Every now and again, something happens which reminds you that the internet isn’t the respectful, creative, collaborative place that we rather naively hope it is, but is actually infested with people who seek to exploit, destroy and undermine the work of others.
It’s not that surprising, unfortunately, but it is a bit disappointing.
Take my 2006 camphone photo taken on the tube, of a girl reading a book:
Or rather, don’t take it. Admire it. Link to it. Comment on it. Favourite it. Tell me you like it, you value my work, you think it’s funny/clever/well-composed if you like, but don’t take it and pass it off as your own work.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this (hasty and rather crap resolution due to being taken with a camphone) shot being included in emailed & blogged collections of “great trick photography photos” and the like. Here are just a few of the places it’s been spotted over the years. Without exception in these circumstances, the image is used without permission, with no credit or link to me (therefore falling foul of Flickr’s terms of service as well as my wishes as the creator of the work). Sometimes it even appears with someone else’s watermarked copyright notice on it, which I think is cheeky, to be honest.
This evening, it happened again. It was brought to my attention by a friend that a “photographer” – Rob Jarvis was passing off the Geisha image as his own on his site (which seems to be hosted on Facebook.
Here’s the email I sent him via Flickr:
Hi Rob Jarvis
I got your link from a friend, who recommended I check out your photos of people, via robjarvis.co.uk.
I’m very impressed with the quality and diversity of the images in that gallery. Such excellent pictures.
However, it’s a shame that they’re not your work – in fact, one of them is mine, which you appear to be claiming as your own, and accepting kudos and compliments on.
This one: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=796237&id=26284825698#/photo.php?pid=796224&id=26284825698&fbid=27063715698 [note: since removed, mysteriously] on your site, is actually my photo, taken in 2006 and originally posted here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/meg/216773377/
And this one: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=796237&id=26284825698 [note: also vanished] is originally by Ed Scoble and findable on Flickr here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edscoble/454167410/
How many other images in that gallery – and your entire site – are actually stolen from others? Taking others images and passing them off as your own work by putting them on your site with no disclaimer or credit, and stamped with your own copyright notice, is extremely irritating and demonstrates a total lack of respect for other photographers’ work.
I want you to remove the image from your site immediately and replace it with a public apology, explaining that the image was taken without permission from another photographer, and providing details of where people can see the original. That’s the very least you can do, considering the circumstances. I expect others you have infringed will ask you to do the same.
Whether he got this message or otherwise had a coincidental and sudden change of heart I don’t know, but the two images I mentioned above have been taken down from his site now. Many others remain.
UPDATE: see end of post
Now, I’m not seeking to make money from this image, and nor am I particularly ferocious about traditional copyright. In fact, I’m a big believer in the power of creative commons licenses which offer a variety of ways for individuals to assert specific rights, while making content available to be used, remixed, shared and so on, in accordance with their specific wishes.
But this Geisha experience over the last three and a half years, (and it’s not the first time someone’s ripped off my work as their own) makes me want to pull all my content off the internet entirely and never share or publish again. It’s certainly enough to make me restrict who can see larger sizes or download my photos on Flickr.
Ironically, the fact that some people are unable to respect other people’s creative work makes me become more closed and black and white and less likely to share things using creative commons licenses. After all, if people can’t be trusted to understand “simple” copyright, what hope have we got of getting them to understand a more complex (albeit more flexible and open) license?
It’s a shame that this is the result.
I wish we could encourage people to praise, link to and credit each others work when they share it.
I wish it was as cool to be a curator as a creator of things.
I’d like people to think it was enough to introduce others to things they like or have found (I find Tumblr is particularly good for this), and not have to pretend it was their own work. Perhaps then we’d see a bit more respect for origin, and more people would be inspired to create and share.
UPDATE 11 January 2010
Rob replied to my Flickr message this morning, saying simply “never claimed to be mine, its now removed.”
When I tried to reply to thank him for removing it, I discovered that he has blocked me so I can’t send him messages.
Rob, if you’re reading this: Thanks for removing it from your collection, though with respect, you had your copyright notice on it, and were publishing it on your site, and accepting comments and plaudits on it. That looks a lot like you were taking credit for it. Nevertheless, thanks for removing it.
Rob has apologised in the comments below. The specific issue is resolved (thank you), so let’s not dwell on Rob or his particular actions any longer. Apology accepted. Let’s move on.
However, the general point about providing appropriate credit for curated work and being sensitive to other people’s usage wishes, remains. This is perhaps amplified by Piers’ rather surprising comment (also below). He states:
If you don’t want your work copied, you shouldn’t put it online. It’s that simple and it’s up to you not everyone else.
If that is indeed the case (and I don’t believe it is), then how utterly miserable and misanthropic the world must seem.