I got this in email:

____

I see you posted one of my photos, without consent or attribution, on [link to one of my reblogs].

I am a member of the Professional Photographers of America and Image Rights International and this was stolen from my blog at [the contactor’s site].

I am really surprised that you, as a writer and knowing copyright laws, would use a “lifted” photo.

Please remove.
[Name Withheld]
[Research Institution]
[Work Website]


____

I saw that as an invitation to write this little essay that I urge all creatives to read:

____

Dear [xyz] -

I’m really surprised that you contacted me about this. I didn’t post anything - that’s most of what you’ll see on social networks like Tumblr. Usually what people reblog is reblogged from others who, themselves, reblogged it from original sources, sometimes three or more deep with responses and comments about the original work.

Sometimes the work a person originally posts is not attributed, despite being their own, and sometimes it is, whether it belongs to the original poster or not (say, as on a fan blog, or most social networks).

One of the delights of social networking for creatives is how it drives traffic to your website and where they can buy your work and learn about what else you do. That’s a massive honor for someone to love your work so much that they want to promote you to their friends! That’s what’s called, “word-of-mouth advertising,” the most powerful kind.

The first time my work was pirated, I was upset for a few hours or days. Until I realized how much unexpected benefit I derived from someone sharing without my explicit assent. Had I remained upset and expressed that upset with the world, I would have lost fans. No one in today’s creative climate can afford to come across as “anti-fan.” It’s not a way to keep existing fans and especially not a way to gain new ones, not to mention that it’s just good business sense to not get upset and instead use the interest to your advantage.

So, no, I don’t disapprove as a creative myself when my work is shared online without my explicit approval, because it’s earning me new fans.

I should also say that I’m not the one who originally blogged that. I assumed it was put out into the world by its creator or with the assent of its creator. Absolutely I always try to cite sources when I post things, and include source information in an image where that's available! I assumed this image was put out into the world by its creator, or with the assent of its creator.

No one who uses the Internet is going to research everything that passes through their social networks. That would stop all human interaction and replace it with research! As interesting as that might sound to you and me, it’s also unrealistic to expect of the vast majority of those who use the Internet just for fun. Oh, and I should add that I often add sources when I see a post that's missing attribution and looks like it might not belong to the poster.

If I haven’t convinced you and you still would like to take down your work wherever it’s appeared on the web, there are standard procedures for doing so by contacting the site that hosts them (in this case, Tumblr). I can’t take it down, because I didn’t post it and don’t host the website, like almost everyone else who reblogged it. You’ll waste an immense amount of time by trying to contact everyone in the reblog chain (currently 74,000 or so on that one thread on Tumblr alone!), and needlessly antagonize a lot of potential fans. I’m not antagonized, because I’ll be using this as a teaching moment for my students and my online followers (no worries, I’ll remove the specifics about you or the work, and no one will figure out it was you, because a lot of social networking posts get that many notes, or higher).

A more positive way to reach out to your fans (and those who reblogged that image are fans of your work!) is to jump in to the discussion with a “Thank you!” and a link to your site or where they can buy your work. Win-win all around!

I hope this helps. Thanks for reaching out! I hope you [and you readers - especially creatives - of this on my blog] find this exchange useful!

Best,
Chris

PS: They then wrote back with a note indicating they don’t understand how most social networks function, so I added:

If you haven’t used Tumblr before, the way you see who originally posted something is by looking at the Notes or finding the link to the original poster in the reblogged item. Everyone else was just sharing what they think is a cool item, or responding to it.

--

Follow-up from the person who contacted me about this image she found only on my Tumblr in a Web search:

"First of all, a scholar asked to used my image for her dissertation, and of course, I said yes. I share. Then out of curiosity, I did a reverse Google search and found my image on your blog. I sent out a quick note to have it removed. Apparently, though, you didn't post it. Someone else did. Note that I don't 'go after' everyone who steals my images but I did sign up for Image Rights International after my photo - registered with the U.S. Copyright office - went viral. I've seen it on coffee cups, posters, t-shirts, mouse pads, CD albums, cell phone covers and in companies' advertising campaigns. It's also being sold on PhotoBucket, Flickr and other sites. Not by me. This is the cover of my next book and I plan to donate any proceeds from my favorite charity."

My follow-up response:

I see! Then definitely you want to go after those businesses that are profiting from the image, and there are legal tools for that. Contacting every individual reblogger who liked it but who aren't profiting from it would take you a million years and gain you nothing but negativity all around.

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