Are Other Designers Using Your Design Images?

Jun 8, 2013
designers-using-your-design-images

As digital technologies proliferate it is becoming increasingly easy for people to steal or borrow the images or photographs of others.

There is much debate around what is fair use of the images of others.   Most bloggers view it as normative to borrow images they find on the Internet as long as they cite the original source of the image, although that still might be copyright infringement and illegal.

This post isn’t about the gray areas.  Nor is it even about the role of using the designs of others on your site.  What this is about is how to detect when your images are being used without your consent.  In particular, this is about policing the use of your images so that another designer doesn’t use your images to sell their work.
 

DISCOVERY

If you don’t yet know, Design Success University (DSU) is a business consulting organization that has helped thousands of interior designers turn their design practices into successful businesses.   DSU has several forums for their vibrant community of designers to discuss the design business, including their LinkedIn page.  In those conversations it was brought to one designer’s attention that one of her images was being used on another designer’s website.  She was justifiably shocked and outraged, and immediately requested that her image be removed.  It was.

Just today Gail Doby, who heads DSU, announced that the designer who borrowed or stole the other designer’s images was no longer allowed to participate in the LinkedIn group and other DSU forums.

This caused me to go look at that designer’s website and see if it is now clean, or if borrowed/stolen images are still be used.
 

SEARCHING FOR IMAGES ON GOOGLE

This journey begins on the website with the stolen/borrowed images…

Hamptons Interior Design

This screenshot is from today, June 7th, 2013.

To search to see if this image is borrowed/stolen I  simply clicked on the image and dragged it onto my desktop (I use a Mac).  I then went to the website: http://images.google.com/ and I dragged the above image from my desktop into the search box and Google magically does a search for the image.

Here are the results for this image search:

Google images result
 

The image is from this house for sale for $4.2 million.

The question then is whose image is this?  Meridith Baer’s or Barbara’s?

I just called Meridith’s office and spoke with one of her assistants Kelsey.  Kelsey said that the image is definitely Meridith’s.  So, she will be contacting Barbara to get it removed… which means if you visit Barbara’s website it will likely look a bit different because of that change.

That is how you find an image and verify it’s authorship.  But, what about if you want to see if someone is using your image? (as opposed to finding the true source of an image you find online).
 

SEARCHING THE WEB FOR YOUR IMAGES

 
I go to the website of a New York City interior designer and drag an image onto my desktop and then drag it into Google images: http://images.google.com/

interior design image search
 

Lots of results show, from her photographer’s site to the architect’s site, media mentions, awards, and social media shares.  Click on the option to display “all sizes” and you’ll see something like this:
 

all interior design images
 

Now we’ve got a full list of all sites using this image.  Let’s explore…

A site called cococozy uses the image and only talks about the architect of the house.  A mention of Betty and a link to her website would be helpful for her marketing efforts and should be directed to the cococozy webmaster.

I see a Chinese site and an Arabic site both using it and they both put their own logo on the image!  Amazing.  As if!

I see a couple blogs using it, and appreciate that some of them mentioned Betty and linked to her website.

Some guy on a European social networking site used this image to show off his “apartment”- in his dreams!  http://vk.com/albums118207428

A Spanish designer appears to have once used it on her site but the link is broken which makes me think that it might have been removed.

This investigation tells me that this image is not encountering any gross violations as with the above image on Barbara’s site.

Conclusion

So, that is how to use Google Images to track down the use of images.

To end where I began, I am not writing this in opposition to the spreading of images on the Internet.   My only wish is to empower you in knowing where you are images are being used, and to give you the capacity to explore the distribution of an image more fully.  It is not always easy to find the source of an image, especially with those that have spread across the net to a greater extent.  However, the more you know how to track images the better you will be at keeping unethical usage from happening.

Note: this article was written by request from an interior designer.  And, as I had an interior designer steal my Internet marketing copy and business style and try to sell marketing services replicating mine I am particularly sensitive to the subject.  For the story on how a designer stole my words, including my deeply personal business philisophy and ethics, read this blog on SEO for interior designers plagiarism.  Using another person’s work as if it were your own is an ugly, unethical, unprofessional practice.

June 11th Update

This article has caused dozens of designers in the past days to contact me via LinkedIn to express their outrage on the topic. Using the above technique designers have found their images used by hundreds of websites, often by interior designers in their portfolios. If the design profession was more in the spotlight there would be public outcry as client’s are getting dupped by false advertising.

Follow up articles on this can be found here:
A Designer Steals Our Words
Image Theft, Word Theft: Solutions

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And, please share your story below in the comments. Thanks!

Author: Ken Lewis, CEO of ClientExpander.com. Internet Marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Interior Designers and other home design professionals. Explore our services here. If you are interested in working with us, contact us.

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