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The answer will surprise you...Who Are The Thieves?
Once a year, it seems, a question about thievery on the Internet comes up. As I've written before -- thievery on the Web is certainly possible. With today's software capabilities, it's possible to 'res up' a 72 dpi image to 300 dpi with excellent results.
So, technically it's possible to "steal images" by capturing small images on the Web and increasing their resolution. In my book, sellphotos.com, I give some examples of misguided improper use of photos.
One example: A commercial printing company executive used a previously published photo from the company's digital file for unauthorized use in a commercial brochure. The photographer took him to court. And rightly so. But the infraction was a mistake -- not outright thievery.
As we rush pell-mell along in the new Digital Age, of course some honest mistakes are going to be made. We're all entitled to a few of those.
NOT OUR PHOTOBUYERS
However, since the emphasis at PhotoSource International is on editorial stock photography, not studio pictures, not commercial stock photos, we should keep in mind just who we are apprehensively thinking may steal a photo. Our markets are books and magazines. And relax: photobuyers at book and magazine publishing houses don't steal photos.
Nor do commercial art directors. The negative fall-out would be too damaging. But as I say, commercial photography is not our bailiwick. We have a greater advantage being editorial stock photographers-- we produce pictures that can easily be identified because of their uniqueness. We need to examine whether we're putting too much worry into a concern that does not deserve it.
A rare few early mistakes have been made as everyone gets introduced to the Digital Age. This has been a learning process for executives and printing company personnel as well as the general public, who are now learning the benefits of the Web. Eventually ignorance on appropriate handling of photos will diminish.
You won't find your photobuyers at publishing houses and magazines exhibiting such ignorance.
LURKING IN CYBERSPACE?
But the question is... "Is thievery rampant, or even existent, on the Web?"
Ever since photographers began realizing that it's possible for someone to "borrow" an image from the Web, I've heard warnings from my fellow camera columnists that thieves are lurking in cyberspace, waiting to steal your photos. Certain pros in our industry often perpetuate the myth at seminars and camera club meetings. They warn that photographers should beware, and that they should not expose images on the Web unless they are so tiny that someone could not profitably make use of them.
Look. A photobuyer who likes his or her job, is not going to jeopardize their good name and that of their company by lurking in cyberspace to steal images from vulnerable stock photographers. It's just not happening.
Sure, there may be the rare exception. But that kind of thievery was happening before the Digital Age came along. A certain percent of the population is going to be stealing things, no matter what kind of lock you put on it.
Ask yourself, "What are you putting your images on the Web for?" It's to expose them to the buying public. If you hide them or make them too tiny and ineffective, you are sacrificing a major marketing channel.
When I hear reports of stolen images, I ask the persons for documentation. The informants seldom come forth. When they do -- it turns out that a cub scout organization, church group, non-profit newsletter, foreign newspaper, or industrious teen-ager, is the culprit.
Should we put in barriers to entry to potential buyers by installing a firewall or elaborate registration system? Few of us can afford time spent on paranoia or money on expensive deterrent software. Nor can we afford to have photobuyers, when they encounter these barriers, move on to the next photo supplier.
I have said this often: "Please let me know (with documentation) where a professional photobuyer in the United States has purposely stolen someone's image. No hearsay please, I need documentation." (This refers to the U.S. because of the familiarity of our rules of Copyright, etc. in this country. Other countries have different copyright protections.) I'm still looking for someone to come forward with documented evidence that "stealing images" by a reputable organization has or is being done.
As I mentioned earlier, this question comes up yearly. Each year, I make the same request. Send me some (documented) U.S. examples of images stolen by a professional photobuyer.
I never get them.
-- Rohn Engh