Copyright: the digital photographer’s perspective

Above: A self-portrait of Laura Ferreira, courtesy the photographer.

BitDepth#821 for February 14, 2012

The thing is; I’m kind of old school when it comes to copyright. After spending an entire career fending off both casual and quite deliberate infringements of my work, it’s curious to be working now in a field in which the vast majority of its current practitioners seem not to care very much about copyright at all.

Consider the story of Noam Galal, a New York based part time photographer who discovered, to his surprise, that a self-portrait he shot of himself had become a graffiti symbol of choice for civil unrest, reproduced on clothing and appearing in print.

Galal was living a photographer’s nightmare, his image so thoroughly pirated that it had taken on a life of its own, one that no longer involved him at all.

Instead of hiring a battery of lawyers to chase down infringing parties (which would have included Egyptian protesters), he put up a website collecting reproductions of the photo, a distinctly 2012 way of handling the problem.

Closer to home, there’s the continuing story of Laura Ferreira, a distinctive young photographer who brings an artist’s patina to her photographs of celebrities and beautiful young women.

Such photographs are a popular target for folks on the web looking for attractive images, but Ferreira remains remarkably undaunted by the risk.

“I can easily take out a large watermark from a photo using any editing program; therefore, I choose to have my photo look its best instead of having a giant, ugly, removable splotch on top of it,” Ferreira explained in an e-mail interview. “My work has grown and developed online – I am a photographer of the digital age, and the Internet is my work’s showroom.”

That said, there was at least one incident that managed to get under her skin.

“There was a photographer who cropped my name out of my image, put his name on it, and slapped it on his website. He even thanked people who commented on “his” work. That one stood out the most to me.”

After Ferreira confronted the infringer, he responded via e-mail that he’d done it to impress people, admitting that he couldn’t take an image like hers.

“Those may not be the exact words but that was the gist of it. I thought, well… that’s the saddest excuse for outright theft I have ever heard.”

Laura Ferreira didn’t just come into her own as a photographer in the digital era, modern technology enabled her inspiration, her techniques and ultimately her craft. That’s how Ferreira discovered Houston photographer Phillip Warner [the earlier link is broken, this link leads to an online gallery of Warner’s work), an early influence.

It’s the virtual school that birthed her career, and it’s a resource she happily continues to contribute to with tutorials that have been published both in photography magazines and online.

When things go wrong, Ferreira tends to find out about it quickly.

“It’s very easy to get in touch with people who have used my work through the Internet. I also have a great group of fellow artists and supporters who go out of their way to get me information when I post about an image theft that I have found, or that someone else has found and alerted me with.”

“I think that some of it is ignorance, especially from young graphic designers who are pulling images off Google to make flyers and posters for products and think that we will never see them.”

“If it’s on the Internet, we will find it. Not always immediately, but eventually. However, it’s hard to believe that all of them are like that. Some just think that they can get away with it. The malicious ones, well they are just plain old bold-faced.”

“As for sharing my work, I do not regret it one bit. I have worked on some amazing projects that came about solely by the right people stumbling upon my work.”

The background interview with Laura Ferreira about this incident is here.

My own discussion with a local infringer is here.

About Mark Lyndersay

Mark Lyndersay is a writer and photographer based in Trinidad and Tobago. He writes editorial leaders for Guardian Media Limited, for whom he has written more than 1,300 since 2001, feature writing and reviews and his column, BitDepth, which has examined personal technology issues continuously over the last 20 years. As a photographer, he divides his time between commercial assignments and annual report photography and personal projects like Local Lives, which examines the backstory of life and culture in Trinidad and Tobago.

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