My first DMCA Takedown Notice


There's a theory going around that we artists should be flattered by people 'stealing' our images. Because it means that somebody actually likes our work. People won't steal just any image, now will they?

This theory is crap. It shows a fundamental lack of respect. It's like stealing a lamp from IKEA because it would look good with your couch, not showing affection towards a piece of art. If somebody actually cared about an artist's art, they'd at least let them know they were using the image. They'd add a link (remember, in this enlightened era, people live and die by their google rank, so a few links here and there can be just as good as payment) or offer some token of appreciation or even just a nice comment. There's a clear difference between putting a picture as an image on your page or as a myspace background and somebody who talks about how much they love Monet and then places a bunch of JPGs of Monet art on their page.

There's a lot of uncountable, abstract losses involved in people stealing my images. If one of my images is floating around, unattributed, it reduces it's value as stock. It's potentially a missed opportunity for a sale if somebody doesn't know where an image came from. However, if somebody gives an attributed link, everybody can win. The person using the image and giving the link gets an image to use. The person who made the image benefits because people can see more of their work if they like the image they see on somebody else's page, and becomes more popular in the search engines. Furthermore, if somebody's hotlinked off of my site, eventually bandwidth charges get involved. Most web hosting plans have a cut off point where you need to pay for bandwidth. Right now, I'm using the included amount, and I'm going to get rather ticked off if I have to pay for bandwidth so that people can "freeload".

Most of the people who use my images in a rude manner want a Myspace background. This annoys me for a number of reasons. They have no concept of design, so they always use it in such a way that makes my image look ugly. They hotlink to the image, which means that I get extra server load and bandwidth usage for something I don't especially like. They don't attribute the image properly, which means that it doesn't benefit me in a long-term sense by giving me extra googlejuice. And they don't make any effort to flatter me.

For a period of time, I'd send them a brief form letter passive-agressively noting that they were annoying me and they should at least attribute the image, with the pain of discovering that I'd replaced the image with a disturbing image of my choice.

But I got some rather snarky responses where people said they didn't appreciate how rude I was in threatening to replace the image they linked, ignoring, of course, that if they had asked permission to use the image in the first place, I wouldn't be sending a message in the first place. Mostly people would just use somebody else's image instead after they received the message.

Some months ago, I just decided to replace the image with no warning. It takes less time and draws out less conflict. Generally, this results in somebody's myspace page turning pink, which is really funny when you realize that most folks who use my images as their myspace backgrounds are guys. I also came to the conclusion that people who used my image in more socially acceptable fashions, even if I'd prefer they properly linked, are not nearly as annoying, so I generally don't cut them off.

The other day, I discovered that somebody had actually uploaded one of my pictures to myspace, so I got to send out my first DMCA takedown message. The funny part is that it's a self described Christian who uploaded the file as theirs. I am remembering chatting with a guy who's involved in the Christian music biz and he pointed out that the Christian biz is actually MORE cutthroat than the regular biz. Apparently, there's a bunch of people who go into it because they want to take advantage of the naiive.

The person who took my image claimed that they didn't realize the image is copyrighted, despite having a degree in broadcasting. Oh, and Myspace promptly removed the image without complaint. So, despite the multitude of DMCA abuses, it actually worked properly in this case.



Stealing's a funny word with a digital item. If somebody were to take one of my prints, that's stealing and they'd at the very least be depriving me of whatever money was spent to make the print. But there's no immediate fiscal loss if somebody copies my pictures without permission. However, there were no commodities who could be copied like digital media when people were inventing language, so we're stuck with emotionally-loaded terms like "stealing" and "piracy" and "the internet is a series of tubes"

My interpretation of the problem is that a rational approach to this sort of situation is not taught. Most folks grow up knowing that stealing physical goods is wrong. People get messages spewed at them from the RIAA and MPAA that everything they do other than buy things like sheep is wrong.... but see the hypocrisy of the problem. But to communicate gray areas of copying ethics is actually challenging because the RIAA doesn't differentiate between backups, mixtapes, mashups, battle records, remixes, out-of-production rarities, bootlegs, format transitions, home taping, mass-produced pirated media, promoting a concert tour, and ripping off the record store.... and they're the ones who scream the loudest. Copyright is a legally mediated deal that encourages artists to create works and be able to be rewarded for doing so, but to also limit the rights of the artist so that the artist contributes to the growth and development of our culture.

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