There’s no stopping the Internet. Just as independent musicians and the record industry have had to learn to work with unfettered downloading of songs, photographers have to consider the fact that there are a lot of fans out there who want stuff for free, despite what the photographer has invested financially, fiscally and even emotionally. Even just a cursory browse through any number of blogs and image Tumblrs, and you’ll find countless images disconnected from their original sources and repurposed for the web. Elias Wessel, profiled in this issue, is a good example. Every time he shoots a new project, it ends up spread almost immediately throughout the blogosphere.
The fine line between good publicity and outright thievery is a matter open to debate, and it’s often a heated debate at that. Many photographers have a laissez-faire attitude about the public enjoying their work or snagging images for desktops and the like. Other photographers are adamant about protecting their images from being reproduced in any form. There’s a slew of programs and sites that cater to this demographic, from simple protections like Adobe’s Flash-based websites that prevent drag-and-drop image downloading to more intricate solutions like PicScout and Digimarc, which use a combination of watermarking and metadata indexing as a way to track images.
Myth: Stolen Images Are A Bad Thing
Still, a screen grab is often as simple as performing a keyboard shortcut, and information can be stripped from an image almost as easily as it is to add it. More importantly, the advantages of allowing images to be seen can’t be understated, even if the creator of the images lacks control over how. The Internet can make an artist, literally, an overnight sensation. If a media-hungry public embraces a particular project or image, it may be seen throughout the entire world within mere moments.
All of these sets of eyes on your work invariably bring back revenue in one form or another, whether through commissioned future projects, prints or what have you. The difficulty is that the photographer doesn’t always get the credit. A watermark can help, though subtle ones that are overt enough to be read while not blemishing an image are few and far between. Another solution is through proper keywording and tagging of images at the source, usually on the photographer’s website or in the original image files. That way, a photographer can leave a path for resourceful Internet seekers to discover the original location of images.
What to do about people or businesses that gain from unapproved imagery? Creative Commons is a good middle ground that photographers and artists can explore to allow use of their works without sacrificing the rights that copyrights provide. For a good example of what CC-licensing can provide, Flickr is the web’s largest source of Creative Commons content. The community atmosphere of Flickr encourages hundreds of thousands of people to view and rate images, leading to an incredible promotional tool for photographers who know how to use the site to their advantage (Miss Aniela, for instance)—all at the low cost of $24.95 for a yearly pro account, and they even have limited accounts for free.
Rather than the old-school way of saying, “No, you can’t use this image without paying me,” there are six standardized Creative Commons licenses that provide you flexibility in protecting your works for meeting the ever-changing world of supply and demand. What’s more, Creative Commons is a global solution for allowing or disallowing uses of your work. The set of copyright licenses are available free of charge at www.creativecommons.org. For more on Creative Commons and your rights as a photographer, go to the Business section of DPP.