Major Online Referral Service Swipes My Photo!

I suppose I should be flattered when I find my intellectual property “borrowed.”  And, it seems many think it’s harmless to “borrow” copyrighted materials.  I suspect they don’t realize the amount of effort invested in creating website content, both copy and images.

If it’s illegal offline, it’s illegal online.

Over the years, I’ve found a number of dentists “borrowing” my images.  I’ve even found dentists who copied my website content VERBATIM.  There was one website in California that was ENTIRELY copied from my site.  After many unanswered emails, I finally got them to take it down.  You can’t do that.  It’s copyright infringement.  I’ve also dealt with trademark infringement.

Holy crap!

Just a few minutes ago, I was doin’ my Facebook thang.  Just out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an image in the advertisements that appear on the right side of the Facebook page.  The image looked familiar.

It’s really weird how my brain works.  I can’t remember what my wife asked me to do five minutes ago.  However, despite the fact that I have almost 20,000 images on my hard drive, I can recognize a single random photo as my own.  The Facebook ad grabbed my attention because I recognized the photo…. a photo of two teeth.

The Facebook ad headline reads “Find Affordable Dentists.”

Here’s where the ad appeared while I was reading a Facebook thread. The image just caught my eye. Looks familiar!

Let’s zoom in on the ad:

Here’s the ad enlarged for better viewing.

I’m pretty sure that’s MY photo!  And, I think I know where they got it.

One of my websites.

“Mongo like candy.”

Among my useless talents, I can recite a litany of lines from the TV show “Seinfeld” and Mel Brooks’ movies like, “Blazing Saddles.”  I can even name the patient in which those teeth reside.  That’s MY photo.  And, I did not give anyone permission to use it.

It’s one thing to swipe copyrighted material for editorial, news reporting, or other innocent purposes.  There’s a “fair use” law for such situations.  But, when you use the intellectual property of others for financial gain, it’s a whole other level “wrong.”  In fact, it’s legally actionable.  And, there’s this nifty thing called “treble damages.”  It means that the plaintiff can collect TRIPLE whatever revenues were made via the copyright or trademark infringement.

How deep does the rabbit hole go?

So, naturally, I clicked on the Facebook ad link.  I landed on  I did not recognize that name.  But, I noticed on the website’s logo in the upper left corner, it is “Powered by 1-800-Dentist.” – Powered by 1-800-DENTIST (red arrow).

I’ve met the principal of 1-800-Dentist.  I’ve bought multiple copies of his book, which I highly recommend.  Fred seems like a good guy.  And, I’d bet he is not aware of this copyright infringement.  The decision to use the photo did not likely require approval all the way at the top of the company.

And, the moral of the story is…

I did not write this article to lambast 1-800-DENTIST.  Rather, I hope it will serve primarily as a cautionary tale to all dentists who market online.  Just because a photo is on the internet, it doesn’t mean it’s free to use by anyone for any purpose.  Just because you found a picture on Google Images, it’s not free for the taking.  If it’s illegal offline, it’s illegal online.  And, it’s fairly easy to get caught stealing intellectual property like images and text.

There are PLENTY of photos that can be licensed / purchased from stock photo companies.

ALL the photos on my websites were taken by ME.  When I need a stock photo (like many here used to illustrate my blog), I go to and purchase a license to use it.

Don’t “borrow” photos you don’t have a right to use.  It can land you in legal trouble.  It’s not worth it.  Take your own photos.  It’s not difficult, and with practice, you’ll get some good ones.  Furthermore, having your own photos of your own work build HUGE credibility. Otherwise, buy stock photos, and you won’t have to worry about legal eagles breathing down your neck.

So, now what?

I had to whip up this blog article while I was inspired.  Next, I will try to contact the company asking them to remove the photo from use.  Or, perhaps we can come to another arrangement!  🙂  What would you do?  Comment below!

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16 Responses to Major Online Referral Service Swipes My Photo!

  1. Steve says:

    Hey Micheal, first thing I would do is make sure Obama is not re-elected,
    OH this is about your stolen Photo
    so the first thing I would start doing, I do it on all my posted photos now, is enbedd your name on the photo with a copy right logo, if you do not know how to do this with one hey stroke let me know and maybe I can help. you can use photoshop actions pallete for this. when you are done, your name can not be removed without hours of work and its the only proof you can rely on.
    What I would do with the people that borrowed:-), guess you can have your attorney send them a letter asking for whatever attorney’s ask for. Maybe in this case is its 1800 dentist you might get them to give you five years of full service at no charge,.

    steve. if you check out my facebook you can see some of the larger Copywrits on my pics but not all are obvious except via me, they are transparent releif.


  2. Bob Esser, DDS MAGD says:

    Hmm – they had no problem stealing your photo. Maybe they illegally used the 1-800-DENTIST name in an attempt at credibility.

    If this is the case, it should get real interesting since I’ll bet Fred’s pockets are just a tad deeper than yours and he probably has an attorney on speed dial for such circumstances.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Hi Bob,

      Naaaa… this is 1-800-Dentist. It’s just a unique landing page for their Facebook ad. It’s definitely 1-800’s ad and site.

      Actually, I’m not expecting it to get “really interesting.” They’re smarter than that. I bet they had no idea where the ad designer got the photo. But, I bet they will from this point forward. 🙂

  3. Trade the rights to the photo for new patient referrals. You’ll make out better in the long run.

  4. Mary says:

    Mike, do I have permission to share your blog with my students when talking about copyright issues on the Internet?

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Hi Mary,

      I’m not sure what you mean by “share,” but certainly you’re welcome to use a link to send them over to read it. Naturally, I don’t want my articles copied and pasted somewhere else (would fly in the face of this article! haha!).

  5. Fred Joyal says:

    Hi Mike,
    Sorry about that. It was done by one of our affiliate sites, in other words, a business that we don’t own but works to generate clicks for us, and we didn’t have any knowledge of it, but of course notified them immediately to not use the image.

    The problem does arise when you post something online and it’s easy to copy and you haven’t done anything to copyright it. My wife actually won’t post any photo on Facebook without watermarking it. So a lot of photos out there are actually not rights protected. I’m not saying yours, just how the whole internet world is working right now.

    But in the end it’s my business, so I owe you a drink. Or two.

    Fred Joyal (co-Founder of said national referral service)

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Hi Fred!

      Thanks for chiming in! A stand-up guy! 🙂 To be clear, my intent was not to excoriate you or your company. I was inspired to write and thought it was a good story to tell, helping make dentists more aware of issues relating to intellectual property. Thanks again, and I’m not at all surprised that you would stand up as you did. 🙂

      BTW, you don’t have to watermark or federally copyright something to claim copyright / ownership. Just because it’s on the internet and doesn’t have a © on it, it doesn’t mean it’s available for free use. It may HELP claim ownership, if you’ve done it. But, it’s not required by law. Merely creating a work is all you need to claim sole ownership.

      Who can claim copyright?

      Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.

      That all said… I’m researching an easy way to watermark my images. It’s a bit of a PITA, especially when you takes as many photos as I do. And, when it comes to intraoral and smile shots, the watermark will inevitably ruin the image to some degree, as there’s no place to hide it or place it where it doesn’t cover an important part of the image.


  6. Cletus says:

    You can send water over the internet?

    I’m going to have to keep a towel next to my display so the keyboard doesn’t get wet and shock me!!!

  7. Mike,

    You are quite correct about the author or creator of the piece (whatever the piece is) being the copyright owner. I once hired a designer to create a logo for my company. Years later during a dispute we had she said, “well, then you can’t use my logo. I created it and own it.” Well, I checked with a copyright attourney and she was right! Even though I paid her to do the work for me she was the copyright owner.

    So, when you hire someone to create a logo or other art for you make sure you have a signed agreement that the artist gives up ownership rights to you.

    And you are right, Fred is a stand up guy.


  8. You run a high risk of these types of issues cropping up when your company utilizes Affiliate marketing. Not all affiliates are bad, however a large contingent of them play on the edge therefor an aggressive affiliate marketing manager needs to be on staff. We refrain from all affiliate marketing models and chose to market directly to the consumer so we can control the marketing message as well as the assets!

    Mike – Use Google Authorship to claim ownership and tracking then share your content as far and wide as you can. You will expand your reach, increase your brand name value and earn more revenue.

    – There are couple kinds of watermarks, ones that are used to clearly distort the images like you see on stock photo sites, and others that are nearly invisible which as used to track unlawful use. Photoshop can help you create either style.
    Digimark – marks and can track

    Cheers – Jerry

  9. Jon Berry says:

    Hi Mike,
    There are a couple things you can do depending on the camera body you are using. Most of the newer digital cameras from Nikon and Canon let you set up a © notice in the camera with your name and other info that is written to the metadata of every file you click off. That should be done first thing with every body you own.
    Second, it takes but a minute to embed an invisible watermark in photoshop by using the digimark that come with Photoshop. The advantage is, now you can use your cell phone and look up any image – no matter where or how it is published and see if its yours through the invisible watermark.
    Then if you know how, photoshop will let you create a brush tool that will stamp your watermark info with one click of the mouse.
    Lastly, i have made a photoshop action that resizes my images for the web at low resolution and applies a © Jon Berry 2012 to the lower corner of every image I plan to post anywhere. I have gone to the trouble of stamping a large diagonal copyright notice across my images and while it obscurs the image to the point of near ruin, I watched an 18 year old photoshop whiz kid remove it in about 15 minutes without much difficulty.
    Copyright is an issue for sure – but when you can load up a CD_ROM full of low res images and ship them off to the Library of Congress for about $30 – it sure gives some peace of mind… and ensures that treble relief thing you mentioned!

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jon. I just downloaded Lightroom today. My friend, Chip Payet, says it’s pretty easy to automatically watermark photos as they’re imported. So, I’m going to give that a try.

      Of course, there are no perfect solutions. But, I’ll do what I can.

      • Jon Berry says:

        Chip is a FB friend and we share a mutual admiration for all things photography. If you put the info into the camera – it will already be there when you open it up in Lightroom. That way there is no mistaking or hurrying past it in post.

        • The Dental Warrior says:

          Yeah… my camera(s) can’t do that. Most photos are with a Canon Rebel XSi from a few years ago. Not in the market for a new camera, yet.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Playing around with Lightroom until 2AM last night! Thanks, Chip!

      Text watermark:
      text watermark

      Logo watermark:
      Logo watermark

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