Photography and the Internet

There have been a lot of discussions in the tech sphere lately about various rights people should have when online. There’s the right to privacy, the right to be left alone, the right to decide what downloads to your computer (which is why Internet advertising is nothing like television advertising) and the right to decide what sites you are going to visit. However, there is also the right to expect that if you put any of your original work up on the Internet, whether it be photographs or writing, then it will not be stolen and/or attributed to someone else. Unfortunately, though, it is more often the case that photographs and images posted online are taken by others and used without the creator’s permission. Sometimes even in a commercial manner.

Most photographers do not mind if someone links to their portfolios or saves a few sample images to use in an article as long as proper attribution is made back to the photographer. Most also don’t mind if an image of theirs “goes viral” as part of some popular Internet meme — so long as the image is ultimately attributed to them. And, most photographers don’t mind if their images end up on Pinterest or Facebook, again, so long as they get credited for taking the photo. However, that does not mean that people should download photos willy-nilly and post them all over the place and photographers’ tolerance of non-commercial fair use certainly does not mean that they would allow a magazine or newspaper to use their work for free.

Recently, Google has gotten on the bandwagon with the photography community and is making their image search give results that are filtered by the rights the original author has reserved or waived on his work. Additionally, there have always been technical ways for savvy photographers to keep their images from being downloaded (covering the image with a clear transparent pixel.gif works well enough to keep the less-technically inclined out). Watermarking images has also become more common, especially on stock photography sites. However, at the end of the day, a person who is absolutely determined to get a photograph “for free” will find a way to do it. So, what should be done in these cases?

When it comes to movies or music that is downloaded illegally, studios often favor the government issuing heavy fines. Should photographers follow suit? Or should they seek more moderate or lenient fines in exchange for the person agreeing to give credit to the photographer?

Photography and the Internet can be great allies as the connected community gives photographers a place to show off their skills and also gives newcomers a chance to learn more about photography without having to invest first in expensive equipment or courses. However, copyright concerns are one stumbling block that keep some photographers from sharing their photographs and their knowledge freely with others. What do you think can be done to resolve this problem? Let us know in the comments below!

— da Bird