This blog has been a little quiet recently.
In the past few weeks I have been able to pursue a new career opportunity, in online communications (yes, this “writing stuff on the internet” thing is not only an amusing hobby but also something I will soon also kind of be doing in a professional capacity!) – this took a lot of time and hard work to achieve and so it was something I wanted to devote all my spare time to; as a result I didn’t have the opportunity to write any blog posts in that time. Fortunately, I was successful in getting the new job I wanted!
I followed this very stressful couple of weeks with a week-long holiday with my girlfriend to Tunisia, which was much needed!
Tunisia isn’t a naturist-friendly country but I did make some observations about people’s dress on the beach which I wanted to write about here, but since arriving home in the early hours of this morning a few things have become apparent which I feel I need to address.
Firstly, I discovered my Twitter account had been hacked and used to send a number of spam messages to my Twitter friends. As I had been out of the country and had no access to Twitter, the first I learned of this was when I arrived back in the UK this morning. I am really quite annoyed by the whole thing and have now taken steps to increase the security of my account which will hopefully address the problem – however I would advise any Twitter followers who received a message from me in the past week to delete it without opening or clicking any links, just to be sure.
Secondly, to the main topic of this post (which I hope is unrelated to the Twitter thing).
In constructing this blog, I follow a fairly standard template for posts, one used by a lot of other bloggers. I accompany each post with an image, meant to illustrate some of the things I am talking about in the article itself.
I almost always get these image one of two ways. I either use Google to search for images tagged with appropriate descriptions or, more commonly, I use images being circulated by people on Tumblr (where this blog began and where I still have an account).
The problem with this second method is that Tumblr is a terrible forum for ensuring that the people responsible for creating those images receive appropriate credit. Tumblr users “reblog” (share) text, images and videos from one another and often one image can be shared by several thousand people. Even if the original poster gave the creator credit, it is often the case that by the time someone like me sees the image, it has gone through 1000+ iterations, with the credit removed by a poster at some point in the distant past. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to track back to find who is responsible for the image; and that is if the original poster bothered to credit the creator of the image (which they often do not do).
I made the mistake when I started this blog of assuming that because an image was on Tumblr, it was “public domain” – in other words, if 10,000 people on Tumblr could use it, I would also be able to.
That got me into trouble with a gentlman who had taken a photograph of some members of his naturist club which I used without permission after locating it on Tumblr. There was no sign that the image belonged to the club when I found it, however he obviously recognised his work and contacted me, asking that I provide appropriate credit. I was happy do do so; although I took pains to point out that I hadn’t deliberately “stolen” the image or intentionally denied credit.
Why am I mentioning this now?
Well, I returned from my holiday to discover I had been served with an official-looking legal notice, a notification of a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) violation filed against me by a professional photographer named Al Stern (I won’t link his work here as he seems a touchy fellow, but you can find him on Flickr). Mr Stern had found that I had used one of his photographs, without seeking his permission and offering neither payment nor credit, and had resorted to legal action to force me to remove said image from my blog via complaints direct to WordPress, who host this thing.
To be fair to Mr Stern, he did contact me first, posting a curt two-sentence comment on the article in question to the effect of “that’s my photograph. Take it down or pay me.” But, this message came at a time when I was very busy, as I have said, with other things, so I was slow to act – my fault, I know. That said, I was also put off by what I felt was Mr Stern’s incredible, staggering rudeness – he didn’t even say please. I was a little offended by his tone and as a result I brushed off his communication; my reasoning being that if he couldn’t be bothered to be polite, I wasn’t going to rush to meet his demands.
Mostly his tone irked me because I had made it clear (or as clear as I thought I could be) in the post that I didn’t know where the image originated, and I invited anyone reading the article who did know to contact me. A simple, polite notice from Mr Stern would have answered my question and cleared the matter up – if he’d wanted the photo removed, I would have done. Instead, he chose to bark an order at me and when that was not followed, he went to an intellectual property clearing-house to tell them I’d stolen a copyrighted image and has caused WordPress to issue against me a warning which could lead to this blog being suspended, perhaps permanently.
Because here’s the thing, Al (if I can call you Al?) – I didn’t “steal” your photograph from you.
Your photograph was on all of these sites. And probably many more. I got it from Tumblr but there’s other blogs and a couple of porn sites there too, which probably constitutes a greater misuse of your image than me sticking it on my little naturist blog.
Does that make it right that I used a copyrighted image without the owner’s permission? No, of course not. But my point is that there was no sign that it was a copyrighted image. And I at least, out of all those people who had used the image, was trying to find out where it had come from. And my reward for that? A warning and possible future suspension of this blog.
It is difficult, as a naturist blogger and amateur, to identify and use imagery which is both appropriate to the subject matter being discussed, but also available for fair use. Some bloggers use their own photographs but a) I’m a terrible photographer, b) I don’t have the permission of my friends to post publicly the images of us attending naturist events (and I respect their privacy) and c) I don’t have photos which actually fit the context of the discussion anywhere.
So, in order to make my blog look a little less boring, I have taken images from the internet which I believed were freely available to me. It turns out, of course, that if you use something someone else has stolen, you run the risk of being labelled as the thief yourself, and punished accordingly.
Mr Stern has contacted me again, in his apparently characteristic rudeness, demanding I remove another of his photos. I have done so immediately this time – as a precaution, I have removed the entire article, so as to better protect myself from the wrath of WordPress and the DMCA enforcers they are afraid of.
However I would like Mr Stern to know, again, that I did not take this photo from his Flickr feed (which until it was emailed to me as part of his DMCA violation notice, I had not ever visited). I found it here. Go take it up with them, Al.
I have certainly learned some lessons this week. But I don’t see a way for this to be avoided, should it re-occur. I need, for my blog to stand out, to include images with the posts, and images of naturism are not something I can easily find by subscribing to a stock image provider. However, the main sources for such material are, usually, disrespectful to copyright. So try as I might to find safe images to use, I can by no means guarantee that I havent inadvertedly stepped on some copyright toes every time I use an image.
So all I can really do is to say categorically that if any photographer finds I have used one of their images, and doesn’t like that, please contact me and I will add credit or remove the image entirely; whatever you wish (if you do so politely, I will like you a lot more!).
But please also bear in mind – I am unlikely to have got the photograph directly from you. There’s likely to be a whole chain of people behind me who passed this photo along and in there somewhere is the person who didn’t bother to credit you. It’s a wider problem, and one that isn’t going to be dealt with by targetting individual hapless bloggers like myself.
I suspect if you are an artist or photographer yourself, it’s an issue of which you are already well aware.