Using other people's installation pictures online – Is it illegal and what can be done?

Social media is a great way for tradespeople to show off their work. Unfortunately, Installer has seen a rise in rogue users stealing installation pictures, and passing them off as their own.
There are lots of benefits for installers who post their photos on Facebook and Twitter. It’s impressive to see the before-and-after shots following a hard day’s graft, and it showcases their skills.
We like to see them, other installers like to see them, and so do customers and manufacturers.
So it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth when you discover someone using your image to falsely promote themselves.
This was the case with Ian Briggs from I.R.B Heating (@irbheating) who found one of his photos had been taken from his Twitter page, and reposted by another installer on Facebook.
Fortunately Ian had an I.R.B Heating watermark on his photo, so it was easy to tell it was one of his.
“I got a phone call to say someone had been using a picture of my boiler install on Facebook and I couldn’t believe it”, Ian explained.
“I didn’t really know what to do so I tweeted about it and everything went crazy.
“We’ve seen it happen quite a bit so I think people are getting annoyed at the whole thing. I’ve been trying to figure out what went through the guy’s mind but I still can’t.
“The problem is it’s the customer that’s being deceived. They might see that picture and hire the person expecting to get that level of job, but they won’t”.
“Eventually the guy did call me to apologise. He said he knew he shouldn’t have done it, but he saw my picture and thought it was good, so he took it.
“I’m a one-man band and Twitter has been great for my business, but this was a headache I could have done without.”
The law
Installer spoke to Ben Evans – Associate & Trade Mark Attorney at Blake Morgan LLP – about the legal issues involved in cases like this, and what installers can do if they fall victim to unscrupulous social media users:
“The use of images of others’ work to advertise one’s own is by no means a new phenomenon, however it is something that is either increasing or, perhaps, is increasingly noticeable,” Ben explained.
“The reason for this is likely to be the internet which brings with it an expectation that every tradesman will have an online portfolio of work and also makes it very easy to find, and copy, images from competitors.
“Clearly it’s both upsetting and damaging to have a third party use images of your work, and thus take credit for that work. The law protects you from this in two areas:

  • Copyright: A photograph is protected, in the UK, as a copyright work. Unlike certain other forms of intellectual property, copyright arises automatically upon the creation of a work (in this case when the photograph is taken). In the majority of circumstances the owner of the copyright will be the photographer, unless there is a written agreement to the contrary i.e. unless you enlist a photographer and obtain a written transfer of the copyright in any photos they take for you. It is therefore important to ensure either that you take the photos yourself, or you do get a written transfer of that copyright. If you own the copyright in the photo then if a third party copies the photo and uses it on their website or social media pages (etc) without your consent, then they are likely to be infringing that copyright and thus you can look to take action against them. Depending on the seriousness of the issue you can look to issue a takedown notice to the party, the website host or the social media site (Facebook or Instagram for example) demanding that the image be taken down and, if that doesn’t bring about the result you are after, or if you wish to pursue a financial or other remedy (which include an injunction, damages or an account of profits and destruction/delivery up), then you can look to take action through the courts (more on this below).
  • Passing off: The other area of law that can be used to protect you is what is known as “passing off” or, more specifically, “reverse passing off”. Reverse passing off occurs when a party wrongfully represents someone else’s services as their own, thus takes credit for the other’s work, and causes it damage – likely through a loss of business. It is a complex area of law, even more so than copyright, and I would certainly recommend that traders seek advice before firing off letters or instigating court proceedings. In particular, it is the damage aspect that can be hard to prove and is often the reason that cases in this area tend to be brought for copyright infringement rather than passing off.

“One bright side for traders, and any small business, is the success of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (“IPEC”). As the name suggests, IPEC is a specialist intellectual property court which deals with issues such as these. It even has a small claims track which offers a simplified process, with very little in the way of costs awards, for more straightforward cases. The idea of the small claims track is to encourage small businesses to enforce their intellectual property when necessary and without the fear of a whopping cost award against them if they are unsuccessful. As always however, I would suggest taking some initial professional advice even if you do intend to run the case yourself. This should at least save you from pushing forward with a case that has relatively little prospect of success.
“Finally, an example that did reach the courts: Absolute Lofts South West London Limited v Artisan Home Improvements Limited and another [2015] EWHC 2608 (IPEC). This was an IPEC case brought by one home improvements company Absolute Lofts South West London Limited (“Absolute Lofts”) against another, Artisan Home Improvements Limited (“Artisan”) and its Director. Artisan’s website used 21 images of loft conversions taken from Absolute Lofts’ website, the images showed various work carried out by Absolute Lofts. Absolute Lofts brought its claim as copyright infringement but not reverse passing off. The reason for this was, presumably, that Absolute Lofts couldn’t show that they had suffered any detriment from the misrepresentation i.e. whilst Artisan used the images without consent it wasn’t a case that Absolute Lofts had lost business as a result, largely because they were not in competition (Absolute Lofts traded in London and Artisan traded in Bradford). However, Absolute lofts were awarded a total of £6,300 in damages which broke down to £300 by way of a notional licence fee (i.e. what Artisan would have expected to pay had they obtained the images legitimately) plus a further £6,000 by way of additional damages awarded based on the unfair profits that Artisan obtained through the use of Absolute Lofts’ images. In addition to this, one imagines that Absolute Lofts will have also obtained a costs order against Artisan.”
Tips for protecting your photos

  • Use a watermark app. There’s a load of free apps you can download to brand your photos
  • Get some branding in your shot. If you don’t want to use an app, try and get some branding in, a business card ETC
  • Take a selfie. Deep down, who doesn’t love a selfie? Get your mug in there and everyone will know whose work it is.