Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Is Stealing Photos from the Web OK?

A couple of days ago, while captioning photographs, one of my assistants commented about how much work it took to prepare each image: The cost of location photography, organizing thousands of images on hard drives, key wording, captioning, and finally optimizing. Besides my self, I employ two people to help me with the process.

That's why I'm very upset. Livid. Angry. Today, while talking with that same assistant about posting photographs to my Facebook
site, she said that I need to be careful because someone could steal the images.

When asked if she ever lifted an image from the web, she said, "Well, yes. I don't want to pay for a photo when I'm using it small in a flier or something."

"But that's illegal. It's stealing," I replied.
"There's a lot of gray area there," she retorted.
"US copyright law says it's illegal."
"But the photographs are not copyrighted."
"All photographs are copyrighted as soon as they are taken. It happens that I register mine with the US Copyright Office," I said.
"Is taking a photograph from a gallery stealing?"
"Yes," the photo assistant replied.
"What's the difference?"
"The photo on the web can be reproduced many times."
"So can the photo in the gallery."
"I don't want to talk about it any more. We have to agree to disagree" she replied.
"It's still illegal, even by law."
Silence. Tension.

What is it in our culture that allows theft a photo from the web but not from an art gallery?


LilyCat said...

Janis, It is not a gray area. It is stealing. The law is very clear. If your assistant cannot comprehend what appears (to her) to be new information from the boss in the area of his expertise, maybe it is time for a new assistant. Your point relates not only to copyright and to a general disregard for your intellectual property, but might well undermine your confidence in this employee more generally. For example, is is okay to fudge a little on reported work hours if she "will make it up later?" How about "borrowing" some photo paper for a personal project? Or bringing a child to work when you are not there? We may not be able to change the ethical standards of our employees, but we can change employees.
Just found your blog. Good luck!

lyonsaw said...

Janis, you are absolutely right! I had one of my photos lifted from Flickr, even though it was clearly marked as copyrighted, and posted to a legal publication!!! When I confronted the editor (an attorney), he said it was "inadvertent."