Most photographers today would likely tell you that posting personal photos online without a copyright notice is a virtual guarantee that your work will be stolen. Whether photos are taken and used for social media pages, cover pages on blogs, or posted and claimed as their own, infringers can be relentless. This results in extreme frustration and feelings of helplessness by photographers who take their craft seriously, and put much time and effort into their work. So what can they do about it?
First, understand that unless a photographer has an actual registered copyright, no statutory damages may be pursued. This means that even though an implied copyright is attached the moment a picture is taken, it does not become an avenue for legal action unless properly registered in accordance with the Federal Copyright Act of 1975.
The very first thing that a photographer should do when an infringement on work has taken place is to make a copy of the infringement. Should damages be pursued, the photographer will be required to show this proof. Second, simply request that the image be removed. If this is not done in a reasonable amount of time, send a formal cease and desist letter. An attorney can be helpful in drafting this letter with the correct terminology. If still no response is received and the image is continued to be used, send the user a DCMA notice, otherwise known as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act enacted in 1998. After receipt of this notice, if the user claims they have the right to use the image, then litigation may be necessary.
If you are in the unfortunate circumstance of having had your photography work stolen or used without permission, consult with an IP attorney who can help determine your best course of action. No one should be able to take credit for your hard work and creativity.