PLEASE NOTE: this work is a draft and will be added to and/or amended as time permits. Do not take it as a substitute for proper legal advice. What is offered here is no more than personal opinion. Links to other Websites contained within the article have no connection to me and their content and opinions are their own. I bear no responsibility for any action you may choose to take as a result of acting on any opinion contained within.
In the 21st Century, publishing images online has never been easier. Using a Website (such as this) to upload photos, or taking photos on a mobile phone (cell phone) and uploading to social media, can be done in seconds. Content on the Internet continues to increase at a logarithmic rate and the appetite for imagery to accompany that content increases similarly. Sadly, the awareness of the general public regarding ownership of content is lacking and abuse of copyright continues daily.
A point to note is that copyright in images in the UK (and many other countries) is inherent a creative work from the moment that work is created: no further action is necessary to claim ownership of an image. You have created that image and you own the copyright. However, in the USA, it is extremely useful to assert your copyright by registering your images with the United States Copyright Office. USCO has an online system eCO, where, for a fee, images may be uploaded and copyright asserted, In the event of copyright infringement in the USA, this registration enables US attorneys to claim potentially significant damages in your interest. It may be that without registration, many legal firms will not even be interested in pursuing the case.
Ignorance of the law is, of course, never a defence, but may be understandable in the case of an individual who may not understand the restrictions on usage of online content. There is much confusion regarding this among the general public and the situation is not helped by the profusion of Websites which claim to offer 'free' image downloads, when often they are just holding pages for advertising and tracking cookies, while the actual content and images are often far from free and have, in fact, just been stolen by these criminals. This can result in innocent abuses on social media or blogs, where someone will commonly just copy and paste a photo into their timeline or post in order to illustrate a point, believing that they have obtained the photo perfectly legally. The problem is then compounded by the ability (and encouragement of platform users to actively 'share' content, disseminating the issue.
When that individual has had the law regarding copyright explained to them, then hopefully they will apologise, remove the content and not make the mistake again. Otherwise - where the copyright has been infringed on social media for example - then they may have the content forcibly removed by the business concerned. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) enables copyright owners to report copyright abusers and issue Takedown notices to guilty parties (see links to common DMCA reporting tools at the end of this article).
Flagrant Copyright Infringement
Use of such images by businesses, however, is another matter. Managers and owners have a legal responsibility to ensure that they are aware of, and adhere to, the laws regarding Intellectual Property and Copyright. When they don't comply with the law or blatantly and flagrantly abuse the law, then the copyright owner, having discovered the abuse, must act.
In such cases, there are various options open to photographic copyright owners to enforce copyright and obtain fair recompense for use of their images.
There are many software solutions and businesses who may employ the services of international legal representatives to take on what can be a complex and lengthy process on your behalf. For a percentage of the resulting settlement (often ~50%), they will handle all communications and - if necessary - legal action on your behalf. I have used various of these services with varied results. Most of these service providers offer a free option, with all offering a monthly subscription. Results will vary according to a number of issues, and quality and reliability will vary over time. Do a search and see what users have to say.
DISCLAIMER: I have no connection with any of the services listed other than possibly having used their services at some time. Do your own research and use at your own risk. Remember that by using their services, you are entering into a legally binding contract with them: read the small print and make your own decisions. I am making no recommendation or otherwise at all.
Common Copyright Infringement Service Providers
Online news outlets are not unknown to plagarise from each other. In 2017, the Irish Independent newspaper sued Leo Sherlock, owner of the online news outlet TheLiberal.ie
They won the case and Leo Sherlock apologised and agreed to pay damages to Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd for breaches of copyright. He apparently used photos from the Irish Independent and articles from other sources.
If you are happy to proceed with the process yourself, then the first step is to contact the individual or business directly. Find an email address for the business and send an initial, polite email seeking further information about how/where/when they sourced the image. This information will then guide you in how to proceed. Their initial response may well tell you a lot about their character and how easy or challenging the whole process is likely to be. You will probably best be advised to keep the communications written, as this will ensure that everything is clear between you at all times and you will also retain a record of all that was said should you have to go to law.
How you then choose to progress the case is really between you and them, but you should be issuing an invoice for use of your photograph. This is likely to be beyond a regular license fee for the usage as your copyright has been infringed. You should take into account how the image has been used, for how long, who has used it and in what context. Has the image been altered in any way: have the IPTC or EXIF fields been tampered with or removed completely or has a copyright notice been removed using image editing software, for example?
There is a range of guidance on the Internet: a recommended article on the process being on EPUK (Editorial Photographers United Kingdom and Ireland).
Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court (IPEC)
If the infringer ultimately refuses to settle a reasonable licence fee, then in the UK it is now a relatively straightforward process to take the infringer to court. The Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court (IPEC) offer services to settle intellectual property disputes, including copyright. Official guidance including all necessary links and fees: Take a case to the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.
Unofficial guidance - again, this is very helpful, but use at your own risk.
The Intellectual Property Lawyers' Association (IPLA) may be useful (list of members). Lawyers who may be happy to take on your case Pro bono or signpost you to other groups or organisations to help can be found on IP Pro Bono.
Taking a case to the EU
Note that most of the information contained within this article relate to the 'home' nations of the UK - specifically England & Wales. While the UK remains a member of the EU, matters may be advanced, if necessary, to the European Courts via the European e-Justice Portal (Beta).