A few years ago I was scrolling through the home page of a large magazine and saw a photo I had taken featured in the middle of its homepage. The pic was a distinctive one of a surprised Mark Zuckerberg that I had taken at a press conference. Where I was sitting when I took the picture and my luck in catching him at the precise moment he made the face in question made for a one-of-a-kind shot. I knew it was mine, and I knew I hadn't given the magazine permission to use it.
I had published the picture along with a story I had written a few months prior. It appears as though the writer of the magazine story (or someone along the way) had just done a Google search for a pic of Zuck, came across my amazing pic, and lifted it to use without considering that doing so wasn't exactly legal.
I came across the stolen pic just by circumstance. It was something I easily could have missed. One site, Pixsy, is designed to take care of that problem by monitoring your photos and where they're popping up on the web. Even better, when it does find that your image has been used without your permission, it tries to get you compensation.
The way it works is pretty simple: you tell Pixsy what photos you want it to track, and it will let you know when it finds a match somewhere. If that match wasn't authorised by you, then you can send an automated and legally binding takedown notice to the offender. If you're looking for compensation from the person or entity that stole your work, the site will also handle that for you.
One photographer says Pixsy scored him $US1400 ($1,803) for one instance of copyright infringement, and $US5000 ($6,439) for another. When the site gets cash for you, it takes a 50% cut. That seems like a lot, but it also handles all the legal fees and filing all the paperwork. Given that all you have to do is collect cash, it's not the worst deal.
The service is free to monitor up to 500 images. You'll have to pay for takedown notices but get free unlimited case submissions. If you have a ton of pictures you want to monitor or plan on sending a few cease and desists, then there's a bit of a cost involved. Plans start at $US19 ($24)/month for 2,000 images and 20 takedown notices and scale up to $US89 ($115)/month for 100,00 photos and 900 takedown notices. That said, the higher-cost plans are designed more with professional photographers in mind, and would pay for themselves the first time you needed the service to get you a settlement.