Recently, a friend of mine posted a link on social media to an article that featured her. I was very happy for her featured story, but I saw that the writer and the publication used a photograph that I had taken of my friend during a photo session (my friend was in possession of a couple of the photos from our session for her personal use). I was shocked that neither of them had contacted me regarding permission to use the photo, especially the writer and publication. To make matters worse, not only was it published without any attempt to acquire rights to use the photo, but my photograph was edited without my permission, the edges highly blurred, including the blurring of the copyright symbol and my name.
A similar situation happened a while back when a band member of a musician friend of mine used one of my images without permission. I would not have had a problem with her using the image if she had asked, but in addition to not asking she cropped the photo and changed it from color to black and white. Since artists well understand the copyright protection of created work, it is even more disturbing when they do something like this.
I can’t help but wonder how that writer would feel if someone took her article, changed parts of it, and published it somewhere without permission, credit, or compensation to her? Or how would the musician feel if someone changed the lyrics of her song, recorded it on an album with no acknowledgement to her and without paying her for her work? If they would feel violated in those situations which, of course, they rightfully would, it’s very difficult for me to understand how they do not see that what they are doing is wrong.
Is publishing someone else’s creative work online, without their permission, any different than walking into a gallery, taking a painting off the wall, and walking out without paying for it? I would like to believe that the people who use images online without permission are probably not the type who would walk into a brick-and-mortar establishment and take something without payment or permission, though it is no different, in reality. Do they take the risk online because it is unlikely the creator would press charges against them?
I sometimes wonder if the inundating, nonstop stream of photography on social media makes people feel that photography has little or no value. Or maybe social media provides a feeling of anonymity that makes people feel like they can behave in ways that are inappropriate, like the road rage that occurs because some people feel more anonymous in their vehicles so they say and do things they would never do in a face-to-face situation. Neither the proliferation of media nor the perception of anonymity would justify copyright infringement but I’ve begun to wonder how social media might be affecting ethics.
Does the practice of “sharing” on social media blur the lines of right and wrong? Sharing is very different than what I am referring to in these cases. I have nothing against sharing and I appreciate it because like any artist, creator, business, I put my work out into the world to give birth to it, to share it with others and I am honored when someone connects with my work at a level that makes them want to share it with the people they know. The difference is that if someone shares a blog post, a tweet, a Facebook post, etc., they do not alter the original work of the artist/creator and the share links back and gives proper credit to the originator.
This is more than an issue of copyright infringement. It is also an issue of integrity, respect for others, and common sense. Does common sense not say that if an item of any kind, (photograph, poem, lawnmower, vehicle…anything) does not belong to you, then you need permission from the owner to use it or you need to buy it? It is very simple…if it is not yours, you may not use it without permission and, when required, compensation and proper credit.
Thank you for reading this ‘public service announcement’. ;-)