It’s something that happens to every landscape photographer sooner or later. You’re killing a little time surfing the web or doing some research and suddenly you pull up a website and see one of your own photographs staring back at you. It’s being used without your permission or your knowledge. Perhaps the website owner is even taking credit for it as if it’s theirs.

It’s only natural to feel angry and even violated. After all, this is your art – your work. It’s a little piece of your soul and someone else shamelessly stole it from you without a second thought. Naturally, that feeling is even worse when you count on your landscape photography as part of your livelihood. Here’s what to do when and if you ever find yourself in that situation.

Get in Touch with the Site Owner

Once you’ve verified that the photo in question is truly yours and double check that you haven’t simply forgotten that you made a licensing agreement for that photo at some point, it’s time to reach out. Write the blogger or website owner a short (but polite) email explaining that the image in question is not free for general use and request that it be removed from the site.

In most cases, this is all it takes for the person to remove the photo. However, every so often you run into a real jerk that thinks everything on the Internet is “free to use” and refuses to accommodate your request. That’s when you move on to the next step.

Contact the Host

Get in touch with the entity hosting the website whether that’s WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, or any of the other possibilities. Fill out a Digital Millennium Copyright Act form (DMCA) and send it to their copyright complaint department. The image will soon be a thing of the past.

Seeking Legal Assistance

In the event the offense is more serious than just a stolen image posted alongside a blog or a web article, you may want to consider legal assistance to pursue compensation. Perhaps you’ve discovered someone selling prints of your work and making a killing to name just one example. If you’ve never registered for an official copyright, then you can only sue for losses, but if you have, you can sue for damages as well.

If you do decide to approach a lawyer about pursuing either of those options, make sure you also have records of all the steps you’ve already taken to resolve the issue, as you will need them. Also, make sure to choose a lawyer that specializes in copyright law.

Prevent Future Theft

When it comes to the Internet, there’s no surefire way to guarantee your photographs won’t be stolen. However, you can certainly make theft a whole lot harder to pull off. Consider adding watermarks to your images or using a tracking service to help you monitor for unauthorized use of your images. Many photographers find that sticking to a lower resolution for web versions of their images discourages a lot of theft as well. Consider using any one of these methods (or a combination of them). The more measures you take to make your photos unattractive to thieves, the lower the likelihood that you’ll be stolen from again.