Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sharing and Stealing: A Photographer's Nightmare

 I'm stealing your photos!

With the advent of websites like TinEye and Google's Image Search (websites that allow you to search the internet by photo), I have to say I was really appalled at the sheer number of times I've found my own copyrighted photos used without my consent.  Literally, I found that images of mine have been used, without permission (or credit) more times than I could possibly ever track down and resolve.  If you're a photographer, illustrator, graphic artist or something similar, and post your work on the internet, then I suggest you use one of the tools above to find out exactly how much of your work might be out there without your consent as well.

More after the jump!

This proposes a very complex problem for me as a photographer.  While I really enjoy photo sharing websites such as Flickr, SmugMug and even a local variety in my own home town, I'm now starting to feel that places like this aren't the best way to showcase my work in the hopes of drawing business or generating photography sales.  I really like the above mentioned websites and enjoy sharing with others.  I also like to view the works of others for inspiration, or to just pass the time, and to also use those websites as sort of a "testing ground" to see how specific images of mine do from a popularity stand point.  This helps me to gage what kind of photography will sell and where I should focus my attention in terms of becoming a more profitable photographer.  Those websites also really aid in getting my photography recognized on a broader scale.  However, do I want to upload photos knowingly that some uneducated jack leg, can just swipe it and use it for whatever reason they wish without any credit to me, the photographer, or any compensation?  I'll expand on 'uneducated' in a minute.

Nope I don't... but I do want to share, and enjoy the photographic community, so what's the fix?  Honestly, I don't think there is a GOOD one.  There are ways to dissuade people from trying to steal your work, but really, those methods only work on those that are less determined to take your images.  The bottom line is, IF SOMEONE WANTS TO STEAL YOUR IMAGE FROM THE INTERNET, THEY CAN.  Read that again, I'll wait.

Basically, if someone wants to steal use an image of yours that you posted on the internet then there really is no 100% secure way of preventing them from doing so.  Definitely though, there are precautions you can take that will slow them down.  You can embed metadata in the EXIF, you can watermark your images, you can do logo branding on them, you can right-click protect them and lock them in password protected galleries for no one to see other than those you give the password to (there's the catch with that one) and those methods do help, but they're not fail-safe.  So what's the fix?

I think a big part of the issue, albeit not a solution, is the lack of education in the usage of intellectual property.  I honestly believe that a lot of folks simply don't look at photography on the internet as anyone's personal property.  For instance, how many times have YOU surfed the net and saw a photo that would make a good background and saved it to your computer, without thinking really about what the owner would think?  Ok, that's probably not the best comparison, but you get the point.  Photography on the internet is really not considered personal property by anyone other than, say, other photographers and accessibility to photography and many other works have never been easier to obtain.

How can the value of photography as intellectual property be conveyed to the masses in the sense that music and other works are?  I suppose its going to take some hefty lawsuits before this becomes a serious issue in the eyes of the general public.  Now the other problem that I see with that is, how to make others care?  I think this one is never going to be solved in the eyes of many.  Some people simply don't or won't care about this issue... ever.  There are those out there that work diligently at protecting the rights of photographers and their intellectual property and its also been thrown about in congress a time or two but for the most part, the general public doesn't look at "lifting photos" off the net as any sort of crime.

Another issue I've started to become very aware of, is that many photo sharing websites and their Terms of Service.  Have you ever read the Terms of Service agreements where you post your photos?  Most of them are pretty scary and NOT photographer friendly.  I realize that those websites have an obligation to protect themselves but they could reword their TOS's to be more suitable for the contributing photographers and not read like the unabridged version of the works of William Shakespeare.  In a nutshell, a lot (but not all) of photo sharing and networking websites, basically can do anything with your photos once you upload them to their website, royalty free and without giving you credit.  I'm not pointing the finger at an websites in particular, but if you are uploading photos that you hope to make money from, you really need to think twice before posting them anywhere on the internet except in the most secure of locations.

So where does that leave us?  Well for me, it has become a question of what can I tolerate the most.  Do I completely stop uploading photos to the internet, or do I upload them at miniscule sizes, with huge watermarks, my logo and a threatening footer that says if you steal this my pitbull with herpes will bite you?

With new websites popping up all over the place like 500px and Google's new Google+ its hard to resist the urge to start throwing up portfolios everywhere, but now I'm a little bit more reserved in my attitude about sharing on the internet and may trim down some existing work.

So what do YOU think about this?  Its really been weighing heavily on my mind and I'd really like to know your opinion, if you have a "plan", what your methods are for "protecting" your work and what you think about the possible use of your work without your consent.  Also, maybe you're a painter, or a graphic artist or a web designer who looks for photos on the internet for use in your work; what do you feel about all of this, or do you even care?

Sound off in the comments as I'm hoping the advice or opinions of others will help me make up my own mind!


designdroid said...

Great post -- I linked to your excellent writeup on my Flickr profile, since I get a lot of people just taking my stuff.

John said...

Thank you! I hated to even have to write this, and am usually not a "complainer" but I guess I finally found something that really moved me.

Sorry you're having to go through this too, but I suspect a LOT of us are.

Mike said...

That was a nice little article you shared. I, like you have had many of my images stolen off the internet. Most recently, a young girl was using my images on her blog.I found out and sent her an email that she provided on her blog and made sure she knew I wasn't happy about it. She was mad with me because I asked her why she took my photo, She didn't think that she "took" my photo. She was really upset and just chewed me out, saying all sorts of stuff in her email. It was like I was the bad guy for asking her why she was using my photo with out asking permission.
It is like you said, if you put it out there, then it's out there. It stinks that you almost have to expect someone to try to steal your work. I think it is BS that we have to go to some of the measures that you described, just to protect our thoughts, ideas, our work!

gerry said...

May i know how do you light the photo at the top?

John said...

Mike - Yep its a shame but I guess its price you have to pay if you want your work out there.

Gerry - I used two lights to light the portrait at the top. The key light on the subject was a Nikon SB-800 in a Lumiquest SBIII to camera left. The background light was another Nikon SB-800 with a red gel and a snoot, off to camera right and pointing at the background.