Photography’s Rocky Relationship with Social Media

We live in an age of social media and an ever changing landscape in how people interact with each other. A photographer wants to have their work seen and the digital age has made that easier, but at what cost?

When I started to create photographs an internet presence meant a website, now we have to make this presence even bolder by using social media sites, blogs as well as a well-managed web site to catch as many viewers in your portion of the net.
Photographers have embraced all of these things but it seems that as photographers took the bull by the horns sharing their images for people to see at the beginning of the social media boom, as social media is seeming to peek they need to recoup their investment by their using what they have, their members.

The most recent company to take flak from their actions has been Instagram. Instagram though has been a liberating experience, bring back some of the film experience lost with digital photography  The ability to carry a small camera, shoot something then moving on. Instagram allows photographers to do this. They see something, shoot, process and then don’t look back.
It is liberating because as the digital age of photography was born the quality between a DSLR and a point and shoot was drastic and still is in some cases. To shoot a good quality image (not a good image) you need the equipment. Whereas in the past a snapshot camera held the film, yes, the exposure may be out slightly but the quality was not so different.
IMG_20130131_115146Instagram also has become a visual notepad. You take a shot you like because it is available and then you can come back later. When I am taking urban landscapes I like to go around first and scout out some areas and then go back to those that have potential. Instagram makes this easier as you can geotage images and just shot quickly.
In using social media we are sharing our workflow and our passion, all can be communicated to our followers. Your audience can see how you took an image and become inspired in the process. Followers can be a sounding board for your work. Most importantly your work is being seen.

A great fear has erupted within social media. It has been said for a long time that there is nothing private on the internet. Sun Microsystems former CEO Scott McNealy said the same thing in 1999 and people thought he had been smoking something. Looking at our world now everything is becoming more “social”, meaning less privacy and more sharing. With photography this means photos are being shared more. It also means that these images may be hijacked.
Social media is not free and we pay a price for it. Companies like Facebook and Instagram need to make their money for the individuals who invested in them. The fear for photographers is that there images will become part of the commodity that can be sold to bring in the money. In the last few years photographers have become complacent with their commodity.
I saw a lecturer once condemned a student for agreeing to have access to a museum but the museum would own the copyright of the images taken inside. The lecturer was amazed that the student was being so flippant with their copyright because if they wanted to use the images in the future they would need to seek permission of the museum.
The image is what makes the money and giving the copyright for free is like burning money. The issue is that within the“social” world where communication is through mediums like; Twitter, Facebook and Instgram, if you don’t share your images you are missing out on communicating with this audience. When you share an image on Instagram it can be seen by everyone and this is a huge potential audience to reach.

The problem with social media platforms is that they are interested in you using their platform to bring people to it but they are not interested in you monetising your work. Monetising is an Issue. Photography is no longer just taking and editing an image, it also requires an internet presence and to keep on top of this presence is hard work and takes time. If a photographer could agree to a click through rate for images most would be able to fund their work through their work. To make this work, it would mean adding advertising to these platforms. Social media is “cool” and adverts are not.
Another platform is needed, a place where photographers can share their work without fear of losing their copyright or their copyright being “legally infringed”.

For decades photographers have been trying to protect their rights. As I have said, the image is like cash waiting to be banked. To give away their copyright a photographer is going against years of hard work. Instagram gave us a glimpse of the future with its botched attempt to change its Terms and Conditions and Privacy Statement. Although they back tracked on the changes after an outcry from users, it seems the plans have been shelved for another time.
How can Instagram monetise images without a model or building releases. Do they take the money and then if problems due to copyright of the model or building arise, these problems get moved to the photographer?
In this case the photographer is stung twice, once for losing the money that the image was sold for and then secondly for having to foot the bill for possible legal proceedings.

Images are never safe online. All images can be hijacked using a screen shot or in the case of Facebook downloaded straight from your profile or page! How do we deal with this in the future?
It is said that we are starting to live in an entitled world where “younger people” say they are entitled to this or that without work or purchase. Internet piracy is on the rise and the reasons given by internet pirates come back usually to an entitlement they feel.

All this is old news; we have seen it before, when in 2009 Toyota got into some hot water after its advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi took images from Flickr and used them on the promotional site, 4Runner.
It is said that the problem was caused by the agency’s hiring practises, wanting to hire creative under 30’s. These people are more likely to have grown up in the internet age and believe that images on Flickr are either free or in the public domain. Although Flickr is linked with Creative Commons, a resource of copyright free images, the ones used on the site weren’t.

Snorri Gunnarsson who found one of his images in the campaign said;

“… when big corporations and well known ad agencies that of course have their own work copyrighted to the teeth, start behaving like kids on Pirate-bay, then that is just too much. This is not a case of fair use or for educational purposes, this is just to sell a car. Nothing wrong with selling a car, but then I also want to get paid for the use of my image.”

Toyota responded to the accidental copyright theft by their advertising agency;

“Toyota apologizes for pulling images from Flickr without photographer permission. Images from a handful of photographers appeared on a Toyota site for five days. We’re working quickly to reach out to the individual photographers involved. Until then, the images have been removed, and corrections have been made to the process of pulling images from Flickr.”

Toyota’s views on the images seems as offhand as if I stole a car and then said, sorry I thought it was free when it was parked in front of your show room. I have now returned it.
Did the agency use the images because they were free or because they looked good?

Also earlier this week an injunction was taken out against The Sun Newspaper in England. The Induction was brought against The Sun because of images they were planning to publish of Edward RocknRoll who married Kate Winslet in December 2012.

The pictures showed RocknRoll emerging from a pool half naked, in what has been said to be “rather silly school boy behaviour” at a party in 2010. The images were originally published on Facebook by one of the guests at the party and made available through their privacy settings to around 1500 people. They became public for a short time after the Facebook’s privacy settings changed.

In the case the judge found that, Edward RocknRoll had reasonable expectations of his privacy because the images were taken at a private party on private premises and although he had allowed the pictures to be taken he had never anticipated that the pictures would end up printed in a national magazine. The judge also said, that Edward was not a public figure and he never courted publicity in his relationship with Kate Winslet.

The images were deleted from Facebook it seems due to The Sun’s intention of publishing them.

Individuals can expect a reasonable degree of privacy when they go to a private party. This privacy is only extended over social networks to the degree that the uploaded has set their own privacy settings.

50-shades-of-redThese two cases are different with the central issues being the same. In both they deal with companies taking images from social media to be published without compensation to the author of the work. In the case of Toyota they completely disregarded to the copyright of the images. As for The Sun the images were seen as fair game because they are could be viewed by the public.

These infringements show the disrespect companies give to photographers copyright. Some people will say it serves them right for being negligent and leaving images on the internet. Why should we worry that images are potential targets of being poached?

When looking at images online the expectation of the viewer should be that they all are copyrighted. Someone had to create the image therefore the image should be copyright attached.

There are many ways to protect images as I wrote in an earlier post. Watermarking is the most popular and now with an Iphone app out called Marksta photographers can watermark mobile images on their phones.
Maybe the future will bring a new platform but in doing so we reduce the audience that we can potentially capture.

All photographers and projects work differently. I for one am making a lot of progress in developing my presence through social media with this blog being part of that. For another this approach may not work for them.  The world is moving at a rapid pace and to keep ahead of the curve photographers together must work to evolve with it while at the same time helping each other.
To stop sharing images will mean we become authors without an audience.

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2 thoughts on “Photography’s Rocky Relationship with Social Media

  1. This is a very comprehensive post. I have to admit that I have relied in the past on having my copyright embedded in my metadata or EXIF (I’m not very conversant with this stuff). I entered it all in Lightroom and assume it goes with the file. I hadn’t considered whether if I process a dng and convert to jpeg the copyright goes with it. I also set Flickr to have my images copyrighted and so far as I know people have been pretty good. A lot of people have asked for express permission to use images and some even ask for a proper release / consent form (museums for example). I do not like watermarks and I have not yet added a copyright text to the image itself but I may consider doing so. I am not looking to make money out of photography. I doubt if I have the quality to do that. But if someone else could have made money out of a Toyota ad’ then I should probably think differently. I would not be happy with someone else profiting from my work without consent!!

    • I know that Exif data is removed when you save to web with Photoshop. So all the work is pointless unless you apply it again after it has been saved. That being said some sites strip the metadata anyway when you upload them to make the files smaller.

      I don’t like water marking my images and the only ones that are are the ones in the portfolio as they are more likely to be poached.

      It’s good that people are approaching you not just taking them. I know i would be furious if someone made money out of my work with no ends for me.

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