Oh, man. It’s happened again. Stacie Frazier is no stranger to having her photos used without permission in boudoir Groupon ads. Yesterday, someone called her attention to the latest offender. But it’s only one of several new incidents I’ve picked up on in the last several days.
Stealing photos has become so common, and it’s such a transparent activity, that I honestly think some people don’t think of it as “stealing” at all. And even stranger, I think those who do believe they’re doing something at least a little dishonest by passing other people’s work off as their own, also fail to realize how the internet works. Hey, putting up a website or buying a Groupon ad isn’t the same as printing up a flyer; this stuff’s instantaneously GLOBAL and searchable, and kind of “permanent record” as it remains living somewhere on the internet.
What We Want
The internet is about sharing (in some cases, oversharing). We photographers upload our images so that we can share them, and to allow others to share the photos, via links, etc. But we want to have some kind of control over that sharing.
- We generally don’t want others to copy and repost without permission
- We want credit for our work
- We don’t want others to display it as their work
- We don’t want others to profit from our images without permission
- We don’t want others to alter our images
I think that’s fair, to want those things. But is it realistic to expect those things once you publish your images in such an open, made-for-sharing, digital space? Is it realistic to expect people who don’t care about, or understand, copyright law to abide by it? We know how important it is to respect intellectual property and copyright and the work of others, right?
Do We Walk the Walk?
At the same time, I’ve heard photographers make all kinds of excuses for infringing on the copyrights of others. I remember one bubbly, up-and-coming wedding and portrait photographer in Austin, going on about how she didn’t think there was anything wrong with using popular music on her website without permission. “It’s not hurting anyone, and it gives the band more exposure (really?), and I’m going to do it anyway.” Yup, that’s what she said. Oh, but if anyone made that argument about using her images, for say, selling wedding planner services, I’m sure she’d have a problem with that.
Of course, I have to wonder what’s going on when some of the most popular photography gurus in the blogosphere get caught plagiarizing (I mean blatantly, and prolifically) on their blogs, or for using photos shot by other photographers on their commercial websites. Big names, who really should know better, stealing photos, words, and the work of others to advance their brands and enterprises. I’ve seen where these people lose followers, but not all of their followers. It’s funny how forgiving people can be when they really admire someone. Too bad for the not so pretty, not so cool, not so popular photographers who just want to “borrow” a couple of photos in a desperate attempt to earn some credibility and a little money. They’re going to get flamed, threatened; basically, it’s public condemnation time for them. There seems to be somewhat of a double standard. If we’re going to complain about having our work used without permission, we should start by not tolerating the stealing of intellectual property from those within our own ranks, including from the industry leaders we look up to.
Who Are the Offenders, Really?
It’s very likely that some of these people who’ve been freely sharing every image they ever shot, without any concern for (or even an awareness of) copyright and usage issues, actually think there’s nothing wrong with grabbing photos, from anywhere, to illustrate their message: “I’m a good photographer. I can take photos like THIS. Please hire me.” One woman displayed an image of mine in her online gallery, with my name still on it! I mean, maybe that’s what some of these people are doing, simply because they don’t know any better. They assume the web is a free-for-all sharing platform; some huge, never-ending repository of digital assets that anyone should be able to take from, and give back to.
What I’d Like to Do About It
I don’t want to think people are THAT bad or THAT stupid. I’d prefer to think that they’re just coming from a different place. An uninformed place, but not an intentionally dishonest one. So, I’m thinking someone should write up a simple-to-understand explanation of how this whole “You’re not supposed to use other photographers’ work without permission” thing works. It should be posted up on some easy-to-find website, with an easy to remember domain name. Maybe in more than one language. Perhaps a link to this site should be sent to every newly discovered offender. I’d feel better about doing that than participating in public shaming and mob retaliation. But that’s just me. It might not be realistic, but it certainly seems reasonable.
Still, I think there’s a place for calling out offenders who are actually aware of their misdeeds. Sites like Photo Stealers do a very good job of this. At the very least, talking and ranting about this helps spread some kind of awareness.