Look—that post I wrote about copyright, below, has spawned at least one really ugly screed elsewhere on the internet, and some concern amongst our commenters. For the record:
- The copyright notice was not on the guy's picture. My complaint had nothing to do with making the picture look cleaner so it would be more decorative on my site.
- I was really just frustrated that there was no way to contact him.
- I am not telling people not to put copyright notices on their images.
- When I can't use one person's photograph, I do just go find something else. Believe me, I could never post all the good pictures I find if I posted ten a day from here to eternity.
I am not claiming or implying that TOP is all-important. We got 88,000+ unique visitors last week by direct count, plus however many read us via syndication feeds. That makes us small by some standards (Luminous Landscape gets about 500,000 unique visitors in the same time period, Steve's Digicams at least double that) and large by others (many photographers with unpromoted personal websites get a few dozen to a few thousand hits a week).
Furthermore, I would claim that I am one of the good guys. I care about photographers, and I respect you. I'm not trying to exploit you. When I post someone's picture on my site, it's in an attempt to give them some recognition and pay respect to their accomplishment, not to rip them off. Without exception so far, that's how it's been accepted. One photographer whose website I linked to a while back sent me this:
(I've removed the dates to protect the person's privacy.)
That spike is from when we did our piece about him. His reaction? "A thousand thanks for your blog post."
That's what I hope for—and what experience has led me to expect—when I post someone's picture or link to her site.
Your work, your call
In other words, I'm not being evil. Or not trying to be, anyway.
I guess the upshot of all this, if there is any, is as follows:
- Do whatever you're comfortable with. It's your call.
- If you want legitimate users to feel free to use and promote your work for you, consider making it easy for strangers to contact you.
- If you'd like to give legitimate users access but don't want to be contacted, consider a "Creative Commons" license or its text equivalent.
- If you're absolutely not comfortable with anyone ripping off your picture ever, don't post it on the web at all.
Ironically, that's what I do. Only a miniscule portion of my work has ever been digitized or put on the web. A few of my better digital shots have appeared online, but almost none of my black-and-white work has—the work which, until recently, I considered my "real" artwork. Reason? It's personal.
That's what I'm most comfortable doing. Your work? Your call.
Featured Comment by Mark Roberts: "Mike, your comments about the benefits of a photograph being displayed on your blog are well stated. The thing about the Internet is that that there's no 'six degrees of separation'—one degree will do the trick: A photo appears on its creator's web site; then you (quite reasonably, as you point out) show it on your blog; at which point it's saved by someone who visits your site; who emails it to some friends; one of whom puts it on his web site; etc.
"After that first 'degree of separation' the photographer has no control over what appears with the photo. Whether or not any of these steps is legal or ethical, someone who, farther down the chain, sees the photo and wants to legally purchase a print (or reproduction rights) won't be able to do so unless the copyright has marked the image in some way.
"Often a copyright notice isn't a petulant 'this is my image and you can't have it' statement, but rather a 'here's who I am and how you can find me.' I've sold prints to people who saw one of my photos being used as a computer monitor background by someone who just copied it from my web page. Who knows how many degrees of separation there were between my web site and the eventual buyer, but my copyright notice let them find me."