Picture: © Gary Eason
A larger than usual number of people have been getting e-mails from me this month containing invoices.
They now know more about copyright, if they claim not to have done so before, and my income has gone up somewhat.
What am I complaining about: after all, don't I want people to use my pictures?
Yes but that is how I pay the mortgage and feed my children (and the cat). So this does mean people need to pay for a licence if they are going to reproduce them. Otherwise it is a breach of copyright law. This not only lays them open to a claim for damages, even if they acted without any malice, but can actually be a criminal offence (something I had not realised myself until I was reading up on this).
If you just copy something without licensing it I suffer a direct loss of income. That's obvious. But also, a picture without any attribution is at risk of becoming 'orphaned' to use the technical term. People say they "just found it on the internet". Then the next person who reads their website will do the same, and so on and so on.
My picture, which is the result of my hard work, is then being used to attract internet traffic to someone else's site from which they potentially or actually gain revenue and reputation. The corollary is that if it is not connected to me, I am deprived of those.
It seems to me it is also unfair to genuine customers who do pay for a licence.
Reverse image search
For those for whom an appeal to 'play nice' is a joke, there is something else to bear in mind. You are increasingly likely to get caught.
The internet search technology that has made it easy for people to find and 'lift' images they like can now be used in reverse to search on an image and find the various instances of it, independent of the text around it and even if (as is likely) the metadata has been stripped out.
Incidentally I can tell you that photographers all over are now realising this and using it, so copyright infringers can expect more knocks on the door.
Oh come on officer - look, all those other people are speeding too. Why are you picking on me? - Well I guess it's just your unlucky day, sir.
The 'copy and paste' screenshots and 'view source' facility that have made it easy to steal pictures make it just as easy to take a precise record of abuse.
Not so hidden
The wonderful Internet Wayback Machine (did you know the web has an archive? Give them a donation) means copyright holders can dip into history and log when something was first used, how prominently and for how long - even if the infringing material is no longer there.
And goodness me doesn't that intraweb thing just get everywhere these days? The internal US university undergrad newsletter from six months ago which has my picture on page 13? Thanks for posting the PDF on your departmental server for search engines to index - oh and thank you very much for licensing it! (even if I did have to invoice you first).
The conference presentation slideshow you loaned to someone else which they put on their firm's website. Lovely picture on page seven - or that's what I thought when I made it. Click here to license it.
The blog editor who 'just found a nice picture' and decided to use it even though it wasn't actually relevant. Yes, international bank transfers are fine, thank you, here are the IBAC details.
To sum up, please follow the simple rule: if it is not your picture, do not use it - unless you get the proper permission first.
Believe me, photographers and digital artists would much rather be making pictures than chasing down copyright infringements: but market forces do have a tendency to take us where the money is to be made.
- - -
For the avoidance of doubt: this article is © Gary Eason 2014 even if it doesn't say so.