So you found the perfect photo for your blog post via Google image search. It perfectly illustrates your trend piece about wearing harem pants to brunch (plenty of room for expansion). The model is even eating a Belgian waffle covered with strawberries and whipped cream—your favorite. But you have no idea where the image came from. There's no link back to a photographer or to a site that hints at the photo's provenance. It probably falls under fair use and it's cool to go ahead and use it on your blog, right?
Before you make that assumption, read this article, written by a professional photographer whose plight makes it clear that copyright regulations are flawed. The story details how rampant copyright infringement online has cut into Alex Wild's business to such an extent that he's happy to close up shop to take a position in academia. He estimates he spends 10 hours per week trying to track down copyright infringers.
Wild photographs insects, and not only has he found his images uncredited on various websites, but businesses like exterminators and pesticide companies have used his images on their product labels and on the sides of their trucks without permission. A small Caribbean island used one of his ant photos on a coin. Pretty unbelievable right?
The thing is, these business might have though it was OK to snag his leaf-cutter ant photo for the same reason a blogger might think it's cool to use the harem/waffle photo. Repeated copying of the image has left no trace of its origin. Who knows, the infringers may have even tried to find the image's owner. Wild describes what happens when work is released into the wilds of the internet, unattributed.
Images with unenforced copyrights lose their ability to generate direct income for several reasons. First is death by search engine burial. I depend on a high search ranking, as most clients arrive to my website using Google. Yet the churning tides of Facebook, 9gag, and imgur make it harder and harder for prospective customers to find my actual website in the search soup of my uncredited images. I am too often competing—and losing—against uncredited copies of my own work. If clients do track me down, they have little incentive to buy. Who wants to pay for an image that is already everywhere?
Copyright legislation sometimes protects large companies that have the funds to pursue litigation. But small business folks like Wild can't afford to sue, so they ask politely to be paid. Sometimes it works.
So it's up to us to watch out for each other. You wouldn't want someone using one of your outfit photos without so much as a credit, let alone paying you, right? Maybe that has happened to you—not cool! That's work you spent time and money to produce, and someone else is using it, gratis. It's not OK in anyone's book. Until copyright law works for photographers and bloggers with their own online businesses, the Golden Rule may be our best policy.
[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]