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14 April, 2010

Blaming the victim

Last week, a 'journalist' illustrated an online article with a copy of an illustration he found on the web.  Without making any attempt to contact the artist for permission.  Uh-oh....

When instructed to remove it, he did comply, but with an appallingly condescending comment suggesting that the artist – who happens to be a rather well-known professional – should welcome the exposure, and if he didn't, he should have implemented technological barriers to copying, such as visible watermarking; that "[if] you leave it in the clear, you're giving permission."

This idea that one must gain permission before doing what comes naturally on the Web has to end. You have the tools to stop it. Use them.
I wouldn't link to such rubbish ordinarily, but ignoring the original article (I didn't bother with more than a paragraph or two), enjoy the stream of comments, in which the original author is thoroughly roasted for his ludicrous justification of theft.

Then read the comments accompanying a follow-up 'How-To' piece in which the author patronisingly attempts to educate readers far more knowledgeable than himself on how to protect images, only to receive a second roasting for misrepresenting the genuine issue. A highlight is when the site's own editor-in-chief joins in the criticism....

It's not for the content creator to protect a work, it's for a potential user to obtain permission: just because it's easy to copy online content, or that an artist hasn't specifically imposed barriers, doesn't mean it's acceptable to simply take it.
Extrapolating the 'journalist's argument, every car should be thoroughly locked and immobilised, or it'd be entirely reasonable for someone to just take it. And let's not even consider the 'she was wearing a short skirt' excuse.... (okay; excessive extrapolation.)
If one finds a wonderful image online and wishes to reuse it in one's own work, one is obliged to contact the artist and obtain permission. If one can't identify or contact the artist, one CANNOT use the image. Simple as that. If one can't contact the artist because he/she has failed to make contact details available, tough: one still can't use it.

When I say 'use', I'm talking about republication for profit, of course – if one wishes to take a personal copy of an image for private appreciation, that's entirely different. Personally, I'd include not-for-profit publication, such as by charities, too, as it's not merely about money: I wouldn't want to assist causes with which I disagree. I reserve the right to withhold my creative content from religious groups or animal rights activists, for example.

That's not to say I object to my content being reused at all; quite the opposite. Just ask first, and don't presume agreement. Only today, I agreed to make photos available to promote a conference in Lancaster. In fact, the only occasion I recall on which I declined is when I was asked to make images available, uncredited and for free, to a travel agent who'd receive commission from the content my photos would illustrate.

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