I’ve been holding back on writing this. I don’t want to sound like a whiner, and I’m not an attorney. But I feel strongly about this issue and I want to say some things about it. That’s what blogs are for, right? So here goes.
My photos aren’t free.
Yesterday I discovered one of my photos on the blog Africa Is a Country (screenshot above). There was a credit at the bottom of the post, with a link back to my blog. But no one asked my permission and I didn’t want the photo there. I got annoyed. Hence my decision to finally write this post. (Africa Is a Country did remove the photo after I requested it.)
First, some background. I consider myself to be a writer/blogger first and a photographer second. When I started my blog in June 2010, I didn’t include photos in my posts. A month or two later I started posting point-and-shoot snaps, and a couple of months after that I introduced DSLR photography. The issue of copyright infringement didn’t occur to me back then, because it didn’t occur to me that anyone else would want to use my photos.
Gradually, photography began to play a larger role on my blog. I ventured into interesting parts of Joburg and took photos of things that caught people’s attention. I started receiving requests from people who wanted to use my content — both photos and text — for free. I was flattered at first and often agreed, even though I felt a little uncomfortable about it.
At some point along the line, I read a blog post about copyright infringement and decided I should protect my work. I created a copyright page for my blog and placed a prominent link to it at the top of my website. The copyright page states that anyone who wants to use my photos must ask me first.
In September 2012, I stumbled onto the Nike Running ZA Facebook page and found one of my photos there, without credit or consent. Some of you might remember the post I wrote about that.
My photo on the Nike Facebook page. Nike eventually compensated me for the photo after my blog post caused a small ruckus.
After that incident, I began discovering my photos all over the place. The culprits include international corporations, grass-roots organizations, government agencies, tour operators, glossy magazines, travel blogs and everything in between. And these are only the instances that I’ve discovered. My photos have been used dozens, probably hundreds, of times without my knowing.
In some cases, I believe the copyright infringement happens because the perpetrator is ignorant and doesn’t know better. In other cases it is blatant, mindful theft.
After years of resistance, I began watermarking my photos about four months ago. I don’t like the way watermarks look, but I hope that little “© 2Summers.net” reminder will deter at least some people from using my photos without asking. Still, I don’t have time to go back and watermark every photo that I’ve ever posted on my blog. (There are thousands.) And a watermark won’t necessarily prevent theft.
But anyway, my photos aren’t free. Here are several reasons why.
1) My photos aren’t free just because they are on Google Images.
One of my photos on Google Images.
Many people use Google Images as a free photo archive. However, this is not the intended purpose of Google Images.
Check the screenshot above: Next to the image is the URL of my website and a link to the page where the image appears, placed there so that users can contact me to ask my permission if they want to use the photo. There is also a line at the bottom that says: “Images may be subject to copyright.” (Although that statement is small and hard to see. I wish Google would make it larger and more strongly worded.)
2) My photos aren’t free just because they appear on a blog, or because they are “on the internet”.
Believe it or not I have heard this justification more than once. Some people think that any photo appearing on the internet is free. This is ridiculous.
Yes, I am a blogger and yes, I post images on my blog. I publish my blog free of charge — no one pays me for it. But just because I am blogging “for free” does not mean that the photos on my blog are free for you to use.
My photos aren’t free.
3) My photos aren’t free just because you’ve credited me.
This is a common misconception, especially among bloggers. Many bloggers seem to believe that they can use other bloggers’ photos without asking, as long as they provide a credit and link back to the other person’s blog. Wrong.
I don’t give my photos away to other blogs without carefully considering the pros and cons of doing so. That’s why my copyright page says: “Please do not use anything from this blog — text, photos, or anything else — without asking me first.” Simple.
4) My photos aren’t free just because other photographers provide photos for free.
There are many amateur photographers who consider photography to be a hobby, not a livelihood, and are happy to let others use their photos for free. I have no problem with that. But don’t expect me to do the same. My photos aren’t free.
5) My photos aren’t free just because your website/magazine/book will provide me with great “exposure”.
Exposure doesn’t pay the bills.
6) My photos aren’t free just because your intern/designer/editor downloaded them and you had no idea where they came from.
You need to do a better job managing your staff. Not good enough.
7) My photos aren’t free just because you don’t have the budget to pay for them.
Cry me a river.
…I could go on but you get the idea.
My photos aren’t free. However, reading and sharing this blog post is. Please do so, and please remember it the next time you right-click on a photo from “the internet”.