Feb 11 2010
A week ago Tuesday, I popped over to CTVmontreal.ca and happened upon a story about the Montreal Metro. Blah blah blah, whatever, and then I noticed the thumbnail image at the top of the story. Not a huge picture, just a stock image that they use for Metro stories when they have no story-specific images. It was a “photo illustration” of a moving Metro car overlaid with a photo of an exterior Metro sign.
The background part of the image looked familiar. Then I realized; holy crap! That’s my picture!
I had posted the original version of the image on the Monday Morning Photo Blog five years ago (January 17, 2005). I have never sold reproduction rights to it, nor has anyone asked me to use it for any purpose. And it is not a Creative Commons image (why it is not is a subject for another day.) Written very plainly on the page where the image appears is the text “All photographs taken, and copyright owned, by Ed Hawco. Please ask if you want to use any of these images for any purpose.”
Clearly, this was a rip off. But what kind of a rip off? Possibilities include:
- CTVmontreal.ca as a corporation clearly and callously lifted the image from my photo blog without asking for permission.
- A specific half-wit at CTVmontreal.ca, bucked policy by clearly and callously lifting the image from my photo blog without asking for permission.
- CTVmontreal.ca obtained permission to use the image from someone other than me; a third party (person or agency) who stole my photo and is selling it as their own.
There are other possibilities too, but those are the most likely. I decided against number 1, which is the possibility that most knee-jerk reactors pounce on. My reason is simple: CTVmontreal.ca is not a thinking entity; it’s a corporation made up of people, and in all likelihood they have a policy against ripping off copyrighted work. Thus, if it was taken without permission, it was most likely a function of one rogue graphics dude who is too lazy, arrogant, or incompetent to go by the rules and ends up putting the company at risk by doing things that are stupid and illegal.
The situation described in number 3 is certainly not unheard of. In fact, that happens way more often than you probably think. However, I settled on number 2 as the most likely explanation.
Thus settled, I immediately sent an email to the managing editor and informed her of the situation, letting her know that I was not angry but she needs to know she’s using copyrighted material without permission. And by the way, permission for such an image used in this context is astoundingly cheap.
The managing editor emailed me back within a couple of hours to apologize, and to inform me that the image has been removed from the web site. She told me that 80% of the photos they use are taken by their own photographers, and the other 20% are used with permission. She doesn’t know how this one got into their database, but she would look into it. (Judging by some file data I extracted, it looks like they’ve been using the image for at least seven months; it was put in the database on my birthday last June.)
I replied by thanking her for addressing the situation, and I reassured her again that I wasn’t angry. I told her that the price for usage rights was in the range of “lunch money.”
She emailed me back later to apologize again, and to reiterate that they take these issues seriously. She also informed me that she has escalated the issue to the head office in Toronto to ensure that everyone is aware of the rules and to make sure it doesn’t happen again. She never brought up the possibility of paying. (But why would she when she has a ready store of free images? Although it should be said that the image they replaced it with is dead boring.)
The reason why I’m telling you this is not because I want to slag CTVmontreal.ca. (In fact, I commend them for their quick and decisive reply.) Rather, I want to make the point that in this hot-tempered atmosphere of copyright sensitivity, at a time when the world is neatly cleaved into the old-school copyright defenders and the new-school “free sharing” enthusiasts, each side should relax a bit and not get all Balkanized. Each school of thought has merit and there is room for both.
- Copyright defenders should not get all paranoid that every bit of file sharing and “creative commons” material represents some crazy communist plot to rip the very cash from their pockets.
- Free sharing enthusiasts should recognize that not all creative effort is a gift to the world and that some people need to make a living this way.
And that, dear readers, is my oversimplified view.
It’s just a starting point really. In my various travels around the web I am constantly shaking my head at the paranoid, silly, reactionary, and just plain stupid thinking of people on both sides of the fence. Yes, the world is changing! Adapt!
We need to find a way to keep both approaches in play and in balance. By not overreacting (as a few people who I told this story to on the day it occurred did), by understanding that (a) in this context the image doesn’t have much monetary value, so I’m not really out anything, (b) the “perpetrator” is a big corporation that probably has very strict rules that were broken by one rogue, (c) there’s no point in getting all hot blooded over it, and (d) by telling this story here, I am doing my little bit to calm these choppy waters and to find my place in a world where most creative work is cheap, but that cheapness opens up other possibilities.
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