddy. Upon receipt of a valid DMCA Notice they will disable the customer entirely. That means you will have to work with their customer and GoDaddy to resolve it. This can be a HUGE pain, as I have learned from personal experience.

Good luck in your efforts. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave a comment.

About the author: Jay Lee is an IT guy, writer, and amateur photographer based in Houston, Texas. Visit his website here. This post originally appeared here.

  • CrackerJacker

    Thanks for a well done article. As my work becomes more visible, I’ve started thinking about this aspect of our profession. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge & experience!

  • Dean Fueroghne

    Great article and very thorough. You’re right, it’s a real pain and very time-consuming to deal with infringement. I have been dealing with this for years and the internet has made it even more complex to track down the offenders. Also, remember to file a copyright notice with the Library of Congress copyright office. This way if it ever becomes necessary to go to court, money damages can be claimed.

  • Guest

    Excellent article; can you tell me how to find an IP address on a Mac?
    I have been increasingly disgusted with infringers, and applaud your concise and informational article.

  • Montana Birder

    Excellent article; can you tell me how to find an IP address when using a Mac?
    I have been increasingly disgusted with infringers, and applaud your concise and informational article.

  • baldheretic

    On a Mac you would open up a terminal and use the NSLOOKUP command or you could use a Web site that does the same thing. Something like this

  • Montana Birder


  • Bill

    If you are using a Mac you have an small arsenal of tools already installed within your applications folder under utilities. The actual path is /Applications/Utilities and you want to use Network Utilities. It includes several tools for local and network diagnosis, helpful especially for this kind of work. The online version like ARIN may be easier to use, but give it a try, since it is already included on your machine. I included a screenshot using petapixel on the lookup section.

  • Stanco55

    Have not tried it as of yet, but in advance- Thank You…

  • TickedOffPhotog

    Good article.
    My own personal philosophy anymore with corporate/business infringers is to file a DMCA notice, followed by a lawsuit if the image is registered. Not all of mine are, yet.
    Small settlements are not reason enough for businesses to stop infringing, it’s merely another cost of doing business.
    By spending the $400 to file a suit, infringers are put on notice that this is serious and it will cost them a large chunk of change in attorney’s fees. Even if I only walk away with about the same amount i would have without filing suit, I have the satisfaction of knowing I forced an infringer to spend far more on legal fees. I’m done screwing around with these people.

  • Pete

    Excellent and well written article.

    As the owner of a small hosting provider, I am aware of the DMCA and since I am based in Canada, it does not legally apply. However, I will and have cooperated whenever a request is made of us. After reading your article, I will be posting a Copyright reporting tool to help make things easier for copyright holders.


  • Montana Birder

    Thanks, Bill! I’m pretty computer savvy, but get nervous when it comes to delving into the “guts” of the machine. This is a much more comfortable technique for than going into Terminal.

  • Bill

    Understand completely. I’m not a computer expert, but I used to fix some friends computers when they decided to “clean house” and delete some systems files when they should have let well enough alone.

    I think your are pretty safe here, as you can see in the utility folder, there are some tools that may not pertain to most, but then there are some that will make you go, “ahh, I was wondering how to do that!”

    The terminal on the other hand, is just like diving into DOS on windows, the wrong command and certain doom may incur. I would only go in terminal when you have researched it fully, unless you are comfortable with terminal commands.

    Hope it helps.

  • Mikkel

    Great article! Just to expand on the note about the EU e-commerce directive (EDEC) I can inform that the EDEC is pretty much based on a DMCA-like safe habor principle. In terms of hosting providers this means that they are obligated to remove infringing content “promptly” whenever being notified thereof, and that they will be held liable for damages if they do not react upon notification.

    The EDEC differs from the DMCA in that the directive does not set forth specific provisions on how to deal with copyright infringement claims. So there is no standardized DMCA-like “notice and takedown” procedure in the EU. The EU Commission remained sceptical towards “notice and takedown” procedures, so they decided to leave it to the national legislators and the industry to figure out an appropriate procedure. This of course means that you will have to be aware of the nationality of the hosting provider or website you want to adress. While there is no official procedures in e.g. Denmark, an official “notice and notice” procedure has recently been adopted in Finland. The EU has, however, recently set forth a public hearing regarding the harmonization of a procedure named “notice and action”, so more accesible means of copyright claims may be on the way in the EU.

  • Jeff Piper

    Great article. Most of my pictures are on Flickr and the Google Seach by Image doesn’t seem to work on there. :(

  • John

    Wow! Great article. I started searching some of my pics on Flickr, and so far have found 15 violations. Almost all have been removed, thanks to the tips in this article!. Thank you for posting!!!

  • baldheretic

    You have to be logged in to Flickr, click the image then click one of the direct image links then do the search.

  • Jeff Piper

    Thanks very much. Very useful.

  • Phase19

    The Search by Image extension for Chrome is awesome and so easy to use

  • Phase19

    Use the Search by Image extension on Chrome, you can then just mouse over any image and a small camera will appear in the bottom right of the picture, just click on that icon to start a search for that image

  • sjoan

    Great article but check the “your content in our services’ section of the Google terms of use. I’m no lawyer but the language seems somewhat similar to FB, suggesting that anything that is uploaded for a search can be used by Google. But you’re right, everyone seems to think that the internet is just a bucket full of royalty free imagery. When I contact infringers I always get the “oops, sorry, my mistake, I’ll take it down.” I remind them that the DMCA doesn’t have any “oops, sorry” exclusions. At this point, I’m not interested in any cease and desist or take downs or even disabling the offender’s website. I’m just interested in getting paid because once anything has been posted on the web, it’s there forever and who knows how many others have already screen grabbed the image for their own use. The damage has already been done. Payment is the only remedy.