Copyright infringement is an insidious problem for content creators today, a subject on which I've blogged about multiple times. It takes at least one hour of my day, every day to search for and deal with infringers. That's time/work I mostly don't get paid for, and a large economic drain on my life in general. Social media is one of the bigger realms for copyright infringement these days - and since most don't deal with it daily like I do, most don't recognize or understand what is happening. So, this blog post aims to explain it a little better.
I made this infographic to try and explain social media engagement theft (via photo re-uploads and Manual ReTweets). Feel free to copy and share this graphic - as long as it is kept intact and unedited:
Sharing is good and wanted by content creators: Sharing of creative works is essential to spreading it to a broader audience. Photographers, writers and artists want and appreciate sharing. But there is a difference between sharing and stealing.
As the infographic says, sharing the right way is quick and easy. Every social media platform has a one-click means for sharing content: the 'share' button on Facebook, the 'ReTweet' button on Twitter, the 'Pin" button on Pinterest, etc. One click: it couldn't be easier to share the right way! For a web page or Youtube video, it's easy to copy-and-paste the link into any social media platform or blog.
Stealing goes beyond simple sharing. Stealing involves going through additional steps to download the content to the thief's computer or device, then uploading a separate copy of the content to a blog, video site or social media platform.
So why is it done? Very simple - viral content creates traffic. Traffic means advertising revenue, one of the staples of the online economy. Do a web search about how much Buzzfeed has been funded time and again (in the two-digit millions). Traffic equals ad revenue and in some cases, direct sales - it's that simple. So, a thief who wants to benefit from viral traffic won't share content properly. They will COPY the content to their social media accounts, their blog or their video site so that THEY get the viral traffic, not the original photographer.
MYTH: A photographer benefits from exposure and credit lines
Many thieves appeal to the myth that a photographer benefits from theft because of the increased exposure. This is wrong on many levels, but here are the main two reasons why:
People do not remember credit lines or take action because of them. How many times have you read a credit line in a movie, TV show, blog post or ANYWHERE, then gone to a search engine to look up the name or the web address? That's right - probably never. And you're not alone - NO ONE does this. Here's proof: I've had footage in countless national TV shows with my name and web adress in the credits. I've had feature stories done about me in local news broadcasts and newspapers. I've even had interviews on national television several times where my name and face was on the screen (see my TV credits page). When those aired, I watched my web traffic logs. There was NO additional traffic, no one searching for my name, no additional photo or stock footage sales - nothing. The only benefit I received was when I was paid the license fee for the footage or photographs used.
A content creator only benefits from PAID licenses. It's a bald-faced lie that a photographer or artist benefits from exposure. Newbies and amateurs fall for that scam all the time, and many thieves (and sometimes corporations) take advantage of that. The only one who benefits is the thief, who gets his ad or direct sales revenue from all the content he/she steals. The photographer, who in essence personally is subsidizing someone else's profits, is left with nothing.
The reality is that today, the internet gives an independent content creator all the exposure he/she needs. Whether it is a web page, blog, Flickr account or Facebook page, the infrastructure is there for anyone to get their work and their name out to the world. The social media thieves steal even that by diverting engagement and new followers away from the photographer's online presence!
License fees for image/video usage are a stock photographer's main source of revenue. Do you want to know how I've been able to chase as much as I have over the years? It hasn't been from exposure, I'll tell you that! It's been license fees. License fees put gas in my car and allow me to maintain my equipment. All the exposure in the world doesn't help me at gas stations, hotels or when it's time to repair or replace an expensive camera.
Try going to Best Buy and asking if they will give you a free HDTV in exchange for all the publicity they will get when you tell your friends about it. Think that will happen? When a photographer is asked to give away work for free, it's the EXACT same thing! The photographer is being asked to give away the very thing he/she derives their main source of revenue from. As I proved in item #1 above, the photographer will see no benefit. What actually happens is that the value of his/her work will be degraded. If work is given away for free to one person, why should anyone else pay for it? How would you feel if you paid $2,000 for an HDTV, then found out people who asked to get theirs for free actually got it free?
The battle about copyright for content creators is raging online, and it's one I will likely have to fight for many years to come. A lot of the battle is simple PR and education about the simple economics of content creation. It's easy for misconceptions like the "Myth of getting great exposure" to entrench themselves online, and right now blog posts like this one are the best tool I have to set the record straight.
Again, I always have to give a shout out to my paying customers. I'm very thankful that there are those who see value in my work. Their business makes it possible to do what I do. When you see a print of my photos hanging somewhere or my footage in a national TV show, you're seeing how things are supposed to work in the world of content creation. Everyone benefits, from the big network down to the lowly photographer like me. Copyright is the only thing that keeps that system in place. Don't believe the anti-copyright people who paint a picture of a utopia where all content is given away for free.
New Site Layout: On an unrelated note, returning readers will notice the new layout. This was done to make the site and blog display better on mobile devices. I'm still beta-testing the new code, so if you run into any issues, please let me know. Thanks! -Dan