If you’ve been around the modeling industry for a while, chances are you’ve had your photos used without your permission. If it hasn’t happened to you personally yet, you probably know someone who has had to deal with this issue before.
Not only do you put in hard work, you also spend time and money to get great photos. In addition to sometimes paying photographers, you may have also paid for professional makeup, hair and clothing stylists. With all the work and expense that goes into them, finding out someone is using your photos without permission can make you feel very disrespected.
Speaking from experience, this situation can be extremely frustrating, especially if your images are being used for monetary gain and you don’t get any of that profit. While in some cases your hands are tied and there’s nothing you can do about it, there are a few things you can do to be proactive to protect yourself from having it happen in the future. See below for steps to take if you feel your photos are being used illegally!
While this circumstance can be upsetting, don’t let it get the best of you and think there’s nothing you can do about it. People who use photos without permission often assume that the model whose photos are being used will never find out, so they don’t even bother trying to hide it. This usually means they also haven’t taken any steps to protect themselves in the event you decide to take any form of legal action against them.
If your photos have been posted on a website, take screen shots of as much of the page as possible, being sure to include the browser bar at the top of the page displaying the actual website they are posted on. Should you decide to pursue legal action and attempt to get compensation for them using your photos, this will be important evidence to have, especially if they remove the photos from the website after you start the legal process. If your photos have been used in print advertisements, make sure you save copies of the magazine (take photos if it’s a large banner or billboard display).
Gather anything that you can, including any correspondences via email, text, or social media messages, that shows they are using your photos without your permission.
Contact Your Agent
If you are currently represented by a modeling agency, it is important to notify them immediately. As your agent, it’s their job to protect your image and brand. If the images being used are from a job that you booked with them, they will want to take action to investigate the situation. Remember- they make money if you make money, so if your photos are being used for monetary gain without permission, they will also want to resolve the situation.
It may well be that your photos are being used legally. The details for the use of your images is laid out in the contract your agent has with the clients, and there may have been a stipulation in there that allows the client to use your photos in a variety of formats over a prolonged period of time. Your agent should be able to verify this for you, and in the chance that the images are being used illegally, can advise you on some next steps to take.
Contact the Client
If the job was not booked through your agency and you come across your photos being used in an advertisement you hadn’t agreed to and weren’t compensated for, you should contact the client directly. The client may have contracted an advertising or media agency to handle advertising for them and the advertising company may not be aware that they didn’t have permission to use your photo. If this is the case, you can give them two options: 1) Remove your photo from their advertisement ASAP, or 2) Allow them to continue to use your photo if they compensate you. If they don’t agree to either of those options, you have every right to seek legal action against them.
In a recent situation I had to deal with, I had done work with a photography business on both personal and commercial projects. A friend of mine actually texted me a photo of an ad she saw in a magazine, and it turns out that the image that they used is one that I paid them to take for a personal project, not one of the ones that they could use commercially for their business. I was obviously very frustrated, as those photos were ones that I paid for and aside from them being personal, I wouldn’t be getting any profit from them. I immediately reached out to the business and let them know that I was aware of the advertisement and gave them the above two options. They chose option 1 (as most companies will do) and were very apologetic, saying that they had just gotten the sets of photos mixed up. Had they not been willing to work with me to resolve the problem, I would’ve taken legal action to get the compensation I deserved.
If your photos are being used on social media without your consent or someone is claiming that they’re you, you can report them directly on the hosting site. An example would be that if you come across your image on Instagram and the account is using it for promotion and/or not giving credit where it’s due, you can report these photos directly to Instagram by tapping the three dots by the photo and selecting the “Report” option. You will then be given further prompts to explain why you are reporting the photo, and once that’s complete Instagram will review it and remove the photo if they find it violates their guidelines.
If you feel comfortable, you can also reach out to the account that’s posting your photo and request that they remove it immediately. Many times, the account owner will get defensive and not remove the photo, so you can then report the image and the account to the hosting site. If you do send a DM to them, be sure to save & screenshot your exchange in case you decide to seek legal action against them.
Get a Lawyer
If you’ve jumped through the hoops to trying to get your photos from a site yourself, there are lawyers who specialize in copyright and intellectual property law. Contacting one may be your best bet if your photos have been used in an advertisement and you feel you are owed money. If your images were just used on social media, it may be harder to prove in court that they were used illegally.
If you do a lot of freelance work either for payment or trade, make sure you use a model release form and outline in that the ways your photos may be used. Make sue any photographer you work with agrees to these terms so that there is no question about what is expected on both ends of the bargain.
If you’re in the modeling industry, it’s only a matter of time before your photos get used in a way that you don’t agree to. Do your part to be proactive and do what you can to protect yourself and your image. Also, warn other models if you come across such individuals or companies so that they know not to do any type of business with them. Although the industry can be very competitive, it's still one big (albeit dysfunctional) family, and we need to look out for each other and put scam artists out of business.