Image abuse via Tumblr, Instagram, etc.

A question came my way recently via email and again during a class in SIngapore. Any question that recurs that often is almost guaranteed to be worth a blog entry. After answering the question a couple times, in person and by e-mail, I knew I had a moderately intelligent answer that became this blog entry.

The questioner who asked via e-mail wrote:

I noticed that you use Tumblr to post images. Do you have any concerns about the copyright / terms of use policy of Tumblr? I read so much lately about apps using images that weren’t licensed from the artist. I want to post images to Twitter but also want to be careful.

Of course I have concerns…… With the explosion of images on the Internet every serious photographer should have concerns. BUT…. The real question is who can misuse your images once they “get them” and what is their tangible “gain” if any when they misuse them?

The recent Instagram controversy was about how Instagram explicitly changed their Terms Of Service so they could use images by Instagram’s users in ads to make them money. That is of course wrong, but more importantly, someone is actually making money off of specific images. That is one of many reasons I stay away from Instagram.

Not that the Terms of Service of Twitter, FB or Tumbler are much better, but, they are not set up so those companies can explicitly make money off my images. Those sites use our images to get people to visit their sites so they can sell advertising on the sites. I would like to make money for that kind of use of my images, but I am not holding my breath. That is the model that newspapers and magazines are built on! The editorial content drew readers to the publications so the advertisers could get their messages in front of those readers.

Also, on any given web-site, linking any specific, tangible economic benefit to any one photo among the millions of photos is all but impossible. The Instagram model by comparison, was all about individual images making real money (for Instagram, not the photographer.)

Some caveats here.

If you photograph Justin Bieber, for example, and that image gets pirated, then you might actually be losing sales of that image. Maybe. I shoot so little of that type of high demand imagery that those kind of lost sales are not an issue for me.

Also, this whole discussion is pointless when it comes to seriously defending copyright, unless the work in question is registered with Library of Congress, as are ALL of my images. I register them so I have a powerful “hammer” that I can use against infringers. Without registration 98% of the photographers out there have no serious hammer to hit an infringer with.

Finally, NOTHING will stop folks from pirating images for their particular uses. These vary from a kid using an image for a book report to somebody posting my images their site and then claiming them as their own.

My Tumblr images are relatively small in size and posted intentionally as low-rez images, so they look fine on the screen but have limited use elsewhere. Also, those Tumblr images are actually frame grabs from the many videos that I have been making, so am getting three benefits from each time I have a “shoot.”

I make the Tumblr image (which is new content to help me remain visible.)

I make the stock video.

I am learning more and more about shooting video.

Watermarking is often mentioned, but deleting water marks is not that big a challenge for the abuser with reasonable photo shop skills. The latest version of Photo Shop, with “content aware fill” is virtually made to remove water marks.

Technology is in development that is supposed to allow photographers to embed copyright, author’s name and other information deeper into the image’s data so it can not be stripped away in an instant. I will certainly consider that kind of technology if and when it is standardized throughout the industry and reasonably priced.

Until then, I will continue the balancing act I have described above. I will also keep registering my images with the Library of Congress. The benefit of that is clear as day. Though image theft by students can be annoying, that is not what I am paying attention to. I look forward to the day when an image of mine, one that has been properly registered with Library of Congress, is infringed by big fish, a user with what the lawyers call “deep pockets.”

As always the question is cost (risk) vs benefit (reward.) To me, risking possibly losing some images to a high school kid is not something to spend time on. I have bigger fish to fry.

One response to “Image abuse via Tumblr, Instagram, etc.”

  1. Watch out for Pinterest. Some of my artwork showed up there and I couldn’t get rid of it. Basically an electronic hoarding website, it is quickly becoming a new market tool for artists of all kinds. Hope all is well with you David…….Sandy

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