I monitor my web sites with Statcounter - this shows me visitor information and from this I can see if people are arriving at my site from Google Image searches. If they are then it is likely that the image is rating highly. If I see this activity then I do a reverse image search in Google. Effectively I search and Google shows me anywhere that it knows the image is being used. I can then investigate any of the entries. If you use Google Chrome as your browser then simply right click any image and you will see an option 'Search Google for this image'.
Below you can see a screen shot of an image search for the picture of Anais.
The image of Anais appears all over the place, further down the post you will some screen prints of sites where it has been used.
If I find my images being used then I try and make contact with whoever is responsible for the site. Sometimes this is simple other times it is harder than you might think. At this stage it is good to take a screen print so that you do have a record - I tend to send this screen shot to the website contact too.
What happens next .... Usually not very much! If you can find a real person responsible then they will typically blame their web developer and the image will get removed. I have on occasion invoiced the guilty parties but generally these go unpaid.
If you can't identify a real contact then it is much more difficult. For example the MSN Arabia site. We have tried in vain to find a real contact but to no avail.
Whilst I follow up these incidents of image theft I do not lose sleep over it. The digital landscape is changing and I know that people assume anything they find on Google images is free. The thing that really annoys me is when other photographers use work that is not theirs. I contacted one so called photographer, I actually spoke to him on the phone and he really couldn't see the problem. I explained the error of his ways and the images were quickly removed but is it deceit or just negligence. Whatever the reason it is clearly misleading and totally unacceptable. Almost as unacceptable as businesses using stock images to advertise 'their' products but I will save that debate for another post.
What can you do to prevent this? The honest answer is not very much, anything in the public domain risks being used without permission. Watermarking is one of the obvious answers but is not something I like to do.
My advice to my photographer friends is to look up some of your images follow up any incidents. We're never going to fix the problem but we can raise awareness and do a little to protect our livelehoods.
Below a selection of screenshots featuring my image - and perhaps some of yours!!