The Great Copyright Infringement Debacle

John Smith's Brewery © Mark Sunderland Photography

I grew up in the brewing town of Tadcaster in North Yorkshire and was therefore greatly saddened by the damage to the fine old bridge over the River Wharfe caused by the recent flooding which hit the national news.  I’ve therefore been following related stories about Tadcaster quite closely recently and was pleased to see the start of work on a temporary footbridge this week and also that Heineken (owner of the John Smith’s brewery in the town) will be funding new pumps to help in future flooding incidents.

John Smith's Brewery © Mark Sunderland Photography
© Mark Sunderland Photography

However, I was somewhat bemused when I saw an image of mine (above) pop up in a newsfeed on this story, as I’d not licensed it recently.  I checked with the only agent representing it and they’d not licensed it either so I’m currently in the process of chasing this up.  It seems likely that the image came from my flickr account, where it was marked as © All Rights Reserved and is not set as downloadable.  This can be bypassed altogether, however, by users finding the image through a Google search.

Indeed, if you Google “John Smiths Brewery” and look at the image results you’ll find a couple of my images near the top of the results – including the one above, marked as being from  The problems really start when you click on this thumbnail in the search results and get two buttons to either “Visit page” or “View image”.  The Visit page button would take you to the image page in my flickr feed, along with its appropriate copyright notice [not now – you’ll just get a 404 page as I’ve removed it].  However, the View image button just shows the source JPEG file which can then be right-clicked and downloaded easily.  The file still contains my copyright notice in its metadata at this stage – but if someone subsequently uploads this file to Facebook then this will strip out the metadata so the file effectively becomes orphaned – save for reverse image searches (which would hopefully find it on Alamy in this case).

John Smith's Brewery © Mark Sunderland Photography
© Mark Sunderland Photography

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Google search also brought to light another image of mine from the same shoot (above) in use on an editorial site which I had no knowledge of – and a reverse image search on this image unearthed two further unlicensed usages on the internet.

I have since deleted all of my old images from flickr that were unwatermarked 500 pixel files.  At the time of uploading these I guess people were still thinking that such small comps available on the internet weren’t a problem as they’re tiny and of no use for print.  But with the decline of print media and huge increase in online editorial these small comps flying around the internet now pose a threat.  After all, a 500 pixel image is plenty big enough to provide impact on a mobile screen and could potentially be used for an effective global advertising campaign.

Snow Covered Rooftops at Staithes, Yorkshire, England © Mark Sunderland Photography

It’s a great shame for flickr users who enjoy following professional photographers flickr feeds but it seems that even a little border round the image with a name and URL in it isn’t really enough, so I’m now looking into putting large watermarks across the middle of all my flickr images like the Staithes image above.

If you’ve got any thoughts on this approach then please comment – either on this post, or if you’re on flickr then on the Staithes image.  I’m certainly going to be much more vigilant in the future!


About marksunderland

Mark Sunderland is a retired landscape and travel photographer still taking the occasional photograph! For image licensing and prints see

6 Responses

  1. Tony Handley

    All of which is why you’ll see our dear friend Terry Cryer trotting across Knaresborough Market Place on his way to the Library where he logs on daily to see who is the latest user of his copyrighted works. He chases them all up and says he is earning more now than ever before in his long and illustrious life!

  2. Interesting to see this pop up as I’ve not used Flickr to do any serious uploading for a long time – not since the middle of 2014 in fact apart from a set I needed to upload for a competition last summer.

    Am at the point where I’m giving thought to closing the account and removing images – the thing which made Flickr useful , the community feel seems to have not been present for a long time and the comments aren’t always meaningful. The most important thing is that I need to build a brand around my photography and target it to certain people – and they aren’t the ones on Flickr (not these days). Instagram’s probably where it’s at now.

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