Sunday, April 3, 2011

It's "Mr. Mean" to you pal...

Today, Bobbi walked into the living room and said, "Someone is using one of our pictures on their website."

Bobbi is designing a new arbor for Perfect Florida Beach Wedding and was looking for inspiration.  She came across a website that rents arbors in another state and was quite surprised to discover a picture from .

It's a picture of a rose petal heart in the sand.  Bobbi built it, I photographed it.  It has her company logo stamped in the bottom right-hand corner.

The one that was on the other website was enlarged and had the logo photoshopped out.  They kept the nice custom black border and drop shadow that I created, however.

Needless to say, Bobbi was shocked.  "What should I do?" she asked.

"Write them an email and tell them to take it down or you will contact a copyright attorney," I said.

She sent off the email and a reply came back quickly.  The website owner apologized for using the picture and said she will remove it.  She asked if we would consider letting her keep it on the site if she gave us credit.  Then she said that there wasn't a logo on it so she didn't know it was ours (and didn't know where she got it) and finally (this is the best part) she said that she is no threat to our business and that we "didn't have to be so mean."



Here's the problem:  People have no concept of what a copyright is or why it exists.  Or, they understand a little about copyright law but think that it's mostly for books.

It's not just for books.  It's for photographs too, plus a whole bunch of other stuff.

So, let me get this off my chest because it drives me crazy.  It's hard to know where to start so I apologize if I start to ramble a little bit.

Every time the shutter clicks, I have created a new piece of original artwork.  I own it.  It's mine.  You can not use it or reproduce it in print form or digitally online without my permission. It's illegal to copy a book and sell it (or put it online)... or a song... or a picture.  (There are exceptions, see Wikipedia's article on fair use)

It doesn't matter if it has a logo on it (that was established in 1989).  All that matters is that you didn't make it.

It's frustrating because people take for granted the work that professional photographers do.  When you look at that picture you see a heart in the sand.  What you don't see is:

The money we paid for the rose petals
The money we paid for the babysitter so we could go to the beach
The money we paid for the equipment used to take the picture (about $5000, in case you are curious)
The four hours it took to drive to the beach, set up the heart, take the picture and drive back.
The gas
The money that has been spent in years of training to be able to take a decent picture.
The time spent downloading the file and retouching the file to make it presentable for the website.
The cost of the computer and software used to do the retouching.
The time and money spent learning how to retouch a washed out beach photograph so that it looks decent
... you get the idea..

It's especially frustrating because there are places you can go ( and buy images for your website.  Cheap images.  Incredible, cheap images.  A click away.  And, you get the warm satisfaction of knowing that the photographer who produced that image is being paid for his time and expertise.

Or, better yet, take the picture yourself.  That's what we did. 

As I mentioned earlier, there are exceptions.  It's called 'Fair Use" and it enables use of copyrighted work without permission in certain instances.  For example, if a newspaper or book wants to print Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, they have to pay for it (true!).  But a teacher can copy it for class or read it out loud without permission. 

One of the things that determines "Fair Use" is whether the use impacts the business of the copyright holder.  This is where things can get subjective.  So, to be clear, let me explain why it hurts Bobbi's business to use her images without her permission.

Perfect Florida Beach Wedding is built around the photography.  Every picture that you see on the website was produced by us.  What you see is what you get.  Now imagine you are a bride looking for a beach wedding company and you visit Bobbi's website.  Then, as you continue to surf for ideas, you start seeing the same pictures that are on Bobbi's website all over the Internet.  Suddenly, you have to wonder where those pictures came from.  Maybe Perfect Florida Beach Wedding's pictures aren't their actual pictures.  Maybe they just copied them from someone else's website.  Now, the integrity of the business is in question.  This is why I stamp my website on every picture I put online.  If someone sees one of my pictures somewhere else I want it clear that it came from me, not the other way around.

But all that is really just secondary to the true point:  If you didn't create it, don't use it

I would love to be able to say that photographers, who have to fight to protect their work constantly, are always respectful of other people's copyrights but it would be a lie.  Photographers steal all the time and it drives me nuts.  Have you ever visited a photographer's website and there was music playing that you recognize?  Do you think that the photographer asked the artist for permission to use their song? 


Do you think they would sue if the artist decided to use one of the photographer's pictures on their album cover without paying for it? 

Mmmm... yes.  (I'll take, "The most hypocritical thing that photographers do" for $500, Alex)

You can't use an artist's work without permission.  Using a song by Train on your website is no different than if Pepsi decided to use it in a commercial. 

Remember The Talking Heads?  I read an interview with David Byrne a while back and he said that his principal source of income is licensing old Talking Heads songs for TV and movies. If you are watching a TV show and "Burning Down the House" is playing in the background, David is getting a check.

(There are websites where you can buy music too.  I paid $60 for the right to use the song that plays on my wedding pages. I sleep like a baby.)

So, now that I have ranted about protecting my work, let me say one more thing.

I let people use my pictures on their websites all the time.

I make it a point to seek out every vendor who works an event with me and tell them to let me know if they need any of my pictures for their website.  I have been offered payment, I turn it down.  All I ask is for a photo credit and a link. I love it when people want to use my pictures on their websites and my Google ranking loves it too.  But that doesn't mean that I don't deserve to be asked first.

I guess the thing that bothered me the most about the whole thing was that she said we were "mean."  I guess it's hard for people who don't create things to understand the body blow a person feels when someone takes your work and uses it without so much as a "how do you do."  When that happens, you can't just respectfully ask them to give it back.  You have to say, "Stop or I will get an attorney."  Not only does it get their attention, but it also makes it clear that what they are doing goes beyond discourteous.  It's illegal. 

The people who really get hit hard are the ones who get reported to Google.  Google has a very simple process for reporting a website that is using copyrighted material without permission. (  If they decide that you are stealing, they remove you from Google search.  They might as well drop an a-bomb on your web traffic.  As far as Google is concerned, you don't exist.

Don't steal.