I recently had a situation in which a bikini company posted a photo of mine (that I consider fine art.. and I take it very seriously, obviously) to promote a 30% off sale on their website. I was shocked and pretty bummed. My photo. The one I will probably have printed, framed, and sent to an art gallery?? Before I even get a chance to do what I want with my photo it's been demoted to a bikini company 30% off sale that I didn't even give permission to do so?? Ugh.
So I expressed my feelings candidly [in the comments] to the [un-name] bikini company. She replied by saying she liked the photo and that's why she used it to promote her sale. She was in no hurry to take it down.
Oh? Oh really. Well.. does that mean I can go into your store and take a bikini [without paying] because I like it? Same thing, right?
But it gets better. A customer decides to comment, "was going to follow @ladyslider that comment made me change my mind. Wow!" Wow? Wow?! I am getting chastised for taking ownership and control over my creative property?
I ended up being called rude and feeling really guilty for standing up for my work and the misuse of my image.
Something is wrong here.
A few months ago I had the same frustration with social media and the loss of creative control over my intellectual property. I wrote a whole thing on it and sort of forgot about it. But I couldn't think of a more appropriate time to share than now.
Get ready for a rant.
Over the last couple years I have seen a lot of people re-post, re-use, and sometimes visually abuse photos via social media (re: mostly businesses trying to build their brand identity and using other users photos as “free” marketing.) I think the internet and social media is an amazing platform for creative people to showcase their work. I would have never been able to make a living if I didn’t have social media platforms like Instagram, Tumblr, and my blog. But I think the accessibility of all this visual information has created an unusually saturated market and a very gray area in a very new form of marketing. Suddenly anyone has the ability to start their own business, cull through the internet and infuse their (or their companies) “good taste” at the expense of someone else’s creative property. I mean let’s be real, most businesses who don’t have the budget for marketing are doing it. Why not, right? It’s “free."
I thought this was a good opportunity to shed some light on the creative industry. More specifically, as a photographer and visual storyteller on social media.
Let’s say the [virtual] creative industry is its own little community. We all live and work and play together in this little community. It’s pretty rad and fun. Each of us have our own little houses. Personally, I love the way I built my little house. It is exactly how I want it to look and I paid extra attention to each individual piece that goes into my little house. One day, someone decides to steal a bunch of shit from my house. Straight up went into to it, pulled a bunch of my personal shit, and put it up in their own house (totally invasion of my personal rights, if you ask me.) They thought, “Hey. I like this. I want it. It would look great with what I’m doing with my house. And she left it out to show everyone anyway. We all live in the same community and it would look great up on my wall too. It’s totally fine.” Hmm, yeah no. That’s not cool. That’s actually called stealing. Stealing is a universal wrong. You can’t do it in any country that I know of. Some countries will cut your frickin’ hand off if they catch you stealing. Unfortunately, our community is so new we don’t even have a policing system to catch and punish the asshole who did it (I mean, technically you can. But it requires a lot of paperwork and the abuser usually goes unpunished.) So sometimes we have to go out there and attempt a citizens arrest. Yeah, I have to act like a bad cop sometimes and I hate doing that. I’m really bad at that kind of stuff. But some people have no idea it was wrong (which is crazy to me.. really.) But they’re totally polite about it and hopefully they won’t do it again. Others get pretty entitled (Oh? You’re getting possessive over something that doesn’t belong to you?! That’s weird.) They’ll usually fight back and think that your property is their property too, "I mean, you put it out so we could all see it, why wouldn’t I take it?” Which is kind of frustrating and a little ignorant as someone conducting themselves in a living and working community. You didn’t read the community guidelines before you moved in, did you?
Well in some creative industries, like writing for example, you are immediately fired from your firm and your name is tarnished for the rest of your career if you are caught taking someone else’s words. You are better off working at Blockbuster the rest of your life reciting movie synopsis than trying to continue a career as a writer. Which is rough because Blockbuster doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s a shame this doesn’t happen in one of the most used creative spaces, ever. I think a lot of people would think twice about how they treat other peoples creative shit.
Yeah, that was a really long winded analogy. Am I making any sense?
If you can’t wrap your head around that let me be a little more literal. So, you like a photo of my friend Rosie surfing and decide to “re-post” it to your social media feed without permission? Let me tell you the kinds of effort and financial responsibility that went into the making of that photo:
1. Swim team practice from age 4-18 that made me a good enough swimmer to sit in the line up and take waves on the head.
2. Living in Hawaii my entire life and understanding wave conditions, current, where to sit when the waves break.
3. Waking up way earlier than I usually do to get the perfect lighting to get the perfect shot.
4. I have passionately taking photos since I was in high school. It has taken me years to develop an aesthetic and unique point of view.
5. The Price of Paradise. I pay 30% more in housing costs and $8.50 for half a gallon of organic milk living in Hawai’i. I don’t consider that a financial burden. It is a huge sacrifice and effort to live in “paradise."
6. The Talent. Rosie didn't just get good at longboarding overnight. I've been surfing almost all my life and I still can't get to the nose with way she does. Getting images of incredibly talented humans means having a relationship with them first.
7. [EDIT] The Prep. Someone also commented on all the time prep and post work involved in taking photos. Some photos are pretty effortless [i.e. photos of Rosie] but others require a ton of prep work [wardrobe, location scouting, hours on the computer gathering inspiration, etc.] And all the post work involved in photos means I am spending hours in front of the computer downloading, selecting, editing, and re-editing [my least favorite part.]
[JUST SOME OF] THE FINANCIAL BURDEN:
Camera: $2500 for a Canon 5D Mark III
Lenses: $1950 for a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II and $1750 for a 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II
Warehousing: $1600 and $400-800 for each additional port
Computer [and I need a new one so bad!]: $2000
Camera accessories [cards and other misc.]: $100-200/year
Photo Editing Software and Storage: $200-300/year
Electricity Bill: $100-150/month [$1800/year]
Internet: $100/month [$1200/year]
Photo Insurance: $300/year
So this year I will have roughly spent $13,600 for other people to conveniently take and use [the product of my burden] for themselves. Cool.
I hope this puts it all into perspective for you. I'm not angry at anyone in particular. I'm not really angry at all. Just frustrated. I think the creative community needs to be better guarded, maintained and navigated. And I mean, how hard is it to ask permission to use someones photo?? If you don't want to buy into anything else I already said.. it's respectful and courteous thing to do. From human to human. That's all.
Bite on that. This rant is done. I am open to comments and everything in-between. I have no words left to say but frustration in my head. Hahah.
Let's get real real.