Copyright Education

10+1 Tips for writing great emails to copyright violators

In this article we share out top ten recommendations for photographers and photo agencies for contacting copyright infringers in order to get paid.

It happened again! Somebody stole your picture and used it on a website without purchasing a license or without even just asking for permission.

You have three choices now: Accept it and move on, hire a lawyer - or email the copyright infringer and ask for the payment you deserve.

While we all agree that throwing in the towel is not an option, most of us also feel that sending a lawyer after the infringer straight away may often be a bit disproportionate.

In this post we will show you how to write an email to a photo thief in a way that will maximize your chances of getting paid the money you deserve.


#1 Take screenshots before you email the copyright infringer

The natural reaction to receiving an email about a copyright violation is to take down the picture or page immediately. Therefore it is absolutely essential to take screenshots of the infringement before contacting the image thief for the very first time.

You should take three screenshots: One screenshots showing the picture as embedded in the page, one screenshot showing the picture alone (opened with right-click "open picture in new tab" or similar) and, if possible, a screenshot of a page containing the details of the domain operator.


#2 Be friendly, respectful and describe why you are reaching out

We know that more than 90% of all photo copyright violations happen accidentally. With the emergence of the web millions of people turned into publishers without having any sensitivity for copyright issues. Even though we describe them as 'thieves', 'infringers' or 'violators', most are just normal people that made a mistake without any bad intention. Treat infringers with respect and don't make them feel like criminals. This will heavily increase the odds of reaching a settlement.

Help the copyright infringer understand why as a photographer or photo agency you are depending on getting paid for uses of your photos, even if they are 'just' copies of a picture that you 'created anyway'. Explain that the copyright law's purpose is to ensure that people can make a living from creative work.


#3 Give information about yourself

Most infringers will mistrust a stranger contacting them via email and asking for money. The most effective way of gaining trust is to provide information about yourself. Provide a link to your webpage. Write a few sentences about who you are and what you do. If you are a company, do not hide behind the company name but make yourself visible as the actual person writing the email, i.e. give your full name, provide information about your role in the company. If you feel comfortable to do so, provide your phone number or a link to a social media profile. 


#4 Present your evidence

Include just one screenshot in your mail: The one that shows your picture as embedded in the web page. If there are multiple pictures in the screenshot, mark the one in question.

Always include the URL of the webpage containing the infringement in your email so that the recipient can easily navigate to the the page in question.


#5 Show that you own the picture

It is natural for the infringer to question, if you are the actual rights holder in the photo. There are many easy ways to actively address this doubt. Provide a link to the picture on your website. Provide the filename of the picture in your database and invite the infringer to search for it in the database. Provide some information about the shot, i.e., where you took the picture, who the original client was, who the model is, etc. Point to a different use of the same picture with proper credits. If you are an agency, provide the name of the photographer.


#6 Make your claim

Don't beat around the bush but precisely name your claim. Present an exact figure. If you don't, this will be seen as an invitation to negotiate. If you want to show some flexibility regarding the pricing, offer a reasonable, fixed discount if the matter is settled withing a week or two.


#7 Tell the infringer what they get from you

You have to be precise about what the infringer gets from you when they pay your claim. Do they get a retroactive permission for the past use of the picture? Or do they also get a license for any future use of the picture? Be precise.


#8 Provide easy, trustworthy payment options

Especially in cross-border cases it is essential to make paying your claim easy and secure. The infringer should be able to use a payment method they trust. When asking for a bank transfer the bank account owner should be you because a differing account owner may lead to a loss of trust. When asking for a Paypal payment, the Paypal address should match the email address you are using.


#9 Call to action and consequences of ignoring you

Tell the copyright infringer what you expect them to do till when. Be precise. Tell them what you intend to do, if your request is ignored. This is not threatening or disrespectful but provides clarity.


#10 End on a positive note

End your email as politely as you started it. Emphasize your wish to find an amicable solution to the matter. Invite the infringer to get in touch with you to answer any remaining questions.

Oh, wait. There is one more tip:

#11 Fair Licensing helps you reach out to and collect payments from copyright infringers.

Our product Fair Licensing helps photographers and photo agencies contact infringers directly. It comes with a case management system, built-in evidence collection, email templates and a powerful settlement portal to collect payments using more than 30 of the most popular payment methods worldwide.

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