It probably happens more often than you think. A potential patient considering a procedure goes online, comes across your before and after photos and decides that she likes what she sees. She picks up the phone, schedules a consultation and then never shows up.
Why? Because she didn’t call you; she called another practice entirely. The photos she viewed were indeed yours, but someone else copied them and posted them on their website, portraying them as examples of their own handiwork. It’s called photo poaching and, as RealSelf CEO Tom Seery writes in the latest issue of Modern Aesthetics, you could be losing business because of it.
If something is on the Internet, it can almost certainly be copied and pasted, i.e. poached. It happens with all sorts of content, but it takes on added significance in a discipline where people rely on images to make major decisions about their health and wellbeing.
The problem is exacerbated in aesthetic medicine because would-be patients already view doctors’ photos somewhat skeptically. In a survey of 700 men and women who had requested a consultation with a doctor on RealSelf, the overwhelming majority said that while a doctor’s before-and-after photos are important for research, just 27 percent described patient photos posted by doctors as “very trusted.”
And when unscrupulous providers misappropriate other doctors’ photos, it makes that trust even harder to come by, notes Seery,
[Poached photos] not only sow seeds of doubt in the minds of potential patients, but can also put them at risk if they make medical decisions as a result. It’s essentially deceptive advertising and, if left unchecked, can even cast aesthetic medicine in a poor light.
The bad news is that it’s virtually impossible to stop others from copying your images and posting them as their own. (As Seattle-based facial plastic surgeon William Portuese, MD, puts it, “I’ve caught 20 to 25 medical practices using my photos on their websites. Right click, cut and paste, boom! It’s that easy.”) The good news is that you can fight back by making it unpleasant for them to do so. Here’s how:
Do an initial search for your images: All the major search engines offer the ability to do search for images for free. Using a reverse image search (see below), you can upload one of your photos; when you hit Search, it will return other examples of your image. Click on any duplicates and it will take you to where they’re being used.
Use a commercial image-tracking service: Several commercial services take the above one step further by offering a variety of free and fee-based image-tracking services. ImageWitness.com, for example, invites users to upload the images they want the company to track, searches the web and creates monthly reports detailing unauthorized uses. They’ll also help with copyrighting and infringement issues.
Use a digital watermark: Unseen to human eyes, digital watermarks are small snippets of tracking code that can be embedded in a photo. Using services such as Digimarc or SignMyImage won’t prevent unauthorized use of your photos but they can help you build a stronger case for ownership once you track them down.
Copyright your images: Copyrighting offers another path to protecting your images. The fact is that by producing the photo (and, of course, getting appropriate consent), you automatically own the copyright to it. However, if you want to actually enforce that copyright, you have to register it with the Library of Congress. This entitles you to pursue legal action, with the caveats that you’ll have to prove the infringement harmed your business (“damages”) and the challenge of pursuing relief and remuneration in an increasingly global market.
Send a takedown request to the poacher’s Internet Service Provider (ISP): Unlike reviews, which are protected speech (as long as they’re not defamatory), poached photos indicate infringement — which means you’re within your rights to ask an ISP to remove a copyrighted photo.
It can be pretty powerful, says Eric Goldman, professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law. Whoever gets that notice probably doesn’t have any investment in the matter; they just want to minimize their liability.
Then again, maybe you’ve been lucky and never had any of your images poached. That’s great but, make no mistake, unauthorized duplication of photos is bad for everyone’s business. Today’s aesthetic consumers are savvy researchers and they’re sensitive to anything that smacks of fakery, including images that show up in more than one place. Such images do more than just give unethical providers an unfair competitive advantage; they sow seeds of doubt, casting the entire field of aesthetic medicine in an unflattering light.
Whether your photos have been poached or not, that’s an image no one wants to see.
Photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr