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If you sell a picture online, how can you prove you are the creator of it?

And, in the same way, but the other way round: if I buy an image, what should I check to make sure I'm buying it from the legal right's holder?

I would perform a pic search in Google Images and Tineye, but besides this I'm lost.

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Typically when you sell an image they you supply a hi-res jpg. If you shot in raw (never give away your raw file) having the raw file will prove that you are the owner as the person you sold the JPG to would not have this. Also typically photos are not shot in isolation so having copies of the full series would be further evidence of ownership.

You can also embed copyright information in the EXIF data but this is easily removed but you should do it anyway.

Finally posting a version of the photo on a independant photosite or social media site that timestamps the photo is a good option.

Most of my photos are of people so I have either a signed and dated model release or the model willing to come forward and confirm I am the photographer if there is every a dispute.

As for checking if someone is selling you a stolen/copied photo there is not much you can do beyond the google image search but this is far from conclusive.

Hope this helps.

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As far as I know (and I had some seminars on the topic), there is no certain way to know who's the original artist - there are, however, clues to that (sometimes).

  • The most obvious thing would be a watermark: picture of a watermark From LunaPic

    Watermarks can be invisible, too: They can be rendered into the picture's data (like noise). However, this can sometimes be rendered useless with adding noise - and then blurring everything.

  • The date can be an indicator, but it is very easy to manipulate creation- and editing times. However, as @David pointed out: The upload date might be a strong hint towards the owner. However, if we include the possibilities of physical theft (stealing the owner's computer/memory card) or theft inside a group (e.g. assistant of owner releases files and claims that they are the owner), then those things again are not safe indicators. (Though chances for both things are relatively low, in my opinion.)

  • Using TinEye (or another picture-search tool), you can assume that if there is a version with a wider framing, it is the original. I am not talking about the megapixel-count, but of the framing itself: Sometimes, people crop away parts of pictures. So if you find a picture of the above flower with its stem and leaves (or with all blossoms uncropped), you could assume that it is "more original" than the one I used. Of course, in some cases, one could use a cloning tool (or something like it) and generate the outer parts with that.

  • Another clue would be the absence of picture information. However, some people remove al EXIF data anyways, and you can always make them up (or copy them from another picture).

  • The author shows you the original picture (in the best case scenario as a RAW) - that, however, is also just a clue and no guaranteed way, as noone is obliged to keep his RAWs - and again, you could, in theory, just make them up.


The bottom line is: There is no way to know 100% if your picture source is trustworthy - unless you actually made the shot yourself, of course.

  • If you want to buy a picture: This is up to jurisdiction. In my country - and as far as I know, in the whole EU - you cannot be held responsible if you buy a picture from someone who only claims to be the owner of the picture. Get a decent contract that says that the seller assures that they own the picture - that should do it. And if it turns out that he did steal it from somebody else and the official owner contacts you, the worst case would be that you have to buy the photo again from the official owner - and sue the imposter. You yourself cannot be sued in this case - that's at least something, I would think.

    In countries that say that the buyer is responsible for what they are buying (or if you are paranoid about it), using TinEye and whatever of the above indicators works would be the only way to perhaps conclude something.

  • If you want to sell pictures and want to prevent copyright infringements from others: Use any trick you like: use watermarks (both visible and invisible), keep the original file, remove the EXIF data, slightly crop them - and look up your own pictures in TinEye randomly.

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