I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while but each time I sit down to start writing, I get overwhelmed with frustration and I end up walking away from the computer. The topic of this blog post is one that I’ve been dealing with for a few months now and I’ve been seeing my photographer friends tackling as well. The issue of having your art “borrowed”. Calling it “borrowing” is probably too nice a term, in short, this blog is about stealing another’s work, editing it and then posting it without credit.
Back in November of last year I came across an article that talked about google’s new search feature that allowed people to upload a photo (or paste an image url) into the search box and see if that photo existed anywhere else on the internet. Curious, I put in a few of my photos and within a few minutes I found myself knee-deep in my own images. Now, I’m not complaining about my images being shared with credit on websites like Tumblr or Pinterest, for the most part those sites have increased traffic to my own work and quite often contain links to my original posts, I appreciate it when someone likes my work enough to share it with my information attached. What I saw though through these google searches were my images posted to various websites, with text plastered overtop, the colours or tones altered and in some cases a watermark of someone else’s name covering up MY photo.
I’ve talked about this to many people in different situations, with photographers and non-photographers, with friends with legal backgrounds and with people who own their own photography businesses. The reaction I got was mainly the same, that I should feel frustrated, outraged, upset and a bit vandalised. When I looked at the images that I had put my own heart and mind and energy into creating, that had personal meaning to me now changed or altered or made into jokes, it hurt. I felt like someone had broken into my house, found the things that mattered the most to me and then broke them or splashed paint all over them.
Now I realized that I do have a part in this. In posting my images online, I’m opening myself up to having images accessible for people to do whatever they like. Unfortunately we live in a society now where there is a mentality of “I see it, I like it, it’s mine now”. There is a growing feeling that if something exists online, it doesn’t have an owner, that it’s open to take and treat as you like. Yes I post my photos online on Flickr and Facebook but does that mean that I’m opening the door to edit my images? Would these people who took my photos, opened up Photoshop and stuck their logos or words or presets over my images do the same thing in an art gallery? Would they walk up to a painting and take out some crayons and add a quote from a movie or draw their own watermark in the corner? I would hope not, but does the fact that my work exists primarily online make it any less important?
One image in particular has been taken over by “the internet”.
This photo, taken in 2011, has been used so many times that I now don’t even feel a connection to it. I don’t see it as my own work, even though I’m IN the photo. In a way, I wish I had never taken it and at times I resent it because it makes me feel totally devalued as a photographer. It’s a tough position to feel especially as it’s one of the biggest sellers in my print shop, I SHOULD feel proud and happy that people enjoy my image but in this case, I don’t. In the past month alone I’ve received 19 messages from friends and contacts informing me that it was posted on various websites or Facebook pages. After checking through them all, only 2 had linked to my original photo (which didn’t have the bad grammar on it) and in total the image had been shared over 15,000 times on Facebook alone. A big thanks goes to diligent friends and family who informed the people posting and commenting that the image is mine and linked to my original. I started reading through the comments people were making and while most said “cool” or “that’s just like me” some of them were rude, they made fun of my appearance and clothing, criticized my work or assumed that I was isolated and lonely, addicted to computer games and had no life. I had to close everything down walk away, it was then that I decided to actually commit to writing this post, if only to get out my feelings on this subject.
I work hard at my photography. I try to constantly improve both my artistic abilities and my business opportunities and I feel that in moving them both forward, it opens up this new chapter of dealing with “stolen work”. As a sensitive person, it affects the way that I view my work and it makes me uneasy about sharing it as much as I do. There have been many times in the last few months that I’ve been tempted to just “leave” the internet, let my images float endlessly in the world-wide web and focus on being a physical photographer and not a digital/social media based one. BUT, that’s not who I am. It’s not how I’ve grown, I’ve grown because I share my work with the world and because I know that people enjoy it and find inspiration or humour or a kindred spirit. As much as it hurts to see my work and the work of my friends being used without permission, I feel like the powerful feelings of support, appreciation, and love for art override those negatives that come from the few that decide to “borrow” from others.
My friend and fellow photographer Sarah Ann Loreth has been sharing her stolen images that she has come across on her Facebook page and I’ve been collecting the ones I’ve found, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them but I thought I’d post some here, not to point fingers at people but to illustrate a point, that stealing whether it’s an online photo or not, isn’t cool. Here are just 50 of some of the images I have come across.
There are photographers behind photos that are trying to find their footing, trying to build a name and carve a space in this medium and it’s a disheartening feeling to see your photos totally altered and posted without any notice to who the artist is. The internet has made it easy to steal, but it’s just as easy to give credit. If you use Tumblr or Pinterest or even Facebook, add a link to the original. If you don’t KNOW who the artist is, use the google feature and I’m sure that you’ll find out in a matter of minutes. There is a fine line between appreciating someone’s work and stealing it for your own gain/popularity/or use, don’t cross that line because it’s not a good feeling to be on the other end.