Photographer bugged out of business by copyright infringement

I couldn't make a better headline than Arstechnicas Bugging out: How rampant online piracy squashed one insect photographer. Photographer Alex Wild who has made photographing insects his speciality writes about the pros, and giant cons of the rampant infringement on the internet and his experiences.

For a concise idea of what could go wrong, let me indulge in a list of recent venues where commercial interests have used my work without permission, payment, or even a simple credit:
Billboards, YouTube commercials, pesticide spray labels, website banners, exterminator trucks, t-shirts, iPhone cases, stickers, company logos, eBook covers, trading cards, board games, video game graphics, children’s books, novel covers, app graphics, alt-med dietary supplement labels, press releases, pest control advertisements, crowdfunding promo videos, coupons, fliers, newspaper articles, postage stamps, advertisements for pet ants (yes, that’s a thing), canned food packaging, ant bait product labels, stock photography libraries, and greeting cards.
Yesterday evening, while Googling insect references in popular culture, I discovered that a small Caribbean island helped itself to a photograph I took in 2008. My photo shows a slave-raiding ant, a fascinating species that survives as a parasite on the labor of other ants. But the image had been imprinted on the back of a commemorative one-cent piece. Perhaps symbolically, this is one cent more than I received for my part in bringing the coin to the public.

The time spent on tracking down infringers eats up the time that could have spent investing in his photography. You should read the article in full, it explains very well what anyone in a creative business has to deal with today - be they photographers, illustrators, musicians, writers, even programmers - and there is no amount of t-shirt sales that will help this issue. The old trope "don't post it on the internet" is rebutted too.

“If you don’t want your work infringed, don’t post it.”
Of all the varieties of infringement-related comments, the “stay off the Internet” refrains are the most toxic. In one go they both acknowledge that infringement is bad for artists while also showing no concern for the Internet, which would be poorer for their absence. “Don’t post it” is the ultimate nihilistic diss.
Worse still, too many artists heed this advice to their (and our) detriment. Too little copyright protection carries a pervasive chilling effect of its own, one that is common but nearly invisible. We simply do not see the creative works that are not shared.
At my workshops, I invariably meet people who bring fantastic images. Stunning katydids. Rare behaviors of parasitic wasps. Artfully anthropomorphized arachnids. You will never see their efforts online, though, because fear of infringement keeps many of them from uploading. This self-censorship is common, and the result is bad for everyone.
The Internet, as rich as it is in content, is less rich than it could be. If we ever needed an incentive for copyright reform, this is it. New laws and new technologies should, of course, grant greater flexibility for non-commercial sharing, provide stronger fair use guidelines, and shorten the bizarrely long copyright terms. But reforms need also provide concrete assurances to artists, reassurances that the mere act of participating online won’t force them to choose between bankruptcy and chasing infringers through the rabbit hole of ineffective copyright enforcement.
More artists online will make for a better Internet, and we all could use an Internet with better stuff.


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ReasonedDissent's picture

Bettter headline, check.

On point, check.

Nice to see a creator come out with this perspective. We can all agree that people should be compensated for their work fairly. This is a double edged sword, because there are plenty of people being compensated for work that isn't theirs based on tradition and generally anti-competitive business practices.

At some point, we should be stopping to ask ourselves what's the difference between what we want and what we can realistically have. Saddling small creators with the onerous burden of submitting removal requests and tracking whose ripped them off is bullshit. Conversely, large brands with dollars to pay lawyers to do that so their image stays pristine is flat out untruth in advertising. It's just one more way money slants the playing field. We're all aware of it, yet, nothing ever seems to happen about it.

The point that what gets shared gets seen is critical. Tons of amazing stuff goes unnoticed until there's someone's dollars to back it up, and that's a serious social problem, if you're thinking the ad world, you're being small minded, stop it.

Carrie Devorah's picture

I cannot disagree with you anymore than what I have taken my position on. If you choose to give your work away for free that is your choice as someone who is not a dedicated content creator relying on teaching to pick you your financial slack. I am a content creator, never had a paycheck job nor do I want that to be my future. I want my future to be laws respected, Theft compensated for and an IP that lives as long as my heirs on earth will because, you know, if someone can have a family farm in for generations to live off of, then I too can have my heirs live off my talent for generations to come.

You are welcome to visit my site, even LINKEDIN. Just dont rope us in on your journey. After all, we dedicated Arts Content creators hear it every day from those that took the sure thing rather than going for the gold, so to speak


CARRIE Devorah
562 688 2883

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Where ARTS, IP, ID, IT and ENFORCEMENT Come Together In One Voice Against Online Theft Of Content and Commerce
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CCIA : Profiler : trained MPI : LACBA-DRS : CA-BSIS
Actively built the 1st discrete site crime analysis lab on a campus in North America
COFFEE @ CLOCKERs "A Sense Of Place"
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Licensor (yeah hi, bye link)

Retired White House News Photographers Association Alumnus Covering Capitol Hill and the White House for Almost a Decade

Dabitch's picture

What on earth are you disagreeing with, Carrie Devorah? Are you high? A bot? You've jumped into the thread to play contrarian, but making our points? Or was this just a great spot for you to add all of your links? I removed them by the way, because holy spam-tourettes. We don't need to see every tangentially related "BTW I sell X" link to our post here you know, that's kind of ... ugh. Spam on advertising trade site, where do I even begin to explain how wrong that was?