Photographers Copyright on the Internet

- - copyright

I have a feeling I will end 2008 with the same headline on 52 posts. Well, I don’t give a crap. We can stand around and whine as all the little bitches who have nothing worth copyrighting tell everyone who’s listening that the law is outdated and oppressive or we can go out and defend it.

First off, I like where Dan Heller is headed in his post Gaming the Creative Commons for Profit. Dan’s attitude in general, with copyright violation is, you can pay the licensing fee or you can steal it and I’ll collect a fee in court and I don’t really care either way. Badass. He furthers this idea in his Creative Commons post by broadcasting the fact that if you register your images with the copyright office, load them into flickr with a CC license, wait for people to pick them off and suddenly revoke the license you can collect a windfall of easily enforcible copyright violations.

It’s sort of a reverse psychology for all the numb nutz out there. Publicly declare how much money you can make off people misusing the CC license and you will eventually scare everyone away from even trying. He’s got a huge audience so I don’t doubt this idea has legs.

Next, is a story Cameron Davidson pointed me to in the Washington Post yesterday entitled “Hey Isn’t That…” where Monica Hesse investigates corporations stealing photography off the web . The irony of the whole deal is how these companies vigorously defend and display their copyright but then occasionally steal from unsuspecting photographers online and when caught blaming the whole mess on an intern or photo assistant (yeah, tell me about those goddam photo assistants buddy; ).

Good ole L.L. defends the amateur?:

Says Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford legal scholar who created Creative Commons, when asked about the issue of corporations borrowing photos: “There’s really no excuse for [these companies] except that they think it’s not important to protect the rights of the amateur.”

Whoa, looks like double L wanted the CC to still protect authors rights. Don’t think you can have it both ways buddy.

This might take awhile to shake out but for now I think it’s important for people who have something worth copyrighting to voice their opinion wherever they can.

There Are 33 Comments On This Article.

  1. I don’t understand all the fuss.

    Let’s say you are a new photographer trying to build a portfolio and market yourself. You may decide to publicize your work on a website using high resolution images that do not include a watermark. If you do that you run the risk of a company using your images for some commercial purpose, but at the same time you kind of win because your work is used by some company for some campaign. It’s not a financial win for you but it helps you grow your resume.

    If you are a well established photographer with a lot of contacts you can very easily watermark your images such that they are unusable for commercial purposes. I’ve seen several photographers that publicize watermarked images. It shows the quality of their work but removes the copyright infringement issue.

    My opinion is: if you really care about protecting your work then watermark it. If you want to publicize and grow your resume/portfolio then by all means post high resolution photos on a site, but then accept the potential downside that comes with that (copyright infringement). If someone rips off your image be prepared to become litigious and go that route.

    Just my opinion….

  2. Watermarks are easily stripped of images that happened with some guy name Michael Yon who has a website and whose image was stolen and then used on the cover of a trashy mag. He managed to get the mag shut down, and is still pursing financial compensation which he will procure.

    Even neophyte photogs need to be financially compensated for images used no one should get away with ‘Free” use of someone’s intellectual property. Writers strike is all about that major issue

  3. One interesting point in Dan’s article : he says that using the CC licence as a trap for copyright infringement can only be done on purpose. That’s not true every where : in France, you do not need to register your work for it to be protected. So this CC trick can be mere opportunism : as long as an amateur photographer thinks his work is not worth selling it, he just leaves a CC licence. But the day he realizes some company used it and how much he could have been paid for it, he can decide to ask for the money.

  4. Doug,

    Can you comment on what type of watermark Mr Yon used in his photos? Cropping a photo so that a small tagline at the bottom with the Copyright information is removed is extremely straightforward and is not the type of watermark I’m referring to.

    I think it would be extremely difficult to remove the slanted and randomized watermarks that traverse the entire image. I’m not sure how to create them myself but I’ve seen several on PhotoShelter.com from photographers I know who are concerned about pirated images.

  5. Dan’s idea is indeed fiendish, but it would never work. Quite apart from the fact that there are few of us who would have the nerve to stand up in court and claim we had never issued a license to an end user when thats exactly what we did, theres the small issue of lying to the judge, which amounts to – uh – perjury and would lead to some very real jail time if your opponent was able to get his act together.
    I like Dan’s style though.

  6. @1. Christopher: I don’t think giving away your work to build your resume has ever worked for anyone. You end up getting stuck giving it away forever. Does anyone have an example where it works?

  7. @6. I’m new to this industry so I’m not sure how much success or failure people have had with giving away their work. I know a few wedding photographers who have given away their work by volunteering with paid wedding photographers in order to build their resume. They were not compensated for the event nor were they paid for their photos. OTOH the lead photographer was paid for the event (as well as the photos). The assistant took the job to build their portfolio and to get some word-of-mouth advertising.

    I’m not sure how effective this approach is in other verticals within the photography industry.

  8. I think we have to be careful of reproducing the mistakes of other industries regarding copyright. Companies that infringe copyright need to be aggressively targeted, consumers who steal images from your flickr account or website should be embraced as an extra income source.

    How many photographers would normally be targeting their work at the average joe? Should we not be seeing this as possible extra income and giving them the opportunity to purchase our photographs simply and quickly?

    If I wanted one of your photos how could I get it? Could I buy it in a shop? Or purchase a print from your website? Or just take a screen grab from your site?

    Does anyone let you purchase a lo-ish res copy? All I’d want is a 1280×800 resolution copy to look at on my computer, but there is no way to get that legally.

  9. @7. Christopher, second shooting a wedding for someone aspiring to be a wedding photographer is a bit different. Usually a second shooter gets paid, but even if they do it for free, they get a little more than something for their portfolio. Wedding photography has a lot more to do with business, personality, and producing under pressure than it does the actual images. Of course they are important, but getting real wedding experience is extremely important for someone trying to build a business. There is value gained in shooting a wedding as a second. It’s like an apprenticeship in a way.

    A lot of what’s being stolen of the web is stock style. I made the mistake of giving away some of my photos for magazines and ads several years ago. My ego was stroked by being published in a TIME publication and a few other things, but ego doesn’t pay the bills. Not one of the photos I gave away led to anything more than something for my mom to be proud of. It wasn’t until I started charging and standing up for my work, that I was taken seriously. Charge from the beginning and save some head and heartaches. As long as you don’t see the value in your work, no one else will either. The only “free” you’ll get from me anymore is if I shoot for a charity event. “Accepting copyright infringement” is not an option. When you sell your work AND it’s in your portfolio, it’s a plus – plus. No downsides to accept at all.

  10. It seems that the professional photographers don’t like the CC concept, but I think it has some merit.

    Let’s take my example – I work as an editor for a general-news website. Sometimes, I need an editorial photo to accompany our articles… so what do I do? I go to flickr and pick up something from the CC repository. From my perspective, it is perfectly justifiable for someone to give away their photos in return for credit line.

    Of course, I could also ask for a permission of copyrighted work and quite a few photogs would happily agree, but I would not. Why?

    1) The main reason is that I don’t have a time to do that. If I get articles from my correspondents, I usually need to put it online ASAP…I don’t have a time to contact a photographer, wait for the response, etc. I need to find some good-enough phto quickly and that’s it.

    2) As we are a commercial entity, it just doesn’t sounds right to ask for the photos without monetary compensation.

    So why don’t we want to pay? Well…the first thing is that we can’t afford it for the time being, and it is not very justifiable provided we only want 300 pixels wide pictures illustrating the article and those can be found rather easily in the CC heap.

  11. Remember, CC comes in many flavors, allowing either non-commercial usage (preventing myspacers and bloggers from becoming copyright violators, incorrectly citing fair use) or broader usage (allowing people to conveniently place a work in the public domain. At its core, it does as much to emphasize that works that don’t bear a CC license are fully copyrighted as to encourage the easing of standard copyright restrictions. It’s not CC that is as disruptive as the large number of people who don’t understand the value of what they may be giving away.

    CC photos are, of course, still protected by copyright, and use contrary to the license terms is still a copyright violation. The big problem out there is that few of the images that get posted are registered, and so the ‘easy to get damages’ are likely small. If anything needs change it is the law regarding registration and damages, which allows willful infringers to avoid paying penalties for misuse of the works.

    Any changes in the law notwithstanding, if we can keep exposing the misappropriation of rights by large organizations, they will eventually pay the price and learn the lesson.

  12. @1
    That isn’t even possible; 90% of the time, photogs don’t even know when a photo is stolen. We usually only find out coincidentally. That’s not going to help anyone build a resume.

    Besides, anytime someone gives away a product, it lowers the that product’s value across the whole industry. Why would you purposely sabotage the very industry you are trying to become a part of? This career path is tough enough already, methinks.

  13. @12
    I don’t think the issue is that black and white.

    There is clearly a difference between an advertising agency placing a photo in a nationwide periodical and giving away a photo to a high school basketball player for their personal use.

    And I disagree that by giving away a product it lowers it’s value. My photos have no value if nobody looks at them. If I offer a photo of a high school basketball player to the parents that photo has enormous value.

    There’s a guy I know that mows lawns and cleans pools for a living. He doesn’t describe his job as a lawn mower or a pool cleaner. He’s hourly help that is on time, reliable, and dependable. His real value is in showing every week at the same time to make sure the lawn is taken care of (or the pool is cleaned).

    In my opinion that’s a huge aspect of being a professional photographer: you show up at assignments, do the job, and submit the results in a timely manner. There are shades of gray in the actual “do the job” part (clearly people have varying skill, and the great ones should be paid a premium), but the other aspects of a shoot have value even if the photos do not offer a financial reward.

    PS – I’m not a communist.

  14. Peter #10 – then your publication should not be in business – period.

    Basing a commercial venture based on the work of others that receive no compensation for their content is despicable. It should be against the law (may be so in some jurisdictions), used to be shameful, and is wrong.

  15. #10, I have to agree. If your news operation can’t afford to pay for photography then it should: 1) Not run any on its site or 2) shut down.

    My argument is the same with the minimum wage. If you are a business owner who can’t afford to pay someone the federal minimum wage to produce your product or service then your product or service is not viable or neccesary and should go out of business.

    If you are a news organization that can’t afford to pay for photography then your news isn’t worth anything.

  16. @ 14 + 15, I like the sentiment but that’s just what Google does (selling page views of other peoples content) and they make BILLIONS!

  17. @13
    I didn’t mean that giving away a single photograph doesn’t lower that images value. It lowers the value of paying photographers to do their job.

    While I was talking about giving away images to large magazines or corporations, your situation demonstrates a microcosm of the same effect: In the situation you describe, you just undercut the local newspaper photographer who makes a small commission when parents purchase reprints.

    Now there IS a difference between giving away your work to a potential client in the hopes of generating more work — that’s tantamount to giving away cheese cubes at the grocery store.

    Still, that isn’t the same as putting the cheese in an easy-to-steal location with a sign that says “Hi! We hardly ever prosecute!” as was basically suggested @1 as a means of building a resume.

  18. @17
    Your comment about undercutting the local newspaper photographer is well taken. Offering photos of a high school basketball player does damage the local newspaper photographer and cuts into his or her earnings by potentially removing a potential print sale. I say “potentially” because we all know that photographers vary in quality and it’s very likely that a newspaper photographer who shoots photos every day for a living is going to take a better shot than the budding photographer trying to get started. But let’s ignore that for now and say that the free photo is of high enough quality that the player does not care to purchase a print from the photographer. The photographer “loses” in this case because he (or she) has lost some revenue.

    The family of the player (or the player) clearly wins because they have a free photo to work with. They may choose to go back to the photographer (or even another photographer) to print the photo, and I’m sure this happens quite a lot (Ritz Camera, Penn, SnapFish, and Shutterfly have been very successful at post-processing images and printing them for private individuals).

    I argue that the photographer still wins because he (or she) is still paid by the newspaper for use of the photo in a publication. How much he or she is paid relative to how much he or she lost from the print is the real question.

    One also has to consider the willingness of the subject to purchase the photos in question. Many people will stop by and taste the free cheese cubes but don’t have any intention of ever buying the actual cheese from the shop. In that situation the local newspaper photographer doesn’t lose out at all from the amateur who offered free photos to the player because the player never intended to purchase prints in the first place.

    I’m glad you’re willing to engage me in this dialog. It’s been very thought provoking and interesting. :)

  19. @Kevin H, Ed – Thank you guys for your opinion, but you assume something that’s not true. I didn’t say we don’t pay for photography at all, we actually do pay news agency for photo archive access, and we also do employ our own photographers.

    Maybe you don’t know, but the world of journalism and media is a bit tough these days. Just ask other photojournalists, if it is easy for them to earn living from their craft. You wish me to be out of bussiness, but not so quick guys…the competition is fierce, circulations are declining, and there surely will be more media companies going out of bussiness in the coming years. I am just curious to see how many professional photographers will be happy about that. It really isn’t that easy you guys might think. Good luck! :)

  20. Peter Wilde

    giving away it away for future fame & fortune:

    i was asked to provide the photo library for use in a new software application in exchange for “credit” only. instead i negotiated a fair price PLUS full credit (including my contact info).

    the software was a hit – however, when i got contacted as result of it, it was for “how do i install this software?” and other tech support related questions only! :-(

    turns out the software buyers were not potential photo buyers – so i made a good call

    - – -

    friend of mine shot early promo stuff for a band just beginning to get recognition – all for free, in return for “when we get big, you’ll shoot all our stuff”. well, they got big, but not big enough to overrule the record co. (their story) – or more likely, the band leapt at the chance to have a know pro shoot their stuff (instead of the ‘buddy from the old days’)

    - – -

    i have shot celeb stuff for “free” when i consider the value of inclusion in my portfolio to exceed my time/ effort

  21. Hi Peter #19

    Please don’t take that too personally. I can’t speak for Ed #15 (though I don’t see where he was speaking of you personally either) but my comment was about your company. I wasn’t attacking you.

    With that being said, I do know how rough it is out there in journalism and you will not see me shedding a tear over it. News organizations and media have not taken care of their photography or photographers for quite some time now.

    The way I see it, the demise of journalism is just karma coming around to bite the profession in the ass because those at the helm have not been good stewards of the craft.

    Consider me one ex-professional who washed his hands of journalism because it not a viable business for a photographer.
    I say let the media companies burn, brightly and to the foundation.

    Anyone got any marshmallows?

  22. > I say let the media companies burn, brightly and to the foundation.

    Hmm..but who will inform you about the world then? flickr? YouTube? bloggers? Just asking…

  23. “This might take awhile to shake out but for now I think it’s important for people who have something worth copyrighting to voice their opinion wherever they can.”

    It sounds like you’re implying that these amateurs who had their photos used without permission don’t deserve copyright protection because they’re not “professionals”. If the company thinks it is worth putting in an expensive advertising campaign, it’s definitely worth money, and it’s an insult that they have such double standards when it comes to enforcing copyright. I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re not saying what your tone implies, but I’m unclear.

  24. I’m implying that the people who think copyright protection hinders creativity are the ones who don’t need it in the first place. They usually produce work that has no value in the marketplace. Everyone should be protected but those who make a living selling copyrighted works should stand up and fight. Consumers could care less until a violation occurs.

    When a company uses a cc photograph it’s because they think the price is free. The photography in the campaign has no value. Probably because some creative thinks he’s a genius and has carefully sketched out the stock photo the art buyer must find and if it turns up in flickr with a cc who cares just as long as we don’t have to spend $300,000 shooting it.

  25. Peter #23

    Obviously, I believe that the media companies do not measure up to the standard any longer when I make a statement like that. I do not feel that what they call journalism these days is any better than the average Joe’s with their blogs, photos, and videos. Infotainment has replaced serious investigation, partisan politics have replaced objective reporting – on many comparison points there isn’t much difference between the gray lady and the national enquirer.

    This is just my opinion, but I am certainly not alone. In fact, there are so many of us walking away that media companies are on the decline as you accurately stated.

    Why is it a surprise that after failing to maintain it’s position of responsibility in society that main stream media finds itself irrelevant?

    Think again if you see any light at the end of the tunnel, with all of the cut backs taking place the descent will only continue to it’s predictable conclusion.

    None of this has anything to do with you Peter, except that you are an editor for a general news website. I am not making this personal about you, it’s about the profession. Take it as some constructive criticism. My message is not unique, look for it elsewhere and you will find it written on the wall.

    Does anyone watch The Wire? I love The Wire. This final season is about the institutional rot within the media of Baltimore. I am looking forward to seeing how they portray it, I am betting that they get it correct down to every last ugly detail.

    My rant is over, my apologies to APE and all readers for getting so far off topic.

  26. “A Photo Editor wrote:

    @1. Christopher: I don’t think giving away your work to build your resume has ever worked for anyone. You end up getting stuck giving it away forever. Does anyone have an example where it works?”

    I don’t buy it either and neither did most in attendance at the Photoshelter L.A. Town Hall meeting when the photo editor from Black Book magazine said they never pay photographers because they don’t have enough budget. I believe she said the magazine will give you some bare bones budget and crew to work with but if you want anything more extravagant then feel free to fork out your own cash. Two of her (young) photographers who had worked with her believed that working for free in exchange for tear sheets would be a good way to advance their careers. The editor herself stated that one could use her tear sheets to get paid jobs at other magazines. From looking at the magazine, it seems to have high production value and not appearing to be lacking in budget…

  27. @ Chris – I was having a glass of wine with 2 art buyers last night. I asked them what they do when they have “budget” jobs. They said they call in a favor with a list of photographers they have that will always do shoots for low budgets. I followed the question with another question. “Do you ever hire the photographers on that list for a job with a nice budget?”

    They both said no.

    Once you give things away, you will forever be labeled as someone who gives it away. Buyers will see no reason to pay more since they know you will do it for less.

  28. “A Photo Editor wrote:

    @1. Christopher: I don’t think giving away your work to build your resume has ever worked for anyone. You end up getting stuck giving it away forever. Does anyone have an example where it works?”

    Rob, what are you doing here, on aphotoeditor.com, but giving away your work, i.e. freely sharing the fruits of your hard-won experience? Blogging is work; you ain’t getting paid. But you may at some point, right, partially as a result of this blog? Then giving it away will, indeed, pay.

    Then again, the rumor around the Hole is that you’re moving to Durango to be a snow shoeing instructor at Purgatory. Could be good. I hear they’ve got sweet tree-shoeing around there.

  29. David, there’s quite a bit of difference between posting photos on your website for people to see to promote yourself and giving them to magazines and companies to use for free.

    I blog about photography for free but I don’t let people reprint it in a magazine with advertising. I’m still charging for photo editing, production work, location scouting and casting–things I always got paid for.

    So, if you give away something for free to someone who normally pays and makes money off it you should not expect to be paid the next time around.

    You have a video website with free videos but do you make videos for clients for free as well? Do you expect them to come back and pay you someday or ring up TGR instead.

    I’ll give you a free snowshoe lesson tho because that should always be free. It’s just walking.

  30. @28

    I’ve sent that little anecdote to everyone I know. Anybody that tries to work as a photographer should be required to get it engraved on their camera and tattooed backwards on their forehead so they see it everyday in the bathroom mirror.

  31. Catelynn Trojacek

    i`ve always wanted to be a photographer and there is no way I have the courage to waste money and life on being a photographer!!!!