Safeguarding Truth

An excellent article published yesterday in Ochre, Safeguarding Truth in Photojournalism: Ami Vitale’s Survival Guide which looks at how the way in which some of Vitale’s images were appropriated and misused on the web, and how this hit the photographer:

It literally stopped me in my tracks,” she said in an interview with Ochre. “There was a week I thought this was enough: I’m quitting. And then I realized that this was actually just a call to action to try to educate people, protect yourself and the people you photograph as best you can.

The article goes on to explain the steps that she took, along with others who helped her to do this, and has a great deal of good advice and links to resources. (Ami Vitale is one of the photographers mentioned in the previous post, Inge Morath & Danube Revisited.)

I posted about the misuse of her images and her response here in May, in Image Abuse, and much of the advice in her survival guide has also been covered here in previous posts, though it is good to have it all put together in the Ochre article.

She says “I hated watermarks before. I thought they were so tacky.” I thought the same, and came very reluctantly to my decision to use a relatively discreet visible copyright message in 2010 after some very much more minor problems with the unauthorised usage of my own work, though I’d advocated their use in a post here a year earlier. Virtually every image I’ve posted on the web since then has carried this visible watermark,  though sometimes its been midway through the year when I’ve got around to changing the date.

Much earlier I made sure that every image carried my contact details in the metadata, though that too often gets stripped out. With my watermark along the bottom of the image that too is easily removed, but for anyone to do so would be clear evidence of guilt, and my experience is that most people who use images without consent don’t remove it. Most unauthorised use of images on the internet is by people who just aren’t aware of copyright or think it doesn’t apply to their use.

There are a few aspects of the Ochre article that relate to the USA and its peculiar copyright system, which makes the enforcing of copyright financially non-viable in the US unless photographers register their images with the US Copyright office, while permitting punitive damages for registered images. Its a system that non-US photographers can use as well, but the surprising fact quoted in the article is that “less than 3% of professional photographers surveyed by the American Society of Media Photographers in 2010 registered their work.”

There is also some information about the PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal System) Registry which I mentioned back in 2008, and again three years ago in PLUS Makes Progress , and it is apparently still making progress – if it does seem rather slow. You can register for free – as I did in 2011 – and this enables you to be found in the registry from your name or some other information. But to get real benefit from it you will need to become a supporting member – and for individual photographers  -“small businesses with one employee, the contribution of $125 per year (reduced to $75 per year for members of participating trade associations)” may not seem worthwhile.

I was also very pleased to hear of yesterday’s US court judgement which affirmed the damages of $1.2m awarded to photographer Daniel Morel after AFP and Getty stole his images of the Haiti earthquake. The court did make one minor adjustment, ruling that there was insufficient evidence that Getty was guilty of half of the DCMA violations, which will same them just a few pennies.  I can’t pretend to understand all of the court ruling, but – as in the earlier trial – it is certainly damning. I’ve never understood why AFP and Getty felt the case was worth fighting and didn’t come to a settlement with the photographer as soon as they discovered what had happened.  Presumably they just thought they were big enough to bully their way through, though perhaps the award and presumably the costs they will have to pay might make them think differently.

I have posted before about the Morel case, but there is more information on Jeremy Nicholl’s The Russian Photos blog, and though as I write he has yet to respond to the latest news, doubtless he soon will. His last post in January about the AFP/Getty appeal estimated that the case will cost AFP and Getty to well over $10m, most of which will go to the lawyers – including those who presumably told them the case was worth pursuing. For the lawyers it certainly was!


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