How NatGeo's Photo Community Enables Copyright Infringement

Over the years I've uploaded photos to National Geographic's Your Shot photo sharing website. These were some of my photos that I thought deserved a broader audience and didn't mind sharing with their community and partners. National Geographic required that I upload high resolution photos and requested no watermark. At first I hesitated to upload high resolution photos with no watermark to Your Shot. Their terms warn that while they do have deterrents in place to make it harder, it's impossible to completely prevent folks from downloading and copying your photos. But with National Geographic's reputation I believed they'd be reasonably protected and wouldn't be exposed to the internet beyond what's required for display. Not so, I recently discovered.

Your full resolution contributions to National Geographic's Your Shot are being leaked with no watermark, no hotlink or right-click protection, no copyright metadata -- it's been stripped. As a result, your full resolution photos have likely been indexed by Google, downloaded, and copied to hundreds of other websites. Anyone anywhere can directly embed your full resolution photos from yourshot.nationalgeographic.com servers for display on their own website without permission. Anyone can download your full resolution photos in two clicks.

Worst of all is the plausible deniability provided in the form of an “innocent infringement” defense from having no copyright notice. In other words, without even the slightest attempt to protect the content from copying or any indication that copyright will be enforced, it'd be hard to prove that an infringer simply didn't know better.

The National Geographic “Photo of the Day” page featuring one of my photos actually links to the full resolution (4344x2896) version for use as a social media thumbnail. Normally you would scale this down to 800 pixels wide or smaller:

right seat bolt

HTML screenshot

There are several more resolutions available on yourshot.nationalgeographic.com larger than what is required for display. Remember these are all exposed to the internet with no watermark, no copyright notice, and no hotlink protection:

  • 2880x1500
  • 2048x1536
  • 1920x1200
  • 1600x1200
  • 1280x1024

Your Shot contributors reasonably assume that only scaled-down photos would be accessible (approximately 1000 pixels wide, as displayed). This issue significantly erodes the trust that Your Shot contributors have in National Geographic to provide a reasonable level of protection from copyright infringement.

I deleted my photos from the upload portal weeks ago and opened a support ticket with Your Shot but so far nothing has been removed [UPDATE: NatGeo has removed most of my content. Still waiting on their China website]. I received a canned response suggesting my only recourse is to send Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) infringement notices to the infringing website operators. Your Shot contributors having to spend hours sending DMCA take-downs is a given at this point. Meanwhile photos from Your Shot's half a million contributors continue to be irresponsibly leaked.

 
 

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