Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Dark and Seamy Side of Sharing

Here's a cautionary tale for authors, creators and sharers. This grain elevator photo is one of my all-time favourites. Standing tall and proud at Forgan, SK in 1986, these two elevators are now gone. I visited the area, southwest of Saskatoon, specifically to photograph wooden grain elevators. I shared the photo two years ago on my Canadian railway blog, Trackside Treasure

Imagine my surprise this past week when I came face-to-face with this picture, again. It was in a Facebook group posting advertising a 2016 calendar (below). There was my picture! It was the cover photo! That's cool! No, it's not. I've removed identifying marks from the calendar, and I am purposely refraining from identifying the product or those responsible for its production, marketing and profits. I had stumbled upon the dark and seamy side of sharing.
I was surprised - no, shocked. Not only had I not received a courtesy request to use the photo by the calendar's production team, but there was no photo credit to me. Worse yet, I discovered the photo was credited to the person who supplied the photo to the production team - someone I have never even heard of! 

Now let me be very, very clear here. I want to make it crystal clear why I'm blogging about this:
  • I am fully aware that once something is shared online, a quick PrintScreen, or Right-Click-Save-As enables a viewer to download the photo.
  • by sharing material online, we are enabling the above.
  • I could use watermarks to prevent or at least discourage the use of photos, but I don't.
  • I am not perfect (candid admission, eh?) and I've downloaded photos from online sources, though I'm not seeking a profit from them nor claiming them as my own.
  • I'm not suggesting you don't write, create and share, online or in print. Do so. But be prepared for unforeseen events by some other less-than-scrupulous creators. They're out there.
  • Though this practice clearly represents copyright infringement, I don't think lawyers would ever touch it. It's small potatoes to them, but it looms large when it's your original material
  • I'm not whining, just sharing...

The posting also showed the back cover of the calendar. Another surprise on this dark and seamy side. Another of my photos had been used - Lewvan, SK taken the previous year (circled above and original photo, below). Taken on a dark, overcast and cold day, the production team had not even tried to edit or brighten up the photo! This is apparently credited to me, though again without any request to me to use the photo.
So, what to do? I immediately commented on the promotional posting...asking about the source of the photos used? Crickets. Silence. I then sent a FB message to the poster, and we had a short online discussion:
Two of the photos are mine, including the cover. Did you give me photo credit?
Actually i put --- who I got it from
Lewvan. I also took that one.
That one I do have your name on.
Did you ask my permission to use the Lewvan photo?
I think I did
I don't have it in my email, I checked.
Weird thought i did! Sorry about that
Publishing a product for profit using material that's not your own, nor properly credited, means you are making money from someone else's work. Copyright infringement.
Sincere apologies for that screwup.
I had a similar experience during the creation of my Cross-Canada Compendium. I had bought some photo prints, three of which I scanned and included in my book because they represented some seldom-photographed VIA operations. In both cases, I captioned the photos as Author's Collection and then included the name of the photographer. Remember, these were purchased, not downloaded from online. One of the two photographers later contacted me, and we agreed that I would send him a free copy of my second book. Which I promptly did. This is fairly standard practice, and my actual book contributors who willingly shared data and/or photos for the book's creation received free copies at the time of publication. And I made sure their photos were properly credited, even if the original photo was from a photographer other than the contributor.

Whether unrepentant or simply unaware that the calendar (and website) are based on the use of unacceptable practices, it was surprising to find the following messages posted to the Facebook group by the production team:

I always credit the photographers be it myself or someone else. It's the way things are done!

I appreciate updates and photos of present and historical grain elevators that may be used in future projects with the poster's permission. I try and find the proper photographer but sometimes mistakes can happen. Especially as it is myself (Jim A Pearson) working on it.
Please note: I am changing one rule,,, if you do not want your photos to be used in outside sources, please do not post them or use a watermark for your identification purposes.
It's really very simple...change your practices. It's what the vast majority of respondents to this incident have said.

The production team has told me that they will send me a free copy of the calendar. I'll post an update if/when that happens! UPDATE - the calendars arrived. One photo caption had a sticky-label applied over the cutline, crediting the photo to me. Oddly, three of the photos have the same caption - January, 1981 and in none of them is there snow...on the Prairies. And there's green grass. The captioning and research match the photo permission and credit procedure - not a tightly-run ship.

I repeat - change your practices. Improve them. Strive to do better, and you might just do your best!

Highball regardless!

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry you had this experience. I've never been plagiarized in printed form (to my knowledge) but my photos have certainly been used online without my permission, often for profitable purposes. In some cases I have been able to contact the vendor and either been compensated or had the photo taken down, but in many cases there's no way to know who to contact and no recourse.

    I've often wondered about books printing photos "from the collection of X". I know in many cases the photographer is not known so the choice is either A) print it and deal with the potential consequences or B) don't print it and have people miss out on a rare photograph.

    Copyright law is complex, and owning a print or slide (purchased or not) does not automatically grant one any rights to publish it in any form. Most of the time, people like having their photos printed. In the few times I've been published in books, I've been thrilled to be asked and I don't ask for any compensation.

    In your case, it should have been quite clear that with no permission asked nor given, it was not right to use your two photographs in a commercial product.

    None of this is going to stop me from sharing online but a little reverse image search now and then is a good idea to see if your photos are being used elsewhere.