More thoughts on Copyright

Is the Internet a Copyright-Free Zone?

I am not a big FB fan but do use it to stay in touch with friends across the country. Yesterday a photography friend posted a Tutons.com meme titled Things you should never say to a Photographer. It was a list of 22 items; within minutes, dozens of other photographers added their personal interactions and reactions in the same vein. While I laughed at it all, two resonated with me because they involved my favorite subject, copyright. They were: 1) Can you take your watermark off the photos you posted on Facebook, and, 2) I don’t have to give a Photo Credit to the Photographer.

While these appear on the surface to be ill informed but harmless statements, they hide the real and awful truth. Many consumers think that a watermark or copyright notice means nothing except the necessity to do a little work in Photoshop. Photographers disagree. I read a wonderful article titled Is Etsy the New Silk Road for Copyright Infringement? In it, photographer Daniel Foster recounts his recent Don Quixote style battle with Etsy after he discovered that his photographs were for sale on the craft website as “an ugly mouse pad” with his photograph printed on it in an unflattering way. With only a little investigative work, Daniel says he determined that the seller, identified as “Liilproducts,” better known as Kharma Lu, seems to be selling photographs of hundreds of other photographers with Etsy’s blessing. Etsy Legal refused to assist him unless he produced a “proper formal legal request” (subpoena or court order). So it seems that even major online sites think that photographers’ copyrighted material doesn’t really belong to them. [Editor: At the time we published this article, the Etsy webpage in question was not available.]

In another article Bugging out: How rampant online piracy squashed one insect, photographer Alex Wild wrote on ArsTechnica  about the amount of time and money that copyright infringement, and the subsequent battles, has cost him in his career. He bemoans the fact that “For practical purposes, the Internet has become a copyright-free zone” while at the same time admitting that his first clients found him on Google. His list of the infringements that he has found (and it goes without saying that he doesn’t find them all) runs for almost ¾ of a page and he makes the very real statement that “There is not enough time in the day to track all the infringements and send enough takedown notices.”

He makes the very real point that his most chronically infringed images are often taken from his high-profile clients’ sites and not from the watermarked images he displays. He advocates for greater flexibility for non-commercial sharing with stronger fair use guidelines while offering an articulate argument for the need for a stronger advocacy for artists, who without concrete protections, may choose to stay off the internet rather than spend the majority of their time personally enforcing their copyright.

I wish I had an answer to these issues; I have heard that sports organizations are warning individuals that posting video clips of sporting events is a copyright violation. These organizations have the might necessary to defend their rights, especially those concerned with distribution and derivative works, because they are in the business of making a profit.  The same is true for the giants in the movie and music businesses who recently secured a voluntary agreement with several major US internet providers to at least alert reported copyright infringers of their violations. Let’s hope that some of these more visible copyright “education” efforts work and the effect trickles down to individual creators too.

–Opinion, by Laurie Shoulterkarall, ASPP Midwest Chapter