"Help! I've Been Infringed!"
You're sitting in your easy chair and surfing the web. You're not paying much attention, until you see it. It's your photo, but you did not post it there. You can't believe they used your photo without your permission. Now what do you do? The steps you take may limit your ultimate remedies so be sure to first understand what your options are.
Make Copies of the Infringement
If you think that the use is likely an infringement, make copies of it - both in electronic and print forms. Once the infringer realizes that she is caught, she will do what she can to get rid of the evidence of the infringement. You may need that evidence later.
If the infringement is in print, then take a photograph of it, scan it, photocopy it, and/or show it to another person who would be willing to testify about it. If the infringement is on the Internet and/or in electronic form, make a paper print of it and/or copy a screen capture of it; both are better! (Snagit by TechSmith is a great program to copy web pages.) Determine whether your copyright management information (CMI) is included in or has been removed from the infringing use. Read more about why and how to include your CMI in your photos in one of my blog entries here and here.
Make Sure That the Use Is an Infringement
Not all uses of your photographs are infringements. Do you use a licensing agency that may have authorized the use? Could the user be related to an entity to which you authorized the use? Is the use a fair use? While only a court can ultimately decide what fair use is, the law gives us guidelines as to what may qualify. Read more about fair use in my blog entry here.
Research the Infringer
Next, find out what you can about the infringer. Research the infringer's website to find his name and contact information. If the infringer is a corporation based in the United States, you can find information about it on the website of the Secretary of State for the state where the infringer is based. To find the Secretary of State's website using an Internet search engine such as Google, search the corporation's state's name (such as "Georgia") and the words "secretary of state." The extension of the URL will be ".gov" or ".us." Be careful - some sites attempt to appear to be the state's website so that they can charge you for the information. Once on the proper Secretary of State's website, look for "corporations search," "business search" or similar language. You then will find the company's registered or resident agent, officers, and/or official address.
You also may be able to find a contact name by searching the website's "who is" information. You first do a "whois" search on the website name. Several websites provide free "whois" services, such as http://www.whois.net/. Conduct an Internet search to find them. After you enter the website name there, you may be able to find contact information for the administrator of the website.