More on AFP v Morel Copyright Theft

Go to duckrabbit to read the latest on this clear case of image theft that I’ve mentioned several times before. Large agencies – and not just AFP – appear to to making an attempt to take over any images that don’t have the photographer’s name stamped across them in large letters.

As it says:

It’s no exaggeration to say that the arguments presented in court mean that this case, if it goes AFP’s way, could affect all photographers who use the web.

A few months ago I started putting a discreet but visible watermark on all images that I post on the web, but of course my images go to libraries without this. I’ve also written many times about the need to embed metadata in all images, and I’ve followed my own advice on this for some years.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
A discreetly watermarked image from June 2009

What I’d really like to see is a feature implemented on all new cameras (or at least all professional models) that adds a little black border to the bottom (or longer side) of every image containing our copyright message to every image that is taken – so that every picture we take is automatically labelled. It wouldn’t be too difficult to implement or make the images much larger.

It could of course easily be removed – even automatically – by users, but would put the onus on whoever did so to be sure they had the right to do so.

Is this an idea about cameras worth pursuing?

I didn’t mention it when I added a comment on duckrabbit, where I mentioned the need for photographers to join together to oppose these image grabs. At the moment I know my union has been quite supportive of some photographers over individual copyright cases. But if there are large numbers of photographers whose work is being used without permission by some of the large agencies, perhaps their is a possibility in the US of taking a ‘class action’?

4 Responses to “More on AFP v Morel Copyright Theft”

  1. Verichrome says:

    It’s not difficult to create an export-action that adds your border and watermark. Here’s one example:

    In 2007 Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir had her 1200×800 images stolen from Flickr, up-rezzed then resold as large prints — at least 60 prints sold for £2450. Her solution was to “limit the dimensions of my uploads to a maximum of 800 pixels across” (although she does not employ watermarks).

    Magnum and Panos handle their photos online with a repetitive watermark that cascades across photos, to the extent that one eventually looks past the watermark when looking at the image. An subtler alternative I like is employed by viiphoto that displays unmarked thumbnails that link to well-watermarked enlargements for those who click-through.

  2. Yes, I decided against the border and just to watermark, as you can see.

    But the point of the suggestion I make isn’t for something that could be done by individuals, but that would become standard industry-wide practice by building it into the tools we use to make images.

    For some years I thought – and wrote – that restricting the size of images was good enough, and had limited the size of my uploads for some years before I wrote about the case you mention. Had she taken my advice on earlier she would not have had that problem.

    But unfortunately much abuse now is actually for web use where size isn’t an issue. Even in print, an 800px wide image can be used to make a pretty adequate 1/4 or 1/2 page.

    I find the Magnum etc watermarks across the image far too obtrusive. Commercially I’m not sure they make sense either, as Magnum would probably generate more income by using a service to extract money from copyright abuse without them.

    They are in any case designed to protect against a different and rather less serious threat than the one raised by the AFP/Morel case, which is an attempt at wholesale theft by powerful agencies from individual photographers.

  3. Verichrome says:

    I think that at the very least a border with copyright info is a good choice. If the two biggest photo sharing sites Facebook strips out all EXIF data, and Flickr strips out EXIF data on all smaller (non-original) images.

    If you don’t have easily discernable copyright information on your photos and the EXIF data has been (accidentally or systematically) stripped out, you may have limited legal recourse In the US. There are legal considerations about being able to use any such image after making a ‘good faith effort’ to find the copyrightholder.

    There is also the issue of legislation regarding ‘orphan works’ that could allow such EXIF-stripped images to be used more often, with fewer penalties.

    For these reasons I do recommend at the least adding a border with copyright info and a URL, and possibly linking that small image to a large-sized, watermarked one.

    As for building it into our tools, it’s in Aperture, it’s in the latest Lightroom too I think (as well as having long been available through the Lightroom/Photoshop plugin ‘Mogrify’), and it’s even built into Google’s free Picasa app via the ‘Add a watermark for all uploads’ checkbox.

  4. Yes, as the post says, I recommend the use of a some visible copyright information on all images uploaded to photo-sharing sites or on the web.

    Personally I prefer my way of doing it discretely along the image edge to adding a border which was my initial intention. It’s very easy to do it automatically as a part of an export preset in LR, but could, as I’ve suggested elsewhere, be better implemented.

    But the main point which has been brought up in the comments on duckrabbit is the wholesale plunder of images from large libraries by the big players. At the moment there is no mechanism for photographers to protect their interests except by taking on these vast corporations in the law courts and essentially we are being bullied into submission.

    To which I suggested two things – firstly that photographers organisations might get behind such efforts, perhaps promoting class actions, and secondly that we might try to ensure that all photographs get visibly labelled at birth and that it should become the industry norm that such information is only removed at the time of actual use (if then).

    It could also be of use in protecting that much-abused moral right of attribution. Of course I always use the facility on my cameras to embed a copyright message into the metadata, but I’d like it to become a visible label rather than hidden in the EXIF.

    Leading experts in copyright law have given the opinion that the stripping of EXIF (and IPTC) data from images is almost certainly illegal under both UK and US law and I think there may well be changes in future by photo-sharing sites as they are feeling some pressure on this. Again it’s an area where photographer’s organisations can usefully exert some pressure.

    The UK’s proposed orphan works legislation was defeated earlier this year by hard work by a small group of photographers (aided by rather more of us who lobbied our MPs) – you can read the story at where there is also a very interesting document ‘The New Thinking’ as a contribution to the debate in this area. I wrote about it briefly in May:

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