Keywords Copying - Is It A Crime?

© Looby
I have to start with an observation about complaints what occur occasionally on stock photography sites: "Somebody stoled my keywords - please, stop it!", "How can I prevent others from copying my keywords?", "Keywords copied - is it right?!"

Well, from legal wiewpoint - there's no law about words copyright. "Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents" are NOT eligible for federal copyright protection, stands on webpage of the U.S. Copyright Office. (

You can't own keywords, you can't copyright them, so there's no legal base for punish people, who copy keywords. From ethical viewpoint - is it right thing to do? Everyone can decide. But let's consider another viewpoint. Buyers viewpoint.

If I would be a buyer, I would be very happy, if same type of images have similar keywords. So I could type only one word or few words into search field and get all possible results on that topic. And I could quickly select my image. It would be very frustrating to think out all kind of synonyms to find all good images on the subject. Kinda sad, if I don't get a good image among results only because the seller missed out a vital keyword.

So, if we are thinking from buyers side, the more unity we have in keywords, the better it is and the more happier buyers are. The more happier buyers are, the better reputation site has. The better reputation site has, the more buyers we have. The more buyers we have, the more happier we are. So, there's a conclusion - IT'S NOT BAD AT ALL TO COPY KEYWORDS. Of course only when they are RIGHT and RELEVANT keywords.

But - if we are thinking like sellers, who hate competition and want only OUR images into search results, then of course we protect jealously our rights on words. But the point is - if we have good images and buyer get them on search results, then he definitely notice them and buys them, but if we have average images, but good keywords, and buyer gets only our images on search results (because creators of good images on this topic don't speak English or are not clever enough to think up those keywords like ours), then maybe buyer buys our average image, and we are happy, but it could be the last purchase of that buyer on this site, because buyer gets impression, that we have only average images online. And maybe he decides not to be returning customer.

So maybe it's better, that we could have similar keywords with others, buyer gets wider selection in search results and is not frustrated about thinking up synonyms, and maybe this time he buys another good image and not our, but he is happy about quality, and returns to buy another image about another topic, about which WE have a good image. Wouldn't it be much better? Buyer returns, site stays in business, and we have opportunity to improve our portfolios?

We are not here because we have great verbal skills, we are here because of our images. And buyers are because of our images. So really - all keywords are irrelevant... only images matter.

Keywords are mere means for buyers to find images THEY need, and our job is to provide those images, and use such keywords, what help buyers find what THEY need. That's stock industry about.

© Kurhan
So, I really think that copying keywords is a good thing, it's good for site and it's good for buyers, and everybody can copy my keywords, if they find them good. I really don't mind. But please, copy only relevant ones, cause I'm also eager to report all irrelevant keywords, what disturb my searches on site. I want Search Engine to work perfectly, and do what I can to improve its functioning. It's the heart of stock industry.

PS: OK, after reading some feedback, I correct some things what I previously said and take back my words "everybody can copy my keywords". I still wouldn't be mind, but I can see, it's not acceptable on Dreamstime. So, please don't do it. Though I still think it could be a good thing for buyers and site in the long run.

Photo credits: Wessel Du Plooy, Fallenangel, Geotrac, Kurhan, Liv Friis Larsen, Pablo631, Roman Milert, Showface.

Your article must be written in English



the problem of keywords are matter,thanks.


Hdanne, Likakoyn, thanks for your comments! Good things is that as time goes buy, keywording gets more and more easier. Keymasters program is a pretty good learning aid too. Good luck with your keywording!


I do not know English enough. And when I select keywords I look similar images. I never copy everything but so I study English that in the future to not address any more to search. Because very difficultly not knowing it is very good English to pick up keywords. Itself I can pick up no more than 8 words. And in general if copy work very good means. In fact great artists are copied much also by them do not take offence. Always it is necessary to think the head. To study at others, instead of to copy.


When searching for suitable keywords for a particular photo, I sometimes look at similar images. Often I get a good inspiration to improve my own keywords. That is important for me as non-native English speaker. But I avoid copying them.....


Well... all of a sudden adding or suggesting keywords to images of other contributors lost its meaning... go figure, why...


When all is said and done, copying key words is wrong, and what is more it frustrates the buyer, who the key words are supposed to help!
If someone else's keywords are randomly mashed-in to fit anothers image, this will produce irrelevent words, so that instead of a beetle you get a spider. I can't see why this is not recognised. Non-English speakers have an option: pay for keywording, as many DTers do. That should be obvious.


That's interesting, if it's true. But no wonder, DT is developing all the time. Do you know, Altaf, you can perform searches among search results already now? There's a radio button within results under search field. Thanks for your comment!


Well Maigi,
I guess two search field will not solve the problem, one thing i always wanted in DT was more categories, or even search within search would be another option. I know its hard for DT to change drastically. But well I heard DT is developing another site which I heard will be very user friendly, but I havent seen any announcement here in DT, i heard from one of my friend, anyways lets see but I guess DT will come with better options in near future, hope it happens very fast.


Creativei, Sophiesourit, thanks for your support!
Niagaragirl, I would like to have two search fields in Search Engine - one for main subject and another for additions subjects. I don't think simplifying keywords would be the best solution. If I would like to buy a photo with smiling boy and running horses on the background, I would desperate if such photos would have only boy, young, smile and smiling in keywords. I would want to have horses among keywords too (although they are tiny on the photo), otherwise I couldn't ever have patient to look through 25000 photos with smiling boy to find my needed photo. Sometimes background elements are very important. They should be among keywords. If Search Engine would have two search fields, first for main subjects (search engine could go through titles, descriptions and keywords) and second for additional subjects (search engine could search only among keywords), maybe that could be a good technical solution? Anyway, if search engine would continue to work like today, I would suggest to put everything important on the picture into keywords, background elements included.


Niagaragirl, you make an excellent point. I have made a note to myself to keep the keywords simple. Thanks for the insight.


Well I can comment as a former buyer. The thing that ticked me off the most was the spam. About 3 years ago I needed an image of a young boy in a red shirt on a white backgorund. The search was very very frustating. Got everything but what I needed. Just because there is a white sticky note stuck on a bulletin board 30 feet behind the subject does not make it a white background. In my opinion, keywords should be limited to 10 or 12. Because if you can't say it in that amount of words, you just can't say it.

From a buyer's view, if I need a pic of a woman "black dress", that's what I really mean. Not a lady in a pink dress that has blue buttons who may be standing near a black dog.

When I did buying on macros I was looking for a pic of a particular breed of cow, either single or group. Ran across an image that was a field of grass. But where were the cows? The cows were about 10 pixels high even on the full size comp near a fence that ran across the back of the field. Sorry, but in my book, the keyword Cows doesn't even figure here. I don't want cows that are dots. I want a real cow.





This is an nice debate, let the debate go on, but people who copy keywords they will continue to do so. But somewhere its wrong and when you think from the buyers point of view, yes there should be lots of choice. I'm a contributer as well as buyer, i have a different company id where we download lot of image, we dont have choice, as buyer some keywords we dont get our kind of image, and believe me we are trying other stockphoto site, which hurts me as well, there are millions of images in this site but when we want to download certain subject we dont get them, only because right keyword is not in those image. so many times we feel, oppps how could we missed that image for our subject.
From my point of view, please its just my view. there should be a system where images are presented to buyers with lots of choice, we should not feel that we purchased a wrong image. Even better category system will do the magic.


Well, I just agree with with you say. If I get the point, you're saying : copying keyword as you need and only as your image need. So if you have a cow pictured indoor, you're not going to put "pasture" on your keyword, even if your are taking the majority of your keyword from an image of another contributor that have brillantly keyword the cow and the pasture, because the cow is pasturing...So you're just taking all the keyword relative to the cow because as he used it you are more or less sure that is the usual term and not an expression that nobody from us to england use anymore... Because dictionnary love that kind of word that nobody understand, and that no buyer would even think about...
I just would say another thing. I'm keywording my image in english, and in french... and the strange stuff is that I'm not using the same word at all...well of course for cow I would use cow, but there are some lexical field that seems particular to one language...The idea is a bit difficult to explain: word like "abstract, abstraction" for instance, I would never think to use it if I didn't look at the other keyword, because seing in French an image with that term doesn't truly make sense.
As today I'm keywording mainly with english, I just have difficulties to keyword in french, because for a lot of english word, I just don't find the right equivalent, the "one word expression" which are commonly used...
But at the end, I will conclude in saying that it has been and it still is for me an interrest to deal with that difficulty because it has really improve my english and considerably raised the number of words I can sponteanously think and it is right that the amount of time spending in keywording decrease and decrease.


Maigi, believe me, there is no need for you to apologize. if anything, you helped bring this to the foreground, so that others could see a problem that needed to be debated. Rest easy, you have done nothing wrong. Thanks for opening the debate.


Hi Maigi...yes I'm a British country girl living in London! Back to the topic - I don't think you should feel the need to apologise for what you have written and I doubt very much that you have upset anyone! It's good to open a debate! You actually make valid points and look at both sides - the fact that you came to the conclusion that you don't mind people using some of your keywords is fine and I am sure that a lot of us do use ideas from other people - it's how we grow and develop. However, what Irisangel has just mentioned is plainly wrong..not only is it lazy it could be classed as stealing other peoples hard work and must be very frustrating. The people that copy and paste like this are either bone idle or think that they can't manage to do it themselves. Either way they will never learn or improve if they just take the easy way. They also risk being reprimanded if discovered; which they actually deserve in my opinion.


That's not right indeed. I'm sorry if I added pain with it with something that I said.


Just to clarify something, using the same keywords as someone else in inevitable, that's not stealing, the issue at hand is when someone finds an image that sells well, and copies and pastes ALL of the keywords to their image, (Whether or not they apply) That is the issue. In my case, someone copied all of my keywords and pasted them to ALL, yes, all of their images. They also copied my image discription word for word, (Just added one or 2 extra words.) Yes, That makes me feel cheated. I sent a note to the contributor and got an apology, the keywords, however, have not been corrected.


Thanks, Tangie... What you said makes really much sense. I appreciate it, and understand your viewpoint now... Yes, I want to respect everyone's feelings. And... I WANT TO APOLOGIZE TO ALL CONTRIBUTORS, who I might upset with my inconsiderate words. I support the thought that everyone should have a right to say, what others can or can't do with their images AND KEYWORDS. I'm sorry, if I made somebody sad or angry. It wasn't my intention. I'm really sorry.


Hi, Cleaper! So, you are British? Brittain a great country. Many of my friends are fans of London. :) Thanks for good words about my English, I'm working on it every day. Actually my job is connected with it, but I have a long way to go to have it so fluent, so I could express all my thoughts as clear and eloquent as I want. (I'm not sure, I used correct word now) :) But you made me happy, thanks a lot.


Hi Maigi, hope you are well. Very interesting article and well written. I am the same as Ellen in that I thought your first language was English as you write very well (better than some English people I know!).

When I first joined DT, which is only a few months ago, I must admit that I did look at top selling images to see what keywords are successful/popular and I still now check the most popular word searches to see if any are relevant to my own images. I think this is a good way to start so that you get some understanding of what the buyers are looking for. I'm fortunate to have English as my first language which does help with keywording (well I say first language but you know us ignorant British we can't really speak any other language other than our own, and even that not very well!) but I still think it is important to look at what sells and and how to keyword correctly. Sometimes I have looked at someone's image and seen a word that may be something I haven't thought of so I would, I confess, add it to my image. I wouldn't, however, copy and paste someone else's work into mine just to save me time - this i think is lazy and also unfair on those that spend the time to carefully keyword an image.

Irrelevant keywords, if not spam, are sometimes found due to people having different thoughts or ideas about their own image than others would necessarily have. When they were taking a shot they may have a concept in mind that is not apparent straight away to the viewer. I think this is great as it adds diversity and may be relevant to certain concepts that buyers are looking for on occasion. This is also true, as Ellen mentioned, when different words mean different things to people all over the world.

Spamming though I think is totally unfair and should not be allowed - reporting spammers is a needed part of our community that we should really take part in to make DT as fair as it can be.


Well Maigi, I myself often thought of why people get extremely mad at having their keywords copied. If possible, I would have sets of keywords available for people to get inspired. Unfortunately the issue of keywords theft is not to be reduced merely to a situation of being a good Christian and of not taking what is not yours. It is more complicated than this. I tend to think all people are honest enough not to copy paste keywords and sleep soundly afterwards.
You yourself prove to be an extremely altruist little soul :). I admire you for shouting "Go ahead people, copy my words!" You remind me of! I am a selfless person willing to share what I know or what I have with those needing help and guidance. Even the thought that someone would not be willing to do as I do made me extremely angry. And I had huge fights with family, friends on this issue. Finally, I had to accept that not everyone is like me and I must respect and tolerate that. I guess you will not be one of the people reporting that someone stole your keywords. However, as I already told you, there are many others who do not appreciate this. And we must accept that this is a sensitive issue for many, we need to respect everyone's point of view on this.
Furthermore, from my own experience, I can tell you that 90 % cases of keywords theft is pure spam. This is why I mentioned editing. I am sure we all get inspiration from other people's keywords from times to times. The difference is that most of those who do that "copy" decently. Simply copy pasting leads to nothing good. I think I already addressed hilarious cases of images that had nothing to do with the keywords they had.
To go back to what I said, the most important lesson I learned from my willingness and kind behaviour was not that not all people are good Christians (this is a metaphor) or was that people think differently and act differently and I cannot ask others to act like I do, think like I do. Hope you understand what I meant. If you look at the bigger picture and you try to be generic, objective, you will see that the others may not share your opinion. And it is only natural that this happens. Like me, you cannot ask people to give away time spent keywording or money paid...


Thanks, Niagaragirl! Don't give up on reporting spam, everyone should report them, cause right now we all depend on correct functioning of search engine. If somebody hopes to benefit from cheating search engine, it may work some time and buyer notice those images what otherwise wouldn't appear on search results, but it don't work in the long run, site would lose its credibility. So, I hope you keep on reporting about irrelevant keywords, I try to do it so, and I have noticed, DT takes an action. But I have noticed also that because of my lack of knowledge in English I have mistakenly reported some relevant keywords too, what have double meaning. So now if I have doubts, I check out those words from online dictionary to make sure I know all meanings of words I want to report. Thanks for your comment.


On occasion if my mind goes blank on an image I will do a search to see if I have missed something. It sometimes helps me generate even more valid ones.

But what really gets me is the outright spam I find on the site. I have found it several times. Images I have reported in the past seem to still be there with the same spam. I quit reporting. I would rather have someone emulate a keyword structure than have garbage in the keys that does not apply at all.


Thank you, Ellen, I read once more your last comment, and I admire your tolerance. :) What do you think about visual search engines? Like Idée's Piximilar? Is that a future of stock industry's search engines?

And thanks, Petar, I think your conclusions about spamming are right. That's sad. But I think that reporting about bad keywords could help to fight against it. Wish some day somebody thinks out a clever way to prevent this.


OK, I tried to go through all those different thoughts I got in response from you, guys, but I have still several doubts. Tangie... I consider myself as a Christian too, and I cherish all Christian values. I don't want ever intentionally hurt people around me, although I know, I could have done it several times by accident, but I'm working on improving myself... And yes, stealing is a lousy, degrading and disgusting practice, but I just can't see a connection between copying keywords and stealing. When you steal something, then it means you take away something from a person who has right to own that thing. When I copy keywords, what do I take away from a person whose images I copied those words? Is it an opportunity to be the only one whose images appear in search results, when buyer searches images? Okay, I take away that opportunity. That's true. But what about buyer? If he gets in search results only images, whose owners are clever in keywording, doesn't it mean that we steal from that buyer an opportunity to see more images on the topic (what in reality we have available on site) and an opportunity to have a wider selection to choose the best image he wants to buy? Isn't that stealing? If an image with good keywords is a good high-quality image, then buyer will just buy it, no matter how many images with similar keywords appear in search results beside it. Buyers don't select images after their keywords, they select images after quality. What benefit the agency has if some images just don't appear in search results? I just can't understand it. So please, tell me, what do I really steal, if I copy keywords? Of course contributors don't like to see competition. Of course everyone wants that only his or her images appear in search results, me too (although that thought sounds frightening) - it seems to be natural. But is that what buyers want or expect from the site? I don't think so. But, Tangie, the truth is, I can be totally wrong in this too. So, if I am, please tell me how, I'm willing to listen.


Okay, thank you, guys, you are sweet. I have tons of thoughts now to go through, so ... I really appreciate your thoughts and sharing them with me. Thank you!


Hi Maigi. I read your article and you bring an interesting issue - copyright on keywords. And we all know that is not possible unfortunately. Boy, some would have been rich by now...I always have hard time explaining that keywords are not slogans for examples. And it is extremely difficult to have words and language copyrighted unless you write an article or a book. Water, blue, coffee, etc are commonly used by everyone.
I do not agree with copy pasting. At the beginning, I admit this was because I am a good Christian and I may have broken rules throughout my life but stealing is well...not what I would personally or professionally encourage. After some time I came to disagree because I know how much time a person really spends to come up with the right keywords. And to be honest, practice brings habit so some techniques and keywords really come naturally once you have keyworded enough.
There are indeed cases when users don't mind when copying their keywords but as Ellen put it, it is just not right. Some editing at least please....I have seen cases that stand upon the edge of common sense but i do not want to get rude - I am not allowed :).
However, from my experience, users do not really like having their keywords copied. Not at all.
I am not against using other people's keywords as training material. At least this how I did and I think I already mentioned that. When you start fresh, it is good to see exactly how things go. Afterwards, it is a matter of intuition and discerning right keywords from bad keywords. Study, see examples, maybe get an idea...but stealing word for word is not what I would advise. And this is my personal and Christian point of view ;).


Maigi: I didn't mean to downgrade your opinion at all. We are a community and everyone's opinion counts. Plus I should tell you that what I expressed was just my opinion not an offical one. I admire your persistence in translating...through all the dialog we had over the blog about famous photos, your English was so good that I assumed you were American. I can certainly see how referencing words on a similar image of anothers would be a great help to a non native English speaker. Otherwise you have a shot in the dark when you start to keyword an image. I retreat from my opinion!

And don't say that expressing your opinion is 'silly'. Never!

And you are correct in that when all the words for 'pasture' for example are available, the certainty that an image will show up is true. The only thing that all my experience has taught me is that keywords are not the best search mechanisms and companies that spend huge amounts trying to force all the images into one system, spend a lot and the result has additional problems.
So keep up the good work and never feel silly about expressing an opinion.


Maigi, I'll jump in just briefly. A statement you made caught my attention - you said you had to look up a lot of words and that was ultimately to your benefit.
Well, I'm not a native speaker too. I've been around English quite a while, got a degree from an English-speaking school, and yet, I need to look up words. However, I could not emphasize how much I value my initial efforts when I upload now. My keywording time has decreased in times as a result of me doing my homework, AND my keywords are far more relevant and well chosen.
Thus, besides all else, people who simply copy info from others will never probably learn how to do it themselves, and through that they're scoring a goal in their own gate (to use a soccer illustration). And I really doubt that a person who is just copying keywords will go ahead and look up their meaning in the dictionary. Judging by the spam I've come around, that doesn't seem to be the rule.

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