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Thoughts on a new era of copyright infringement
Two factors in life have tought me to accept that I will not be well-liked by everyone and, in fact, hated by some. One of those is being a outspoken Christian. The other: enforcing the copyright of my work.
I've posted on this topic many times on here and on forums, so if you've been an acquaintance of mine online for very long, you know my position on photo and video value and licensing. Everything I capture requires several thousands of dollars a year *minimum* in equipment and fuel expenses. I have the records and tax returns to prove it. The pictures and videos on here don't come to me free, not even cheap. Screen credit doesn't pay for my gas, and Canon doesn't accept atta-boys as payment for new lenses. I have many good clients that purchase legitimate licenses for my work, and for that I am very thankful and appreciative. For these reasons, when I find an infringing use of my work, I will not just 'let it go': the usage must be paid for like all of the others. Not only would it not be fair to my good clients to allow the infringers to take advantage of my work for free, but it diminishes the value of my copyrights when I do not enforce them.
I patrol the internet at least 2 or 3 times a week for my images and videos, using a host of different tools and methods. When I find an infringement, I take several things into consideration when deciding on what action to take - whether the usage is tied into commercial ventures, the size of the audience/view counts, whether it was an isolated incident or a pattern of serial infringements, the attitude of the person responding, and so on. I'm not out to try to squeeze money out of a kid who uses an image on as his Facebook profile picture or blog, for example. But a company or high-traffic page (that also has commercial ventures attached) doing the same thing WILL get a bill from me or a letter from the attorney.
I generally give smaller business infringers a chance to purchase a license legitimately before escalating the matter legally. I do this simply as a courtesy, and because that's the way I'd want to be treated. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt that maybe the instance was a mistake or oversight, before slamming them with a demand letter from the attorney asking for ten to 100 times more than a license fee. Not everyone out there is as generous as I am regarding that.
So having said all of that, I am troubled by what I'm starting to see as a new escalating branch of copyright infringement on social media. Social media is no longer just a personal leisure/fun thing, it is becoming big business. Companies are spending increasing amounts of money to maintain Facebook and Twitter presences and to use those to their advertising and business advantages. With all of that, there are many storm observer and weather-related Facebook pages springing up (I have a couple of them myself). Many of these Facebook pages are taking photos from around the web and uploading them to their page galleries, which are then subsequently shared around the internet. Doing this is no different from posting the photo to a blog or web site. It's copyright infringement and is actionable!
During Hurricane Sandy's landfall, I saw many observer and weather fan pages (some by well-known figures) copying Associated Press photos, viewer photos, Twitter images, TV station images and so on. By doing this, the page owners boosted their 'like' counts by the thousands during the course of the storm. I've recently had photos of mine taken from my stormhighway.com Facebook page and copied to other pages' galleries. These were not 'shares' of the image, which is an acceptable and encouraged practice done by clicking the 'share' link below the picture. No, these instead were blatant copying of the image by doing a "right-click > save as" to the user's hard drive, then re-uploading the image to their page. There's no accidental way to do that, it is all deliberate. The end result is that the copying page got all of the shares, views, traffic and new 'likes' to their page. Usually no effort is made to try and find the source of the images to link or share them properly. For this reason, I now include a rigorous search through social media sites to locate my images, and like always, the infringers WILL hear from me.
If I get a reputation for being a jerk or if someone bad-mouths me for enforcing my copyright, I don't care. So be it. My photo and video work is my business product, and copyright infringement affects me the same as a shoplifter in a store. Being a nice guy when it comes to infringement doesn't protect my work, help me pay for bills or finance future endeavors.
So to infringers, I say be ready: I will find you, and you will get a settlement bill. If you don't pay it, it goes to an attorney for likely 100 times more. And I don't care if you're not happy about it, if you hate me nor how many people you tell about how awful of a person I am.
To my paying clients, I say again a huge, heartfelt thank-you. It's people and companies like you that allow me to continue doing what I love: producing the pictures and video you see on this site, now and in the future. I could not do it without you, and for your patronage I am more grateful than I can find words to express.