A modest attempt to inject some reason to the image stealing debate

One of my friends took a really amazingly great image a few years ago with her point and shoot digital. Like, amazingly great. She posted it to flickr and got an absurd number of views and favorites and comments. The other day, she told me that she had removed it from public view.

Now, we must remember that most of the folks who are in the news with regards to using pictures are stealing it without asking it. So we are talking about people who are a cut above that.

Apparently somebody wanted to use the image, without attribution or payment, as the cover of their CD. Which turned out to be the last straw for her.

Making money or fame off of other people's hard work

The way I see things, the greater the emotional value of an image is, the more likely people are to get unhappy. If you use somebody's nasty shot that they don't care much about, they might be flattered. If somebody has spent thousands of dollars as a photographer and quit their day job, they will be pissed off. If you take a shot that somebody considers to be their best work ever, they're going to go for blood.

On the other side, you have the person who is using the image. Being mashed up into a silly web video may be brushed off in ways that being used as part of a major ad campaign won't be.

It's pretty much a continuum. A low-value image in a cheezy web video may be "street legal" and let slide even if it's not legal. A high-value image used in a major ad campaign will never let slide. In the middle, you've got subtle cases where if the image is valued enough by the artist, even something like "Here Comes Another Bubble" is no longer fair game.

The thing to remember, of course, is that you might not have any money right now while you make a CD, but you will eventually. You may not be making any money off of your viral internet videos, but what if you start making money now that authenticity sells?

Brother, let me remove the beam from your eye

One fast way to piss people off is to not play by your own rules.

The NFL puts a message on every broadcast telling you not to copy their program. They sue people who reprint statistics about the NFL. If anybody involved with the NFL steals your image, you aren't going to be too interested in letting it slide.

The people who get you images for cheap are not to be trusted...

...and it's only going to get worse.

Much in the same way that forcing prices downwards encourages companies to outsource production to China and end up with lead toys and toxic dog food, forcing prices of images downward also screws things up.

See, the traditional big companies in the market like Getty and Corbis charge a lot of money for a single image, but they stand by it. All releases have been taken care of, the image is of the highest quality and best resolution, it's been tagged and keyworded, etc. Plus, you can use a stock photo and ask for exclusive use of it for a period of time, so that you don't discover that you and your competitor are using the exact same stock photo.

Meanwhile, microstock agencies make a "best effort" attempt to ensure that everything is OK, but your main remedy if they didn't get everything right is a refund on your purchase price.

Seriously, check out the agreements for microstock and compare it to a big stock agency.

I'm pretty sure that this is going to blow up eventually. I'm also pretty sure that there's some new business models on the way that provide a workable new framework for artists to make money and purchasers to not end up with huge legal liabilities.

Right now, the commonly blamed culprit is an Intern or other low-level staffer who is always fired after the incident because they hadn't been taught that images need to be paid for. It's bordering on cliche and makes me wonder if it's basically instinctive to claim that the intern has been fired, even if it was really a high level staffer who was able to smooth things over with the boss after a nice dinner at a sushi restaurant and a few lines of coke.

Either way, unless somebody notices, there is a huge reward for claiming that lesser-known-but-good-stuff is really your own. Especially if you've got nothing to lose.

The Creative Commons license is much more dangerous than you think

So, Dan Heller wrote this better than I feel like writing.

But, there's one more point that I should make.

There are a hundred little subtleties to licensing in ways that a lawyer must go over with you. There are property releases and model releases and performance rights and mechanical rights and everything else. The Creative Commons can only do so good of a job of warning you about what you may be entering into. These rights are different all over the world. The situation where Alison Chang's image was used in a Virgin Mobile campaign with no model release is a perfect example of this -- the photographer had his image marked as Creative Commons but without a model release, the image still couldn't be used for advertising.

Pretty much, the Creative Commons has punted the issue and doesn't really give you a list of everything you need to think about when you offer a license. Maybe it's just because there are so many subtle little bits to think about they can't really provide a guide that's anything near useful.

And I think this may actually level things out, one day

The reason, I think, why people don't have a qualm about stealing movies and music is that most folks don't know any major label musicians or big name actors, nor do they know anybody in the biz.

The concept of the long tail and the infinite number of monkeys intersect. At least one person you know has probably taken at least one photo that's probably good enough to net them enough money to brighten their day... it's just that they wouldn't have a way to make that happen in the way the market was a decade ago and may not be able to make that happen for a bit longer.

I suspect that this will discourage piracy eventually.


The funny part, of course, about things involving people stealing images from bloggers is that every hack reporter needs to then mention how normally blogers are against the application of copyright law to a situation. Which, of course, shows how little they understand the nebuluous "blogger" community.

On a completely different subject... I've got a bunch of IR film stockpiled, but I'm fairly close to running out of 120 film of any sort.

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