10 points on image rights and the internet for bloggers

Los Ocampo demonstrating at Tango Al Fresco, (c) Carole Edrich 2013

Los Ocampo demonstrating at Tango Al Fresco, (c) Carole Edrich 2013

Recent discussions in the Travel Bloggers Facebook group (one of the nicer and more collaborative groups to which I am subscribed) prompted me to write this post summarising ten points to consider regarding images and copyright in blogging. It’s such a huge subject that I’ll be extending it over the next couple of Wednesdays, so if your question isn’t answered here please let me know.

1. What do you recommend I do if I publish my own photos?

Read this post and then – if you haven’t already –  adopt a consistent copyright and image attribution stance that fits your personal ethics and the strategic objective/s of your blog. I’m planning another post on this.

2. What do you do with other peoples’ images?

I don’t use other peoples’ images on this blog because it’s a showcase for my own. On the rare occasions I use photographs from other people on my other blogs or elsewhere on the internet I am very careful to attribute them. At minimum I will state © [persons’ name] [date] and if uploading an image to Facebook or another social media provider that has demonstrated an approach towards copyright that doesn’t fit my ethical stance I watermark the image on behalf of the photographer too.

3. How do you manage copyrights, permissions and similar?

I can count the number of Creative Commons images I’ve issued. I issue conditions with sold and commissioned images, clearly give the copyright status of images everywhere on the internet and periodically use image searches to make sure that my copyright hasn’t been abused.

Friends who aren’t photographers have questioned whether or not I need to put watermarks on my images. I started doing so because I got fed up with the number of my images that had been stolen and have continued to do so out of principle and because it makes claiming for image theft so much easier.

I can’t imagine a situation in which I would treat other peoples’ images in a different way.

4. Do you put your best shots up?

I didn’t used to. I used to save them to sell exclusively. However over the last couple of years I’ve changed the whole way I value and judge my photographs along with how I sell my services.

Even though I’ve been an editor and publisher myself I still can’t guess images that those who commission the work will choose. (More on this later). As a result of that I’ve stopped thinking in terms of ‘best images’ and instead choose the best example for whatever it is I’m trying to say.

Since I get commissioned work from people who see my blog I would never deliberately choose a second best image. Expect more on this.

5. What permissions should I give?

This is completely up to you. I have very definite views on what should be done with good photographs, but there are a number of different options including Exclusive, Limited Use and Creative Commons. Briefly summarised here. I’ll discuss this in another post.

6. How should I protect myself (and others)

Always enter metadata in your images before uploading them. At minimum I’d suggest name, email, website and conditions of use of your image. If you elect to issue your images under a Creative Commons license you still should be attributed and should give the license type in the metadata and if you’re a blogger such attribution should surely include an appropriate URL.

You’ll have noticed that I watermark my images. With the best will in the world I know I can’t find every instance of theft of my images and even though I make it a condition of provision of my images, even close friends and long-term clients (both of who should know better) sometimes forget to attribute me or link back to my site. Watermarking mitigates this problem although of course it doesn’t fix it. Some of my colleagues disagree with watermarking, but I am proud of my photographs, know they’re good, want people to know I’ve taken them and know that at least some people will look at my blog and commission me as a result.

There’s more… Until I can see that search engines are prosecuted for stripping metadata, or I can see that they’ve decided to create more ethical image search algorithms, my watermark is my fall-back as no image with a watermark (especially one containing my URL) can be reasonably considered an orphan work.

KALACC Aboriginal Festival 2011, (c) Carole Edrich 2011

KALACC Aboriginal Festival 2011, (c) Carole Edrich 2011

7. What is metadata?

Metadata is data about data. It includes key words, title, description, author/creator, location, date created, rights usage terms and a whole lot more. It can be stored on any jpg file.

Default metadata almost always includes EXIF data (photographic details like lens and camera), date taken and date modified. It will also include whatever you might have set up in your camera (mine allows me to state that the image is copyright and my name among other things) and whatever you have decided to include as part of your post processing. WordPress will automatically take your metadata for ‘Caption’, ‘Alternative Text’ and ‘Description’ from your metadata, but if you type in the words after uploading your image it’s not saved to the metadata but elsewhere.

I use the Adobe Suite to process all of my images and update the metadata (including keywords) as part of my image management process. If you don’t, but would like to make sure that title and ownership are clearly attributed in your images have a look around for free metadata software such as that suggested by sourceforge.

8. Why is metadata important and does it confer enough protection?

The idea is that metadata is present on every impression of an image and has to be actively consciously stripped for it not to be there. This in theory means that the creator of any image can be easily identified and credit be given where it’s due.

Sadly theory and practice differ. Certain internet giants appear have made it a deliberate policy to strip metadata and then claim use of the images for themselves. They’ve been taken to task for this and are supposed to be cleaning up their acts. What happens next remains to be seen, which is part of the reason why I watermark my images.

9. Why are you so fussy? Are you overreacting to a storm in a teacup?

Even before I started to earn a living as a photographer I was careful to get formal permission to use other peoples’ images and to attribute them when it was given. It’s courteous to credit people for the work they’ve done, but more than that it’s important to work to maintain all of our rights. If someone is by profession a photographer, not getting permission or not crediting them with the work is in my opinion tantamount to stealing from them. Whether or not they ask for money is ultimately up to them (although I have very strong views on the matter) but even when they have been paid to produce the work, by not crediting them you’re depriving them of the potential for further commissioned work that might come from someone who likes the image or their photographic style.

There’s more… The current copyright climate appears to value the producer of art (photographs, drawings, music or writing) far less than the distributor. Current orphan works and copyright laws are taking us further down a slippery slope that looks like it’s going lead the producers of authentic independent quality content into penury or create an environment where only the wealthy are able to spend time creating quality work of any kind. I’ll fight that any way I can.

10. So what does that mean?

It’s sad, but I know I’m not the only photographer to make regular of recurring revenue through compensation after theft of my images. In fact, so many people steal my images that I have a standard first email that begins by my thanking them for taking whatever-they’ve-nicked and goes on to explain what they owe me even if they take the image down immediately. I’ve won compensation from national media outlets that used my images without permission and am in a much stronger legal position when I’m able to prove that the original had both metadata and watermark.

If you don’t earn a living through provision of images, consider that the photographers who take those wonderful shots given to you by PRs can only afford to continue doing so if their rights are protected. Without such protection it’s likely that the quality of images provided to you will go down as those who currently take their photography seriously enough to do it as full-time careers will be forced to earn their living elsewhere.