2010 / 8 February

Imgur: Stolen Content and Social Media’s Double Standard

For those of you living under a rock, Imgur is a site that allows users to upload and share images very quickly and easily.

It’s grown massively in popularity over the last 6 months and has left similar services in the dust.

It was created by Reddit user, MrGrim (Alan Scaaf), for other Redditors and this is one of the reasons why it gained popularity so quickly on the site. For a while, Imgur use was actually recommended in the ‘pic’ reddit’s description. However, Imgur’s popularity isn’t limited to reddit; if you’re a social media user, then you will have seen Imgur uploads on the front page of your chosen network many times.

But here’s the problem: the majority of the images uploaded to Imgur are stolen from elsewhere. There is zero policing and all uploads are anonymous, which means that great pictures from across the web are scraped and uploaded as ‘genuine’ content all the time. Sometimes the pictures are even scraped by users after they are submitted to a social site, and then resubmitted and pushed in that same site.

Pretty annoying if your specialty is, for example, photo-blogging or based on images.

Imgur’s inability to police it’s site and stop copyrighted pictures from being uploaded would be a lot less serious if the social media sites didn’t commit the same indiscretion. In fact, the opposite seems to happen. For various reasons listed below, social media sites and their users strongly favor Imgur, often times over the image owner’s site.

So what is it about Imgur that makes social media sites go all warm and fuzzy inside?

users LOVE it. Why? It’s fast and easy. It also has an authority on social media sites which means an image submitted on Imgur can sometimes go hot faster than an image hosted on another site. For some users, the fact that Imgur strips all meta data in the upload process is also an advantage.

in reddit’s case, the tunnel goes a little deeper… Imgur was created by a redditor, a site that notoriously ‘looks after its own’. As mentioned, the /pics subreddit at one point requested that you use Imgur to submit images (and, even without the requirement, it’s rare to see a non-imgur picture do well in r/pics). Some users actually link to the info page on Imgur rather than the image directly so that Schaaf gets more ad revenue from the visits.

Edit: Reddit comments to this post can be found here, further expressing the concern I mentioned above –

Now, I don’t hate Imgur; in fact, I wish more sites were as user-friendly. Reading this interview with the creator of the site, Alan Schaaf, it seems his intentions were good enough to begin with. However, it’s clear that what started out as a simple tool for Redditors has become a bit of a pest and Imgur, as a middle-man that profits from having more pinched material than original, should be thinking about how to combat the issue.

Even more importantly, the social sites that allow Imgur to run amok over their homepages should think about how heavily they come down on other sites or resources that break the rules of etiquette or TOS. Quite simply, if another site were to do the same they’d be banned in a heartbeat.

In Digg and Reddit’s case, a lot of the content submitted to the site via Imgur explicitely breaks their Terms of Use:

“Digg respects the intellectual property of others. It is Digg’s policy to respond expeditiously to claims of copyright and other intellectual property infringement.” –

“Service Provider respects the intellectual property of others, and we ask our users to do the same. Service Provider may, in appropriate circumstances and at its discretion, suspend or terminate the access of and take other action against users, subscribers, registrants and account holders who infringe the copyright rights of others.” –

The social sites themselves might point to YouTube and other user driven sites as an example of why they cannot justify banning or taking action against Imgur, but many of those same sites, including YouTube, have mechanisms in place to prevent copyright material from being uploaded and used. Unfortunately Imgur has no mechanism to prevent this type of abuse.

In a nutshell, the situation is frustrating for many content owners and a clear double standard on the social media site’s part.

If I were to scrape and host an image, and then submit it to a social media site, I would be either banned or voted down in a second. However, since Imgur is a site made by a social media user and fellow San Franciscan, then it gets a sort of pass that other sites do not get.

Maybe someone should consider funding Alan Schaaf and Imgur, to help clean it up and get it back to being a positive tool for people to use, instead of the content stealing engine it is today.

  • A lot of times the source of the original content is put up on the site anyways. At least, in reddit’s case. And if they don’t the most upvoted comment will be “What is the source of this?” I’ve never visited Digg…

    Unfortunately, the internet is such that stuff is easily copied. If you dislike the copying of your stuff, then don’t post it online. I carry around a thumb drive full of copywrited pictures to hand out for people to use as backgrounds.

    Just be glad people appreciate your work and get over it. That is how the internet works.

    • Thank you for so clearly defining the double standard.

    • I will be glad about it when those people actually appreciate me after they appreciate my work – but for that, they have to know about me first.

      imgur is not in the business of letting people know about me, nor are the ones who take my art and put it there.

  • So true. I find it particularly annoying when I go to the trouble of using Creative Commons licensing to make it friendly for someone to use my property easily.

    Then when someone just steals it, it’s personally insulting.

  • “[There must be] a balance between a copyright holder’s legitimate demand for effective – not merely symbolic – protection of the statutory monopoly, and the rights of others freely to engage in substantially unrelated areas of commerce. Accordingly, the sale of copying equipment, like the sale of other articles of commerce, does not constitute contributory infringement if the product is widely used for legitimate, unobjectionable purposes. Indeed, it need merely be capable of substantial noninfringing uses….”
    Supreme Court Majority Decision Sony v. Universal

    Just Sayin…….

    • You're an idiot. You're totally missing the point.

      There is a direct loss for people whose images are stolen and then placed on imgur.

      Let's say I am a photographer with my own website featuring my work and advertising, by which I make my money. If people like my photos and so spend time on my site looking at them, I earn advertising revenue.

      Instead, imagine my photos are put on imgur. Although no one has messed with my photo, people are no longer spending time on my site to view it and I'm not making money from adverts. In fact, imgur is actually making money from the advertising on its site.

      So they're stealing from me!

      So get out of here with your irrelevant legal bulls*** which you try to make seem relevant and clever.

      Source: I'm a motherlovin lawyer

  • Meh, Redditors usually demand that webcomics be directly linked to or link right to the source when someone uses IMGUR. Same for most good original content, if a photographer or graphic designers content gets upvoted from an imgur post a link to his site will be the topvoted comment . Only people getting a raw deal are spam bloggers and hack “social media consultants” who dedicate themselves to trying to hit the front page of digg and getting more twitter followers than creating content anyone cares about.

  • I once created some content entitled, “Unemployed Stuff to Do List.” I got a little traffic from it, say, 50,000 hits over a week. A few months later I see my list #1 on Reddit and Digg except that it had been copied and stuck on imageshack. I made a comment on Digg about how my content had been borrowed and linked back to the original. Between the accusations that I had stolen the content and that I was a blog spammer, I ended up getting 20,000 hits from the Digg comment alone. I weep to think about what I would have seen.

    That post lives here on ->

    I am sad that on Reddit, a link to a site where content is posted is slammed because some users do not want to deal with the content creator’s site (i.e. ads) and would rather cut out the middle man. Usually this takes away context and someone posts a link to the original, but by then the damage is done.

  • “more pinched material than original”
    Do you have any data to back up that rather bold accusation?
    “Imgur explicitely breaks their Terms of Use”
    No it doesn’t! Imgur isn’t a user – it’s another service provider.

  • Why are you only going after Imgur? Because it’s popular? People can do the same things on tinypic and photobucket. And this isn’t something you can police anyway. There are too many people with print screen buttons for that.

    • Valid points. However, the social media community is very harsh on Tinypic or Photobucket images that are simply stolen. The support and practice of using Imgur to steal content and push it independently has become blatant and abusive.

      So why is it that Digg and Reddit users find it ok to take submitted content or original content, take it and then promote it in a different site. Because the site was created by a Redditor or a student?

      You find me a screen shot of a Digg or Reddit popular section filled with Photobucket or Tinypic urls of copyrighted material… and I will talk about that as well.

  • “You find me a screen shot of a Digg or Reddit popular section filled with Photobucket or Tinypic urls of copyrighted material… and I will talk about that as well.”

    They’re not used because they limit the amount of bandwidth a popular submission can use.

    Imgur is used when people upload stuff they’ve found while surfing. The top comment on reddit is almost always the source, giving the credit the author deserves. As such, this is not an issue of stealing credit! It aids discovery to content that may not have been seen.

    If this article isn’t one huge troll, I’ll eat my hat.

    • Hope your hungry.. I have said it and will say it again. I really like the Imgur site and that is the reason for it success. However, social media users have abused it to a point that it has to be looked at.

      • Would you care to comment on my third paragraph, starting "Imgur is used"?

        This is a big point you are failing to consider – and it's got serious implications on your only point, which is that of abusing to cite original sources.

    • I also understand your third point. However, this is not always the case. In the cases where the top comment is the source of the article, I doubt anyone would have complaint. In many cases, and I happen to know quite a few people who run image based websites, people just steal their images and then do not give any credit.

      In Digg, there are countless times I have seen people actually take a submitted image, then resubmit it off Imgur. In these cases, because of the support Imgur gets, they Imgur submit ends up getting all the visibility and success. That might not seem important to some people, but there are websites that are in the business of creating content and to have it stolen does not allow them to profit or benefit off the success the image gets. Now I know making money is not a sexy conversation, it is a large reason you have content at all.

      So although there are cases where people use Imgur properly and although that is the way it should be used, too many people are not using it correctly and the social media communities don't seem to care 'overall'. And since Imgur has no ability to prevent copyright images from being uploaded and since social media users seem to turn a blind eye to the site since it is created with good intention, that is why it is an issue , in my opinion, worth talking about.

  • Why does it have to be looked at? Because you can’t make money from it? Makes sense…btw, good job with full disclosure in your article.

  • Adolf the Grammar Nazi / February 8, 2010 AT 10:45 AM

    “…to police it’s site and…”


  • just some thoughts as an artist;

    1. my crap gets ‘stolen’ all the time. i dont bitch about it, why? because people know i made it – i dont put advertisements on my personal webspace because i dont need that income, and its damned insulting to my visitors. i have a job, if i want to make money off art – i go to work.

    2. people do try and claim the art i create as their own. i cannot stop this; but i can certainly make it an irritable thing for them. i dont waste that sort of time on reddit or digg – 50k hits to someone who stole my stuff? let them enjoy the 50 cents they got from adwords over that, not worth the aggravation of arguing with the users.

    3. it isnt even the thieves that bother me – its the users on sites like digg, reddit, youtube – who are quick to air themselves in authority over things they know little about (i’m guilty of that too so, i know i know, pot calling the kettle here..)

    4. someone said imgur isnt breaking their terms of service, the user is. fundamentally wrong; go get a real law degree; a contract is between two parties. a TOS is a contract, failure of any portion to be upheld in full relies on the work of both parties. if you violate a contract that bans you from uploading copyrighted material – thats your fault, but if imgur (or wherever) fails to remove that content – they’ve just signed themselves up for liability by even acknowledging the potential in their TOC/TOS – and failing to perform due diligence on enforcing their policies.

    legally speaking, imgur will get slammed unless they can prove due diligence on policing the site within the terms of their own TOS/TOC.

    however – the above is unprovable to users like us; policing TOS/TOC is a private affair, as much as you want it – you have no right to how many, what images, and what measures are involved in this; its between the parties involved only – and you ain’t one of ’em.

  • Would you mind explaining how the pictures on imgur can be stolen? I thought they were merely copied. Does the original disappear when they are put on the site?

  • If the content is from a graphic designer or a webcomic artist or whatnot a link to their page will be a top comment and they will get thousands of hits to their site or blog which will lead to increased recognition and sales of prints and t-shirts and whatnot. At Reddit we could care less about people who are trying to make money off of ads from “look at this funny image I found” blogs and the “Social media consultants” who try to help them get traffic. If and IMGUR post uses your original content you will still get traffic if you make a “hey guys I made this, here’s a link” comment. If it’s not OC then I could care less if you miss out on ad revenue.

    • Sure.. Makes complete sense if you happen to be on that social media site and see that your content has been stolen. However, not everyone is.

      And instead of coming up with work-arounds, why not just spend some time working on the problem. And while your at it, educate yourself on what a social media consultant is. The first thing I ever say to a client, is we don't try to use some trick or spam social media sites. Rather take the time and create real high quality content that social media users would like and to make it a regular part of their site going forward. Just because their are a few hacks and 'so called experts' doesn't mean we are all snakes. Just like not all politicians are evil, not all lawyers are scumbags, and even though there are Haiti scam charities out there, I still gave to the Red Cross.

      • Your goal with creating a blog should be to get some kind of book or real world deal like awkwardfamilyphotos and shitmydadsays received. Most blogs that become successful started off as someone writing to amuse themselves and their friends and just snowballed. Your content should go viral on its own without the services of someone like yourself. Trying to make a living off a blog through ad revenue and your techniques is just sad and noone in the Reddit community has any interest in helping such people.

        • I would never pretend to tell anyone what the purpose for them making a site is and I am not even going to bother with the 'if you make it, they will come' conversation.

          • I'm not going to argue since I only care about blogs and webistes where "if you make it they will come" was clearly what happened. I'm sure you're good at what you do but I really don't care about the blogs of people who need to do all that bullshit just to scrape out a meagre e-living.

  • I am only speaking for Reddit here. I despise Digg and its pseudo "community" of idiots with 400 friends and their quid pro quo method of blindly upvoting each others submissions.

    In September I posted a dumb yahoo answers question I made to Digg which went nowhere. After reading blogs like yours which detailed how I needed to get 300 other friends and navigate the bizarre Wikipedia level byzantine bureaucratic politics of Digg I said "to hell with this" and stumbled upon Reddit where my question made with a brand new account got a few hundred upvotes before being reposted to pics and picked up by Digg where it received 5k+ upvotes.

    I can certainly see how Digg can screw over artists since they are not a community with any self correcting mechanisms and any "hey this is my stuff!" posts will likely get downvoted to oblivion by their idiot userbase

  • Good job on choosing IMGUR as a scapegoat. You are leeching off its popularity on reddit to drive traffic to your own website. Mmmm, ad revenue. Quite brilliant.

    N.B. You are complaining about the internet re: the problem with stolen content. If you want to get off your high horse and really say something meaningful, file your complaint elsewhere (i.e., stop pointing fingers at specific social news communities, especially those who seek out the original source the most).

  • Welcome to the internet!

  • This entire article can be negated with one url:

    Alan will remove anything requested as long as the requester has proof of ownership.

    Also, if people don’t want their original content stolen, they obviously should watermark it. If it’s not watermarked, what do they expect?

  • Honestly, the best reason to use Imgur:

    Because personal blogs and other cruft sites generally crash and burn when visitors > 100.

    Throw the pic on Imgur, post a link to the original site in your submission someplace, and voila – problem of weak servers solved.

  • Seriously? It’s an image hosting site with exactly the same good and bad points that come with image hosting. Imgur’s advantage is that it works without tons of nagging, a good thing, and has no more risk than any other image hosting. Sure, people are going to post stuff that isn’t their own, but that is part of the internet in a way, it’s as much creation by amalgamation that authors never intended as it is new content creation (if that’s what you can really call your latest pedobear in a school pic photochop). He has some ads to cover bandwidth costs, which is always the heart of complaints like this one, which theoretically robs other sites of you seeing their ads, but you’re also not using their bandwidth. The only ideal solution is to make everyone who posts content on the internet create a 1 click “link to me” option that isn’t obnoxious and get everyone used to that format. Unfortunately then we end up with pages full of flash ads and then I suddenly stop caring about their rights since they obviously don’t care about their visitors. Then I start only clicking on imgur links because I know that they’ll be clean, no pop-ups, no flash, etc…

    There’s a fix, and it’s for people who post content on the internet to make it available in a user-friendly, clean format, or to not be suprised when people move it to one for them. It’s not perfect, but no one should be suprised, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any one image hosting service (imgur, flikr, or other). This story came across as a “I’ve been burned by imgur and will get my revenge” piece more than a thoughtful look with some suggestion how to realistically (i.e. given the current internet) fix the problem.

  • I don’t understand why the hell peoples feel disturbed by the fact that their stuff is being copied all over the net. Please, come on, it’s the net, you have a copy of this text at least in one place of memory, perhaps a second copy on your hard disk as a cache for your browser, and even a third copy of it in your memory swap file…. and it’s not counting you probably ~at least~ have two other copies of it just to render it on screen… basically i could also count two more copies as a graphic rendering… wait, right now you have seven copy of my text, hum, i wonder how many peoples read this stupid text? 10,000, 20,000, each with seven copy of it? i want to reassure everybody, no electrons were harmed while you are reading this.

    we are talking about computers, the most used commands, on general type of processors, are basically LoaDing and SToring data, or MOVing them around… and you expect to have no copy?! that’s nearly 20 years i use the net (or BBS before), i’ve written several hundred (or thousands, i’m not sure) of pages about various subjects (well, mostly programming and reverse engineering), i also did a few graphics and mathematical music, they’re copied everywhere, i even saw a part of my stuff in one course in the university from brussel, who cares who wrote the stuff in the first place? do i care? no, i know i wrote that. do i care if peoples know i wrote that, well for some thing i’d prefer they don’t know, for the rest i don’t even give a shit about it. when i have finshed my stuff, i post it somewhere (generally usenet), and copies of it are made everywhere… i don’t even expect anything from what i did, i just like to share with everybody without distinctions, no barriers to knowledge or art. what i like is to see that i changed the way people thinks. and i’m doing just that, with you right now :-)

    that’s why i happened, at one time, to have over 60,000 mp3, thousand of cd with divx of movies, several thousand of e-books covering every subjects from physics to biology (that i never listen, watched or even read), now i don’t even need to have a copy of them, everything is on the net. for free, for everyone. and for peoples that, like me at one time, couldn’t afford to pay for it. i started copying stuff at age 8, i’m 35. at that time you weren’t downloading or copying something thru the phone line. no, you were sending it by snail mail, with some glue or wax on the stamps, requiring your friends to send them back…

    imagine, now, asking someone to send you a stamp back… you probably don’t even get letters, or perhaps just junk stuff asking you to pay something… funny life, isn’t it?

    there’s a network where we can now nearly exchange any piece of data, nearly freely. internet. wanna know how i learned to use computers? i learned by trials and errors, doing the whole work by hand, doing tons of stupid errors by myself, i couldn’t even find a book about the C64 assembly programming language (6502) for two years i bought the machine, BASIC books about a v2 of the language (from microsoft, with 38911 bytes free…) were a must at that time. now you just go and make a google search, find thousands of pages explaining you how to make something… something well, no, anything, even how to purify uranium (it seems like a 15 years old boy did just that in the united states). is there a limit to what one can know, i’m far from sure.

    you want your data, hum, your ideas, your view of the world not being copied, not exchanged: “make them in stone and put them in your garden” (i’m not even sure that if you do that, you won’t find a picture copy on the net). do not put it on the net. talk about it to your invisible friend, if you make something digital, accept it to be copied, everywhere, everyday, by everybody. share. don’t care about yourself, we’re part of another organism, bigger, the humanity or the planet earth, tough i doubt we’ll stay around for a long time. share, give to everybody, don’t you see we are not here for a long time if we don’t share knowledge, or art for that matter?

    in inter-net there’s perhaps a part of the word you missed. “inter”. check something like:
    grep -i ^inter /usr/share/dict/words | wc -l
    it gives around 312 results… (if you use a linux system)

    keep this in mind, it’s the net, there will be a copy of it, you even ask search engines to have a copy of it. there’s already several copy of this just at the time you read it.

    if you can’t change the world, change your view of it. perhaps it’s not a plate, but a globe, and it turns around…


    Ok, so you’re obviously unfamiliar with the DMCA and the clauses that go with it. Just because a site says it “respects the copyrights” does NOT mean they have to police it. I suggest you read this:

    Which, is an extension of DMCA itself:

    Basically, what this says (short version) is that basically you have to submit a VALID DMCA for them to take it down. It’s not their responsibility to ‘police’ their content. If they begin to ‘police’ it then they can become liable for any and all infringement on the site. However, as long as they comply with OCILLA (which has loose time-definitions like “expeditiously” remove stuff… 24h? 72h? how soon is “expeditiously”?) then they’re not in trouble. Sure, a lot of the imgur stuff may be “stolen”… welcome to the internet. If you don’t like seeing “stolen” stuff the perhaps you should contact the copyright holder and have them submit a DMCA or have them authorize you to act on their behalf and submit one for them. However, be forewarned… if you submit one without their authorization you will be held under penalty of perjury (one of the required sworn statements).

    Basically, I’m telling you to STFU and welcome to the internet.

  • Just a quick note: The ‘alan’ that posted above is not the Alan Schaaf of Imgur. If you would like a response from Schaaf, then please email

  • Rumblepup, I think you meant to post this:

    Author: boo hoo, information wants to be free. If content creators don't want their content all over the internet, don't put it out there. That is the only answer.

  • He has enough funds to host anything so don’t worry he won’t clean it up , this means he will keep stealing you stupid bloggers’ traffic and cut down your revenue :)