Copyright in the Digital Age.

Capture.JPGnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnncvvCopyright must be credited: Couvrette/Ottawa (613) 238-5104

We recently settled a much publicized $25,000 case against one of the largest media companies in Canada. Terms of the settlement are legally confidential, but some aspects will become apparent in the coming weeks…

The incident was one of thousands that happen every day in music, photography, writing and art.

Sharing or using an image by a person who earns a living in the photography business when it is ”  copied from their website is not a right and simply not legal. Unlike sharing on social media, our site has copyright terms listed. We earn a substantial fee by licensing our work as stock photography worldwide. Companies, even those with strict policies against image theft, need to be ever vigilant or face legal costs, financial penalties and the PR outrage of artists.

This same law is all that stands between the average Canadian and those who would steal your images and publish them for their own benefit or against your better interests.

Copyright  starts with the creator. The digital age with all its wonders has done substantially  more damage to artists than good. In the photography industry, work is illegally downloaded and used daily, from scenics to food shots and even family and wedding photographs. Aside from affecting income, it can and has defiled the privacy of clients.  We now live in a culture of theft that children have , through no fault of their own , been raised to think of as normal.

The dark secret behind the internet is that the majority of artists are victims of a system that makes tech billionaires from the talent of artists with little or no compensation to the creators. Social media`s content and currency is art published with the hope of exposure…but the catch it that exposure on social media is one of the least powerful marketing tools in the business world.  To add to the dilemma, Google Image Search Engine results are merely scraped off the websites of artists looking to show their work. Use them at your own risk!

In the digital world, the users personal information is the product and then the user is the ad target of this supposedly free medium. Ads per second are actually double what they were on that ancient medium…television. A perfect storm indeed but one that hints of a dystopian future. Instagram, with 100 million users was sold to Facebook for roughly one billion dollars and employed a dozen people while Kodak at its peak employed 150,000. The direction of so called “disruptive technologies” is as apparent in the workforce as it is on artists, or as the tech world snidely calls them, “content providers”. The economic model of the “sharing culture” is simply not sustainable and does more to dash the hopes of artists than support them.

We live in a civilized society because of laws about rights that were hard fought over centuries. They are the cornerstone of  how our economy works. Our action in pursuing  this lawsuit was about the value people believe they can arbitrarily place on an artist`s work. In the age of sharing, that amount  decreases every time an artist allows work to be used without compensation that they alone decide is fair. Sadly the floodgates are open and artists with little power or chutzpah are drowning in the internet ocean.

Companies work on precedents and set policies based on law. Neither the outrage I see on photo forums nor #BooHooHoo are industry changing actions. Legal actions, on the other hand, change history…Artists who trade their work for exposure, peer respect or Facebook likes are the walking dead of the art world.

To be a successful artist, you need three things…talent, business sense and courage.

Lead, follow or get out of the way.

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