Images and Ownership (or, How I Unintentionally Made a Photographer Angry)

29 Sep

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.

8 Responses to “Images and Ownership (or, How I Unintentionally Made a Photographer Angry)”

  1. Felicity Jones September 29, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    It IS difficult to find good photos for naturist articles. I’ve spent HOURS looking online for just the right photo for a post. Not even the stock image websites have good naked images – they’re always so photoshopped-to-perfection & use one body type. I’ve gotten images for my blog from Tumblr as well, and most of the time they don’t have any credit to the photographer. It’s the Internet and it’s inevitable that any photograph you post can end up anywhere. We know our own YNA photos are taken and posted elsewhere without giving us credit, alllll the time.
    I myself don’t think too much about getting a legal notice or anything because normally the person will ask it to be taken down, so you do, end of story. But I understand your story, and the guy was totally rude about it. Also hasn’t he ever heard of this thing called a watermark? He should put his name on the photos if he’s so pissed about them being shared without credit. He must know that any photo he posts online WILL end up on other websites without his name.

    • getnakedgetawesome September 29, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

      Thanks Felicity!

      I don’t wanna be mean about the photographer, I understand his frustration. He’s probably seen it happen a lot before and decided being polite is a waste of time… I am sure he will have found people to be just as rude back.

      At least with YNA you have members who can pose for or contribute pics that belong to you yourselves to use in publicity. I’m just one man and I don’t think my readers want every blog post I make to be accompanied by a picture of me!

      • All-Nudist.com (@All_Nudist) September 30, 2013 at 1:00 am #

        You and Felicity are both absolutely right; there is often no way to ascertain the origin of a particular photo and the first legal recourse of the owner is to contact the website and request removal, attribution, or whatever pleases them. If the webmaster complies, end of story. BUT, they must PROVE ownership of that image to do so. The particular platform the website is hosted by may have its own rules regarding this.

        In all the years that All-Nudist has been online we have had only one request to remove a photo, publicly posted on a nudist/naturist site and used via a ‘share’ link, and that was from the couple that posted the photo of themselves along with the ‘share’ link. We immediately removed it, along with all references to that source. Any potential positive results they may have obtained by being linked to a major nudist/naturist website were also lost to them. That’s called shooting yourself in the foot. They lost 1500 potential visitors/day, but got what they wanted.

        The web is a great source of illustrative images for articles and it’s not always possible to give proper attribution; that’s a fact of life that most accept. While we understand the concept of making money off of photos, most photographers also understand that once they’ve posted online they lose control of their images. Most won’t go to the bother of pressing the issue with us small-time bloggers; most likely they’re the ones that don’t realize that anyone wishing to purchase the original will seek it out once having found it and then purchase the ‘official’ version if available for sale.

        Whatever the reason for complaints, the individual cited here doesn’t understand these things and has lost an audience for his work. His loss; his image is easily replaced by others which either don’t care or appreciate the exposure. Don’t worry about it and if WP gives you grief, try Weebly; another host we moved to after years of being hosted by WP. You can make the move seamlessly.

        Either way, relax. This is a very rare occurrence and unlikely to happen again. Whatever, don’t stop blogging! You have much to offer and we need more of the ‘good guys’!

  2. homeclothesfree September 29, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    Yeah this is a real messy situation some photographers are getting their work misused but some are taking pictures of people without there explicit permission and then sell them for use by others which is worse in my mind that what you did. It is hard to keep tracking had some photos linked from 500px through their own photographers linking mechanism that got me warned on Tumblr because the photographer went to then without first contacting me.

    That being said WP.com has a great feature Zementa that can sometimes find good find public domain photos relevant to your post content.

    • getnakedgetawesome September 29, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

      Thanks for the tip!

      One of the reasons I picked the photos I did was because, as WNBR/Fremont Solstice Parade pics, I felt they would be more likely to be free for fair use as they were pics of a public event.

      But they still belong to an individual photographer who takes them to do with as they wish, I guess.

  3. Knot Knudsen October 1, 2013 at 3:35 am #

    Consider yourself lucky. If it had been a Getty image, you’d be facing an invoice for the use of the image or face a lawsuit. No forgiveness at all! With any image from the internet, you are running the risk of copyright infringement. This is absolutely absurd of course as you would have no possible way of searching for the owner of the image. Still the courts are ruling in the copyright holders favor and with large amounts of money.

    Copyright holders are in my opinion to blame. They fail to watermark the image, include any meta data (Revealed by right clicking on an image and looking at the properties for hidden ownership details including copyrights.) I wish the courts would push for a requirement to include meta data at least. If you were running your blog for profit or a business the lawyers would be drooling. Some bloggers state their blogs are for information only and promise a prompt pulling of images.

    If you put any images on your blog, you have exposure whether you found the image or they were submitted to you. The only safe way is to use true public domain images or photos you take yourself.

    Sad situation considering the internets mantra was sharing and it’s sunk to such lows…

    • getnakedgetawesome October 1, 2013 at 6:35 am #

      Thanks very much for your input.

      I didn’t talk much about what creators can do to protect themselves and limit misunderstandings about ownership of images, because it isn’t something I personally know a lot about.

      But those seem like some really excellent suggestions and I
      think everyone would benefit from those methods being more widely used.

  4. Gatta Duane November 22, 2013 at 6:20 am #

    If you right click on an image and ‘copy image url’ you can paste it into google image search and it will find you other instances of the same image on the web. It’s not flawless, but I’ve successfully used it to track down the origin of unsourced tumblr posts several times.

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