Pirating and Plagiarizing

The concept of intellectual property should be a no-brainer, but we see examples of theft all too often.

Travel companies, government agencies, and even airlines use my pictures without permission.

Not too long ago, a photographer submitted some pictures to a German magazine that published a group of what the magazine thought were her photos.  Someone saw the pictures and realized that they were actually  my photographs.

I have taken out the name of the magazine because they have already apologized, but it is amazing that someone could think they could get away with submitting my pictures as their own.  I never received an apology from the photographer who stole the pictures.

On a building in Seoul, South Korea, 2009


The concept of intellectual property should be a no-brainer, but I guess there will always be people who use the work of others to promote their own companies or careers.  I appreciate the folks around the world who let me know when they see my work being pirated or plagiarized and let us know.

71 Responses to “Pirating and Plagiarizing”

  1. […] For now, I will end this blog by quoting Steve McCurry: The concept of intellectual property should be a no-brainer, but I guess there will always be people who use the work of others to promote their own companies or careers.  I appreciate the folks around the world who let me know when they see my work being pirated or plagiarized and let us know. […]

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    This just upsets me.

  3. This happened to me recently too. Vision magazine in China printed 3 of my pictures. They all had my logo on and I asked them to credit me but instead they cropped my logo off the pictures and refused to credit me at all.
    This is a magazine that sells hundreds of thousands of copies every month and they have basically stolen work from a struggling photographer.
    It’s a disgusting practice.

  4. Siddharth Jain Says:

    Mr. McCurry,

    I am from India. I can understand what you must have felt when u came across this. This is one thing for which they must be having no justification.

    I would like to apologize on behalf of my country.

    You can rest assured that not all are like this.

  5. Hi Steve,

    Sorry for what happened to you and sadly this has been happening too often. However, just like others before me have said, the ones who stole them are incapable of taking such pictures themselves.
    I LOVE your work. You are one of my favorite photographers and I am SO inspired by looking at your photographs! Your respect of the people you’re shooting and their cultures really shines through your photographs!
    Please keep shooting! I’d love to learn from you one day. Maybe someday I can be your assistant?:)
    In the meantime, thank you for blogging and showing us the rest of your work that hasn’t been published yet!
    BTW, I used one of your pictures as a model for a painting. But I did write your name for credit on the back of the canvas!:)
    All the best to you!

  6. FriendandFan Says:

    I am sorry to report that I have viewed an unlawful (and disrespectful) use of one of your most iconic photographs.
    The following piece is a manipulation that is being offered for download as a desktop wallpaper:

    I do apologize again for being the bearer of bad news. My sister brought this image to my attention as she knows that I am a fan of your work. It is shameful when people do these things.

  7. After reading the reply from Jan on August 8th, it got me to thinking. Once I wanted to take a photo of an old woman feeding pigeons in a cathedral courtyard, but I was too shy to ask her permission to make a copy of her image. Is one’s image not unique and belonging to that person, somewhat like “intellectual property”? Do you, Steve, always get permission from your subjects before taking photos? I do understand that it may not be possible in certain circumstances, i.e. political, celebrity, social events, etc. and it is obvious that permission is granted for portaits, but what about the ones taken of those caught in a private moment? (i.e. the mahmout reading his book with the elephant behind him in Chiang-Mai.) What are your thoughts on this?

  8. Thanks for sharing these photographs, all of them have captured time and places for forever for generations. SPEECHLESS.
    I came hare from a link on MagnumPhotos website.
    I have seen many times The steam loco with The Taj at background on the Indian Railway website, for last few months I don’t see that photograph there at home page. Now I know why Indian Railway removed it. Instead of taking your permission to continue with that photograph they removed it and placed a boring flat photograph (I guess it is the work of Indian Railway official photographer). Not only this there are many who copy the theme and style of your timeless photograph “The Afghan Girl”.

  9. […] de Steve McCurry, de la serie Fusion: The Synergy of Images and Words. […]

  10. […] The concept of intellectual property should be a no-brainer, but we see examples of theft all too often.  Travel companies, government agencies, and even airlines use my pictures without permission.   Not too long ago, a photographer submitted some pictures to a German magazine that published a group of what the magazine thought were her photos.  Someone saw the pictures and realized that they were actually  my photographs.   I have taken out the … Read More […]

  11. Dear Steve McCurry,

    Several of my portraits (photographed by me) have been painted by artists and sold at exhibitions and through internet shops. I am trying to fight this, because I never gave permission. Searching the internet, I not only find my photos copied, but several of yours as well (mainly in the Netherlands, where I live). Do you want the links? Soon, I will publish about this on my website. I need e few days to list all the sites with my work.


  12. I was in impression that the images used by Indian Railway were used with your due permission. It was not even in my distant dream that a govt organisation could infringe a copy of photograph of a artist of your caliber.
    Imagine steve, if this could happen with you, then what might happen with a general or not-so-famous photographer.

    I will aware you sure, if find something like this ever.


  13. One I had to deal with recently was a hospital using a photograph of mine on their website without paying (or even asking) their comment was it was just a “generic shot ” & “only a photo”- my comment to them was that Heart Surgery was also somewhat “generic” but I assume they didn’t give it away.
    Rather than admitting their errors they became rather nasty.

    Some of the designers (web & print) should know better and not get their clients into these situations.

    With sites like Shutterstock and I-Stock where you can get photographs for $1.00 or less, for any use you like, it’s hardly surprising that photography has become so totally undervalued.

    I wonder what the future holds for those of us that derive their income from photography….

  14. South Korea, where I live and work now, is rampant with copyright infringement. Photos are reproduced without any regard to ownership. Your photos on that building’s sign (which says “Indian Cafe”) is no surprise. Almost every restaurant in Korea uses stock photos that I’m sure no one is getting paid for. Sad but true.

  15. The world is becoming a smaller place every day. Fifty years ago you might not have ever heard about this, now days however word travels much faster. Although it is sad to see someone steal from you, I hope you realize your work still inspires me to be a better person even when someone else’s name is given the credit. What’s the saying? A rose by any other name….

  16. Embarrassing behavior of companies and persons. I am wondering why companies didn’t start a research before publishing a work not their own. In the case is somebody copied a product of them then they are very fast in law suits.


    Jos Runarka

  17. […] y plagio Así es como titula un post Steve McCurry en su blog en el que habla de como han utilizado parte de su obra sin su […]

  18. It must be incredibly frustrating to see your work used all over the world with no credit given. Legal issues aside, it’s just incredibly rude.

    A few years ago, a girl I was doing conservation work with asked me whether she could use one of my photos in her university magazine. I agreed on the condition that I would be given credit for it, and I stupidly sent her a copy of the original file. She didn’t thank me, and quickly stopped responding to any messages I sent her. Three years later I discovered her facebook page, with my photo, cropped and photoshopped, under her name. When I questioned her about it, she sent me an abusive message, then promptly blocked me. I’ve just sent her a link to this blog. Just as you never received an apology from the person who stole your photos, I don’t expect I’ll ever receive an apology from the person who stole mine (but if she ever reads this, I’d be open to apologies and would be willing to forgive her if she agreed to delete any copies of the image from her computer). Of course, posting a photograph on facebook isn’t as serious as using it for commercial reasons. But it’s still very rude, and just shows a lack of any manners or morals. To then claim that I was in the wrong for asking about my own property just added insult to injury.

    What I don’t understand is why someone would WANT to take credit for another person’s work. Surely one of the main pleasures in photography is the sense of achievement you feel when you’ve taken a good picture? How can anyone possibly feel any sense of achievement from clicking copy and paste? It’s very strange behaviour.

    Anyway Steve, you’re probably the most talented photographer in the world, and have taken thousands of incredible photographs (and will continue to take thousands more). The people who stole your photos, however, will never take any photos worth commenting on.

  19. David Evans Says:

    I think the picture editor of that magazine should be fired , how could he not recognize your work ?

  20. Some people are downright belligerent about their “right” to steal copyrighted material. Sigh.

    Oddly, sometimes churches and nonprofits can set very bad examples in this regard. They know that no one is going to come after them like they would go after a big corporation, but it communicates the message that it’s okay to pirate. I got into a big argument with someone recently who had worked in one of those environments, and just could not believe that alll the images she saw online were not “free.” I mean, they’re just there for the taking, aren’t they?

    The good news (in a manner of speaking) is that Getty Images is quite aggressive in defending their copyrights. Somebody recently received a demand letter for $3,000 from a lawyer representing Getty for the unauthorized use of an image in their online materials.

    Perhaps enough of those incidents will get the message across.

    On my end, I must say I have encountered some faaabulous images online that I would dearly love to use, BUT I can’t find the original artist! That can be very frustrating — when you want to be honest and don’t have any means of working out a deal. 😦

  21. Abhishek Says:


    It is honestly a horrible thing to do. And whatever that other alternative thinking of you making money of Indian trains being there etc. etc. is pure crap because the website disclaimer says that Indian Govt. owns all the material including images. Exact words, “Unless otherwise stated, copyright or similar rights in all materials presented on the site, including graphical images, are owned by Government of India, Ministry of Railways.”. I have written to CRIS for a resolution on this.

    BTW I love your work. Trying to copy it myself😉, but through my camera. Doesn’t seem to be working though.

    Best Regards,

  22. These people are Tosh! No respect for one another! This is the world we live in! The evil greed for money! Then you die!


    PS. Steve, that aside, I hope you’re okay:)

  23. It’s unbelievable that somebody thinks they can use your photos as their own. Only you can you make those pictures. It is as if each picture had your signature stamped.
    Please continue to amaze us and I promise to expose all the fraud that I find.



  24. I feel sorry
    I saw the sign using your photos in Korea.

  25. I was happy that the Indian railway site is featuring your photograph. But now i’m in the sad state that they were not kind enough to seek your permission for the use, I think it’s unethical on their part.

  26. Kaatibun Says:

    Op-Ed article in the NY Times by Stanley Fish on the morality of copyright and the out-datedness of “originality”
    “Plagiarism Is Not a Big Moral Deal”


    may be a bit different with photography, I admit.

  27. Thanks! You’re an honest man.

  28. Another solution to this is watermarking every picture you post on the Internet. It’s sad because it’s not really the appropriate way to show pictures, but…

  29. arasara Says:

    Hi! At this moment I’m using one of your photos as my profile picture on facebook because I like spreading what I think it’s beautiful, but while reading this post I thought that maybe it is the case to ask if you mind!!

    Seriously, I was very surprised to see that one can esaily copy and “steal” the pictures published in this blog, maybe you could find a way not to let them open for copying and saving. You would surely make me unhappy, but maybe you can avoid some of these annoying thefts and I would definetely understand..:)

    Thanks for this blog!

    • Using someone else’s photographs is just not appropriate no matter what it is for. Of course if someone is WRITING a story about the photographer and giving them credit.. that would be up to the photographer to decide if they wanted to pursue any additional action. I do believe it is NOT ok to use anyone’s photographs for their personal use in a public environment, especially online…or in any way use them as a professional representation of their work.

  30. It must be flattering to some degree.

  31. Right after I read this, I was forwarded a blog from a girl who had done a temple stay in Korea in the same place I did. She wrote a whole blog about it, using my pictures as illustration, without asking permission and only giving marginal, indirect credit to me in really, really small print.

    Of course, I will never be a photographer on your level, but it definitely made me really uncomfortable. I can’t imagine what it is like for you to have your art used for other people’s purposes all the time.

  32. Hi Steve,

    Not sure what went wrong with comments… unable to post any :(… this is my 4th attempt ….


    • Pawan,

      We are not sure either. Please try again, and we will look for them.
      Thanks for being persistent.

      • Thanks Steve,

        Though I am a newbie in photography, but this disgusting incident happened with me also. A tour operator is using my photograph without asking me or even giving me proper credit. I am not sure how can I force them to take out my photographs or write a copyright text.

        Being an IT professional I know that it’s hard to prevent one to download and use copyright material. There are many websites providing music, books etc. free to download, while doing business from advertisements.

        Internet governing bodies must take some action and define certain standards for tools to prevent this kind of theft.


  33. How can a ‘ photographer’ steal your pictures? I dont think he is a photographer. And even the websites or magazine guys are seem to be stupid and know nothing about photography. I bet if someone is even interested in photography he can easily recognize all those moments or faces that you have captured!!!


  34. That’s amazing that you find your pirated photo’s on billboards and such, not just the web. Get a good lawyer.

  35. This is horrible – a friend of mine in the US had some pictures stolen last month and used on a freaking indipended news site.

    good thing I Found them and told him, they didnt even give him credit!

  36. Thanks Steve. you inspired me to file a DMCA report towards a former employer who has splashed some of my images all over Picasa (i accidentally left a disk in the ofice when I left the company).

    Not much I can do about the images he uses on his website though as the company oerates in Myanmar but is registered in the Virgin Islands with unnamed directors. And the Myanmar based ISP wont respond either. V frustrating!

  37. Steve, how do you feel about someone posting a photo of yours to a blog as inspiration with photo credit? Just curious!:)

  38. Hi Steve,
    I understand ripping online, it’s easy and wrong, but how do they get files large enough to make prints like that? Where are they sourcing that? Perhaps that should be controlled?

  39. MauriceBurrows. Says:

    I often used to submit pictures to the local papers,until they stated the pictures were taken by their own photographers……..it does happen a lot…

  40. I’ll add an unpopular opinion to the discussion. I can understand the problems mentioned here and am shocked at the photographer’s boldness and stupidity in using Steve’s photos for a publication. I furthermore don’t like all the companies using the photographs without permission. However, I do not condemn the Indian Railway. After all, this is a photograph of the property of the railway and Steve made probably some money with it without ever sharing profits with the company or the people he photographs. Since the photograph clearly gets its iconic meaning from the fact that a train from the Indian railway is present, I do think the Indian railway should be allowed to use the photograph for personal means in advertising etc. They, of course, shouldn’t be allowed to sell the photographs to other parties or make money with them in any other way, but if for example a private person is photographed and later uses the photo without permission on his website, I wouldn’t mind. I know almost everyone will disagree, but think about the money some people make without ever giving something back. And don’t tell me the occasional dollar is something compared to the hundreds or thousands of dollars some high-end photographers make with the images.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, but all they had to do was ask.

      • Yes, I agree here. That would have been the decent thing to do. But this is also a part of India to me. When you see it from the moral viewpoint of a Western citizen, it can hold a lot of disappointments. It did to me. I fell in love with the country but at the same time it broke my heart. That said, I’ll certainly keep on buying your publications, it brought me a lot of inspiration and I think they are more worth than I spend for it.

    • Jan, I think you are making some assumptions here.

      The first one is the concept ‘property’. Indian Railways is a public company, part of the state of India. States are not private companies so the concept of ‘property’ is quite different, morally if not legally so. Public means belonging to the citizens. Just like the Taj Mahal in the background, even more iconic than the train.

      The second is that Steve made profit and they didn’t. Well, there is no way to know for sure but I guess India has made way more money through the promotion Steve is doing because of that, iconic picture published all around the world in countless travel magazines and guidebooks, than he did. That promotion is invaluable, they know it and that’s why their own touristic advertising is full of that kind of ‘iconic’ pictures. That’s where the money goes back to India and it’s certainly not an ‘occasional dollar’

      Finally, if the state of India thinks that it’s not fair or legal, they should sue or complain or whatever. Not steal someone else’s rightful property.

      • You are right, I have made assumptions, but these are based on my experiences in India.

        In a legal way, what the Indian Railway did is certainly punishable under our law though I don’t know what the Indian law says about that.

        However, the Indian Railway has been a popular mode of transportation for a long time, the trains are completely overfilled with locals, from third to first class. The occasional tourist is also among them, but as for the profits of the train, it mostly comes from locals. Almost all of these locals don’t know any Western photographers and couldn’t care less. Don’t misunderstand me, I really like the photograph, but from my personal point of view, not any legal view, I think they should have asked but should also be allowed to use it without a fee.

        As far as touristic promotion goes, I believe every international campaign has to pay for the rights to the photographs in order not to come into conflict with the laws of the target country. There both sides make the money.

        And the Indian government doesn’t think it’s unfair or whatever if someone takes a photo. They couldn’t care less. It’s often Indian photographers who think it’s unfair that so many photographers come into their country and make all the money with their culture and society. To make things worse, the money is very often made with what they regard as the humiliating parts of the country. This is a phenomena you can encounter also all around Southeast Asia, possibly even other poorer countries, though I have no personal accounts other than in Asia.

  41. Sharanya Says:

    My professor and I discuss this issue all the time. I’m so sorry it has happened to you, Steve — and I really didn’t know that Indian Railways took that picture without asking you. I hope this mentality changes — it needs to, for art to flourish.

  42. This is just so wrong. With the internet it is so difficult to control now a days. I won’t post photos on Facebook, other than a few family photos, and I post high resolution photos only on my website where I can control them. I have posted in a few other places but typically low resution photos. But all that worry and I doubt anyone would take my photos😉

    Steve I’m really glad I found your blog, you are a true inspiration!

  43. people should respect hard work and creative work…. of others and not steal.. I am going to write to Indian Railways regarding this,,,

  44. name and shame. there is no worse blow to ones ‘professional’ reputation than getting called out for blatant plagiarism.


  45. You’d think a magazine would be able to instantly recognize some of your shots.

  46. Valerio Says:

    So very true, Steve! And your pictures are so iconic that many people recognise them, which is easier to be alerted about the fraud.

    Imagine how many of less known pictures have been stolen without anyone knowing! I found loads of my music pictures online myself, people not even asking or crediting.
    One solution is to keep online resolution very low, the other watermarking them which I dislike but often is the only option!

  47. This is appalling news! I am sickened although sadly not surprised…

    Honesty, respect for others, and acting with integrity…dying phenomena in our world..

    I will re post your blog on my facebook pages. I hope every little bit will help expose this indecency and thievery..

  48. It is really really tough when this happens, I’m working at being a better photographer every day, and it is an all consuming passion. I couldn’t stop taking photographs even if I wanted to, but even my photographs have been ‘lifted’ off one particular site and I’ve found them dotted about the internet.

    It’s not right, but I have to say that I’m sure you will deal with the situation appropriately as the true professional that you are. You have already shown that you have integrity by not naming and shaming the magazine in question, that is commendable.

    It’s a shame we all have to face these issues but we live in a digital age where keeping creative material safe is almost impossible, especially if you want your work to be seen and acknowledged.

    By the way, I came to hear your talk in Birmingham at your exhibition, fantastic and well worth the journey. Fabulous.

  49. How do you deal with foreign entities using your work when they don’t use the same copyright laws that we have here in the U.S.? We can utilize our legal systems here in America when the actions occur in America but dealing with another government must be monumentally difficult.

  50. Well, as long as it only takes you a few clicks to get a picture from the internet they will be stolen. And now think of all the places your pictures are used you don’t know of .. Its scary and makes me as a fellow photographer sad, that people just think they can do whatever they want with the stuff other created ..

  51. Steve, you may want to try a free image reverse search engine like TinEye (www.tineye.com).
    However, I don’t recomend you to do so, as the result will be painfull for your spirit. You are a great photographer that have been lucky enough (deservedly) to make a good living from your passion. So the best you can do is to leave the problem to a lawyer or forget about it and enjoy your wonderful trips.

  52. Well, for all I know, the Indian Railways are not unduly concerned by such a nuisance as intellectual property.

    There are services that, for a monthly fee, claim to be able to detect all Internet uses of your photographs, and these days Internet means the whole world. I don’t know much about them but it might be a solution.

  53. There are many scams of this world and it is not difficult for me to believe that this occurs to a great photographer like Steve McCurry.

    This happens to small photographers. Many companies use the photos shown in sharing sites or forum (like Flickr) to make money without inform the author.

    But you’re famous and people well know your works and will certainly report these situations.

    Thank you very much for your works.
    Fabrizio S.

  54. This is sad. There are still many, many people who are under the mistaken impression that whatever they see on the internet is free to use. And then there are the no-conscience thieves – I won’t even go there…

    Maybe it will take a few very high profile copyright lawsuits with hefty fines to educate the masses.

    It’s a sad state of affairs.

  55. That is absolutely terrible! That “normal” people steal and use images is one thing but companies?!

    On one hand it’s a compliment people using your images but it would certainly piss me off to no end!


  56. Andrew Cameron Says:

    It’s a bl***y cheek… it’s happened to me, nobody wants to pay for pics. and never have.

  57. This is very bad ! When I’ve seen your picture on the train in the Indian railways main page i thought that you have given the permission to use your photo them.

    I surprised to know that even Indian Railway could use your stolen pictures ! It was for a long time scenes they have changed their site from two years ago. ! My God HORRIBLE !

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