How many of my photos were stolen?

For the moment, this is a rhetorical question. I’ve been re-thinking the way I publish my photos online in view of the recent and very prominent theft of Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir‘s photos from Flickr. Call me naive, but I really believed, and still would like to believe, that people will wish to stay legal and pay for the right to use my photos, especially for commercial purposes. That’s why I’ve been publishing my photos at full resolution. I wanted folks who weren’t able to pay (developing countries, for instance), or only wanted a nice desktop background, to be able to download a photo of mine and enjoy it without financial obstacles.

But I talked with my brother this morning, and he told me some things that made me think twice about my approach. He’s a professor at a university in Transylvania (Romania), and he does a lot of field research in ethnology and religion. He takes a lot of photos, and shoots a lot of video. When people ask him for copies of his work, he’s very nice about it and does so, hoping they’ll respect his academic work and cite him or ask for his permission when they use it. But he’s been finding out that they don’t. They’ll reuse his photos and his videos, and he won’t hear about it until he sees his work somewhere else. Just recently, someone entered one of his videos in a contest as their own creation, and he found out about it only after that person won. It was very disheartening. He’s now thinking of watermarking both his videos and photos, and of only publishing lower resolution copies on the Internet. He’s tired of constant theft and no attribution.

So I had to ask myself: how many of my photos have already been stolen? I haven’t yet heard of or seen a particular instance, but I also haven’t really looked around to see. It’s probably just a matter of time before I start finding my work in someone else’s portfolio, website or printed materials. When you combine high-resolution photos with people that have no respect whatsoever for someone else’s hard work, you’re asking for trouble. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, good people, those that respect other people’s property, are few and far between, and it’s best not to tempt the thieves or uneducated ones by making good photos easily available.

I’ve taken some steps already. I used to upload to Flickr at full resolution. Not anymore. Since they offered Rebekkah no help whatsoever, and even deleted the photo where she complained of image theft, along with the thousands of comments that she received there, I’ve lost respect for them. If that’s how they’re going to treat one of their best users, then I sincerely hope they get what’s coming to them, and I hope it’s a wallop.

I may also start to watermark my images. As much as I hate this (it uglifies an image, imo), I’ll do it, just to make it harder to pass my photos around without crediting them properly. I may also start to copyright my photography with the Library of Congress, and pursue damages to the full letter of the law (up to $150,000 per incident).

Finally, I may also stop uploading at full res to Zooomr. I keep waiting for them to push out the Mark III upgrade, and it seems that every time Kris is ready to do it, something happens to stop it. This week was the third time the promised upgrade didn’t materialize, and I’m pretty disappointed. Mark III is supposed to have this really nice image theft prevention built in, so I could continue to upload a full res, but restrict the sizes available to casual visitors or even my contacts at certain resolutions, and only make the full res size available to buyers. But if Mark III doesn’t show up any time soon — and since Zooomr has no photo replace feature like Flickr — I may just delete all of my photos, or make them all private. I do not want to see my hard work go to waste.

It’s a real shame that we can’t function equitably as a society, at the local, state, national or global level. If only everyone would respect other people’s property (physical or intellectual), things would work a lot better. One would think the concept of property has been around long enough for most people and cultures to grasp it…


9 thoughts on “How many of my photos were stolen?

  1. It looks like Zooomr’s Mark III launches today, so I may not have to take such drastic measures after all. But thanks for the show of support! 🙂

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  2. I can see your point here. It’s sad, but you’ve gotta protect your work.
    I, too, was very disappointed about the Zooomr thing. I thought, for sure, you’d be one of the people they’d let in to play around with things. I haven’t been very active, of late. So, I knew I’d be out.

    Anyway, I enjoy your work, so if you decide to take everything private, please make me a friend. I’d like to continue to enjoy it. Heck, I’ll even stop printing it out and selling it at the flea market. 🙂

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  3. This is an issue I’ve wrestled with for some time. I am a writer as well as a photographer, so I share your concern.

    Another good resource is http://www.authorslawyer.com/. As the URL implies, the man who runs this site is an attorney specializing in intellectual property. He represents a lot of authors.

    What do authors and photographers have in common? They’re content creators. This site has a lot of good links and has a great guide to what to do if you find someone is using your work without permission. I’m not a lawyer (and I don’t play one on TV), but it seems that the process to remove infringing content would be the same. Or course, this applies only to web sites, but if you find someone taking credit for your work, you’ll want to know what to do.

    I must go back to banging my head against the scanner. My hacked-up drivers quit working again. I’d buy a new scanner if I could get a client to pay up! 😉

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