Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Naked In The Courtroom - The Web And Copyright
The Internet has opened a can of worms for photographers struggling to keep control over images while also seeking to get their work seen by the public and image buyers
It's Like Having Your Own Digital Bloodhound
Attributor is a Silicon Valley company that tracks images for the likes of The Associated Press, Condé Nast and Reuters. They have technology that creates a digital fingerprint of an image and tracks it wherever it shows up on the web. If a photo is found published without permission, clients can initiate one of three actions:
• Offer a license for usage.
• Send a removal request. Not only will they send a DMCA notice to the host of the image, but they also will contact search engines to remove the photo from their indexes, as well as the ad networks so they no longer place ads on the page.
• Send a link request. Links are the backbone of your search ranking for the major search engines.
These actions offer photographers the necessary tools to control those images they choose to publish to the Internet. It's a significant step to navigating the new digital economy that's partially supplanting the print economy in which we've worked since the inception of photography as a profession. Attributor is currently in the beta stage of releasing a product for individual photographers. It's a service that I will employ for my own images as soon as it's available.
The Real Reality
If you're wondering what happened to the old way of managing the usage rights of your photographs, it was never part of the DNA of the Internet. The Internet was born out of a need for the U.S. government to communicate with educational institutions over a network that could survive a nuclear attack by virtue of the fact that it was inherently decentralized, a feature that allowed information traveling on the net to automatically reroute itself around a decimated access point.
The extraordinarily rapid evolution of what we know now as the Internet came from a foundation of very smart people working in an open, collaborative spirit in which original ideas and creations were shared freely. The commercial component of the Internet came years later.
While the well-intentioned, open and collaborative spirit of the Internet has manifested in an enormous amount of copyright violations, there's no way that we as an industry are going to step in and reeducate billions of Internet users into adopting a new attitude. I wouldn't want to. It would devastate the spirit of sharing that has opened all of our eyes to new worlds of information.
That said, as a photographer, you must protect the rights of your work. There's a world of difference between a commercial entity realizing a financial or public-relations benefit from your photography versus a blog using your image to make a point. The former requires an unforgiving attitude and financial recompense; the latter, an attribution and link to your website.
Then there are all the situations in between. For example, if someone uses your artistic nude to illustrate a blog post about genital herpes, that's an association that will dilute the artistic perception
of your work, one that would require a removal notice.
Ultimately, as photographers, we have to become proactive about the value of our work and monitoring its existence on the Internet. The recording industry made an enormous mistake in suing everyone based on a diminishing paradigm. Understanding the value of your work in the environment that exists and then maximizing that value to your benefit is the most intelligent way to move forward in the new age. Give nothing away for free; just realize that not all compensation will come in the form of cash.
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