UPDATE: Lifting Photos for Commercial Use Still All Too Common Online

Copyright and all that.
Copyright and all that.
Photo by Jeff Balke

Update: The folks at 365thingstodoinhouston.com responded to me and agreed to remove the image or attribute it to me. I gave them permission to use it. They apologized and all's well that ends well. It's a Thanksgiving MIRACLE!

Original Post

The relationship between photographers and the Internet is complicated. On one hand, it is a wonderful way to display your images both for publicity/sale and simply to share them with others. On the other hand, sharing them makes them vulnerable to unauthorized use. Last year, Hair Balls covered the saga of local photographer Jay Lee and his fight with a local attorney who used one of his images without his permission. It can get ugly.

Tuesday night, I pulled up Facebook and happened to see a familiar sight. I follow 365thingstodoinhouston.com's Facebook page and they had a wonderful image of Discovery Green (the one above) used in their post about what to do over the long Thanksgiving weekend. It happened to be the primary image in the post on their Web site. Several people even said how much they liked the image in response.

I guess all I can say is "Thank you" since that image happens to be mine. I shot it back in 2008 on a frigid night in December and published it (all rights reserved) on my Flickr stream shortly thereafter. It's still a favorite of mine, and apparently theirs.

On the post in question, they credit another blog called Tourists Less Ordinary, which hasn't been updated in two years, and I was quick to discover that blog had used the image back in 2011, also without my permission. The owner of Tourists Less Ordinary lists her profession in her profile as "attorney." Naturally.

So, in essence, 365thingstodoinhouston.com didn't steal the image so much from me as they borrowed it (no doubt without permission, given the fact that Tourists Less Ordinary is basically defunct) from another Web site...who stole it from me.

I'm not posting this to whine about it so much as I am to note how weird it can get when you decide to share intellectual property with the Web.

For many years, companies and individuals who should know better simply grabbed images by doing a Google image search and published them. I have many photographer friends -- Jay Lee included -- who have randomly found their photos on Web sites all over the Internet, some personal, but many commercial entities and even news organizations.  

This cute little dog is Sasha, the Pomeranian puppy who belongs to a friend of mine. I took this several years ago right after she got him. I've seen this photo used over and over and over again on the Web without my permission, including on a few Web sites that are clearly puppy mills for this breed of dog. A Google search for the image notes almost 700 instances of its use. I even found it used in a Cute Overload meme last year (it has since been removed).

The problem is that it gets used once and, before you know it, the image is being passed around the Web like it was meant to be given away, which devalues the image if you ever wanted to sell it.

In the case of both of these shots, I just don't want people using them without asking first. Frankly, had 365thingstodoinhouston.com (or Tourists Less Ordinary) come to me and asked about using the image, I probably would have given them permission if they provided credit and linked to the original photo on Flickr. At the very least, they should have tried to determine the origin of the image so they didn't end up with a blog post like this calling them out. That's the beauty of Google Image Search.

This won't stop me from posting my images online, though I don't really post anything that I would consider part of my image portfolio on sites like Facebook, where the image use rules are confusing at best. Photo sharing sites like Instagram and Flickr still give people opportunity to use your work if they want, but they make it more difficult and clearly let people know it isn't okay.

Still, it happens, which is why particularly good images are at risk when they are posted online. Shooter beware, I guess.


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