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10 reasons why copyright infringement (and sites like Buzzfeed, Wimp and social media thieves) is evil
Copyright infringement is rampant on the internet. Everyone who is on social media sees it right under their noses every day, mostly without realizing it. Many even help the infringers unwittingly by sharing the links, photos and videos. Photographers and content creators are keenly aware of it, mainly because we have to fight it on a daily basis. Copyright infringement is a pure, insidious evil, and needs to be treated as such. Here are the reasons why:
#1. Copyright infringement hurts small-time content creators, not big media corporations
Many people rationalize that copyright infringement is no big deal because it's only hurting the profits of 'big, greedy mega corporations', who are seen as being deserving of the problem. This premise is absurd to begin with, because it assumes it's OK to steal from someone if they are successful. Notwithstanding that point, the reality is that copyright theft actually hurts small-time content creators like me the most. I see a very real impact in my daily life from my work being stolen. The burden to patrol the internet, pay for copyright registrations, issue DMCA takedowns and take legal actions is significant for me.
I don't have massive cash reserves on hand. I don't make loads of money. A big corporation either has staff attorneys or a large budget to hire outside legal counsel. I don't, and evey legal case is that much more difficult for me to pursue. I do it anyway, because my only choices are to either take action or let the thieves run rampant.
#2. Credit lines are worthless.
I have been on local and national television many times (see my media credit list). I've had my name and my web address on screen in front of millions of people on multiple occasions. I've had credit lines in prominent international pulications. Do you know how much web traffic I get from those? Virtually zero! Do you know how many phone calls I get from those? Zero! Every time I've had a high-profile interview or had my work in a prominent TV show, newspaper or magazine, I watch my web stats to see what comes in. There is no spike in traffic, no spike in sales, no additional calls from prospective clients.
The only way I benefit from my work being used is when I am paid money for it, in the form of license fees or advertising fees. Credit lines are utterly worthless. 'Exposure' and 'getting my name out there' is worthless! They are used by thieves as a way to make stealing images seem OK. "I gave you a credit line, what's the problem?" You gave me nothing, that's the problem!
#3. Content costs money and time to produce.
My photos and videos cost me real money to produce, and I must finance all of that myself. B&H did not give me my cameras for free, gas stations do not give me free gas, hotels don't give me free rooms.
I recently returned from two long trips - one to Texas, another to Alabama/Georgia to cover icy road events. I drove 13 hours each way. I drove and shot video in brutal cold temperatures, wind, freezing rain, sleet and snow for 30 hours straight (without sleep), and spent nights in hotels. The trips on average cost me about $400 each of my own money. No big corporation financed me. And those are just my hard costs, that doesn't count the time I spent. I'm not a wealthy person. I make sacrifices in daily life to be able to do what I do, in the hopes that someday my labor will pay off.
And you know what? From now on, I'll have to deal with people stealing those images and videos I captured during my trips. Sites like Buzzfeed, Jalopnik, Liveleak, social media thieves and others will feel that they are entitled to it out of some twisted interpretation of 'fair use'. I'll have to spend hours every week searching the internet to find instances of this work getting stolen. I'll have to spend time sending out DMCA notices and even deal with counter-claims by thugs who will still try to fight it.
#4. Using created works without a license fee is like walking out of Best Buy with a new HDTV without paying.
Usage license fees and direct advertising are the way that content creators get revenue from their work being used. The only way I ever make any money from my work is when someone pays me to use something I created. That can be on the internet, on TV, in a newspaper, magazine, book or more. Even if a credit line somehow got me new business prospects, why would they want to pay me when the original entity that used it didn't do anything but give a credit line?
Youtube ads and Google Adsense are another way I monetize my work. When someone steals it and posts it elsewhere (for example, re-uploading my video to their own Youtube account), they are directly stealing traffic and ad revenue from me.
I work hard to produce my content just like a craftsman or a company's employees work hard to create a product for sale in a store. Why is stealing from me seen as OK, when it's the exact same thing as stealing a product off of a store shelf?
#5. Career copyright thieves use smooth and slimy rationalizations to justify and glorify what they do.
This article and its comments contain classic examples of how career copyright infringers rationalize their theft using eloquent depictions of 'making the world a better place' by creating rich, engaging content for people to consume by stealing others' work. Check out the novel one commenter wrote who makes it seem that the the downfall of society will come if people can't freely commit copyright infringement to 'create and express themselves'. Buzzfeed uses the term 'transformative' to justify their theft. People make analogies to "buying a book and loaning it to a friend" to justify pirating a creator's work to millions of people online. "What's the difference?" they say.
#6. More and more young people have the entitlement attitude that if it's posted on the internet, it's free-for-all.
"If they didn't want it stolen, they shouldn't have posted it on the internet". Or "when something is posted online, it means it can be taken and used". This is the type of attitude that shows why we need a SOPA-like law.
#7. Thieves say "No copyright infringement intended".
"No copyright infringement intended" is commonly used by infringers when they copy a photo or video. How does anyone think this is rational? I'm going to commit copyright infringement, but say I didn't intend to? If that works, I guess people can rob a bank and then say "no bank robbery intended" to get away scot-free in court. "No drunk driving intended". "No tax evasion intended". "No speeding intended".
#8. Defending one's copyrights is difficult.
There is a perception that content creators simply register a copyright and hand it to a lawyer, then sit at home all day watching TV while the 'evil lawyers' rain down wrath on the thieves. The reality is that the copyright holder (me) has to do a lot of the legwork, and is largely responsible for keeping the process in each case going. I have cases now that I am still working on that are over a year old.
#9. If copyright infringement does not stop, quality content will stop being produced.
This isn't rhetoric from 'greedy big business'. It's a factual statement. If the internet community continues stealing my work instead of paying for it and/or allowing my monetized works to produce ad revenue without competing copies, I will not be able to continue creating the videos I shoot. This isn't a 'sky is falling' possibility, this is an actual scenario that will happen if I stop enforcing my copyrights. When I no longer have a travel budget, I will be forced to stop creating content (shooting video). It's that simple!
This is true for every small-time photographer and content creator. How are we supposed to continue producing when the world feels entitled to steal our work, yet we still must pay for all of our costs of living and doing business?
#10. If rampant copyright infringement doesn't stop, people like me will work very hard to make sure the next SOPA law passes.
Consider me a proponent for a SOPA-like legislation that will bring the hammer down hard on copyright infringers. My experience with dealing with infringers has turned me into a passionate proponent for this cause. I will do everything in my power to promote the next SOPA-like law.
Stifling free expression? Thwarting rich content creation? Please! No one is stopping anyone from creating anything they want to create. Just create it ALL yourself, or PAY for it if you didn't - just like the rest of us legitimate content creators do!
Some argue that a SOPA-like law will make 'copyright trolling' easier. That is, hungry lawyers will go all-out on unwitting people for thousands of dollars in damages. I say GREAT! If someone doesn't want to get 'copyright trolled', don't steal someone's work!
Don't like the idea of a SOPA law passing? Call out copyright infringers when you see them! Stop sharing posts from Buzzfeed, WIMP and others who take work from content creators without paying. Stop liking, sharing and/or retweeting thieving social media accounts who take photos from photographers. Report infringers on Youtube and social media. Companies, stop sending your advertising dollars to the slimy thieving viral web sites.
If not, there are two ways this will end. Either artists and content creators will stop producing, depriving the world of quality content - or strict SOPA laws will pass. The blood of content creators is boiling, and we're not going to be bullied and swindled indefinitely.
January 31, 2014: I just confronted this serial infringer, an individual who operates Youtbe and Facebook accounts under the name "North American Car Crashes". This is the user's Facebook page. Predictably, he deleted my posts and blocked me from his page. This individual has stolen/reposted my videos numerous times, and I've issued many DMCAs against this individual alone. Several of his Youtube channels have been shut down over copyright, but he just opens a new one. Reading through some of his posts, and the comments on them, gives you a good idea of the attitudes that content creators deal with. Absolutely no respect for copyright or content creators, but rather contempt for those who enforce their copyrights! These are the types of online thugs I deal with constantly. I've heavily screenshotted the page, and will use it as examples of what I deal with if I ever get the chance to stand before a lawmaker and state my case for the next SOPA.
Here's just one example. The user posted this in response to another set of DMCA claims I reported for compilations he posted that contained my videos. The claim that I took down videos that were not mine is false.
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