‘It’s a party invitation’

Above: Ferreira’s collaboration with Anya Ayoung-Chee for Tribe. Photo courtesy Laura Ferreira.

BitDepth#1008 for September 29, 2015

Late last week, the Internet exploded.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration of course, though social media, which thrives on the viral, is given to multi-megaton blasts of uninformed opinion and nuclear scale sharing at least twice a week.

This particular conflagration followed the use of an image by local photographer Laura Ferreira of a Tribe Carnival costume designed by equally local fashionista Anya Ayoung-Chee on an event invitation, more commonly known on these shores as a fete ticket.

Adding fuel to this particular blaze was the promoter of the event, rapper TI who proudly revealed the smoky, sultry photo as the motif of “Tips’ Birthday Carnivale.”

It’s unclear whether this was an event that one paid to attend, but given TI’s stature on the charts, it’s entirely likely that if you have to ask, you aren’t the person this invitation is for.

Photographer Laura Ferreira, a self-portrait courtesy of the author.
Photographer Laura Ferreira, a self-portrait courtesy of the author.

The photographer issued the following statement on her Facebook page: “TI is using one of my images for his birthday invitation, on his Instagram account (it’s now on his Facebook page, too).”

“Would love to have a credit for myself as well as the costume designer, Anya Ayoung-Chee. Seriously, whoever designed this knew they didn’t have the right to use it. Removing my name from the image doesn’t magically make it right.”

“I would have been thrilled to let it out to such a huge audience, if I were contacted in the first place.”

The response from Instagram user troubleman31 (the image and comments have been removed), who may or may not be TI himself, was ungracious, illiterate and rude, but it would be quickly matched by angry comments supportive of Ferreira’s plight.

When I asked the photographer if she felt she might have unleashed the hounds of hell on TI, she responded, “I needed a way to get his attention and this was the fastest, most direct way to do so.”

The rapper’s team has roundly ignored Ferreira’s efforts at engagement on the matter and in a terse note she explained that there are: “No updates at this time – I’ve spoken with my lawyer.”

In 2012 I wrote a column about online copyright infringements that featured Laura Ferreira and I was curious about what her experiences have been like since then.

“There have been many incidents like this that ended with payment for usage, crediting, or the other party removing the image,” the photographer explained.

“Some were dealt with in a similar manner when my requests were ignored.”

As for changing her position regarding sharing her work online, she asked in turn, “If a musician’s song illegally appears in a video or ad, would he or she end promoting their music online?”

“Change the context and you’ll have your answer. There is no stopping people from downloading any online content, and no one is stopping us from having the power to do something about it.”

It’s particularly interesting that part of the online discussion about the incident has challenged Ferreira’s approach to the situation.

The arguments for TI’s appropriation include the notion that she should be happy for the free, uncredited “publicity” and that collaboration with the artist might have created more opportunities.

Others noted, as did troubleman31, that it’s just a fete ticket and that local promoters steal photos to use on their event invites all the time (the image has since been confirmed as being used at the event itself as a wall-sized poster).

That position carefully obfuscates the fact that these aren’t tickets or invitations at all, they are palm sized (now websized) advertisements for an event that is either collecting money at the door or brand equity for their hosts inside the velvet rope.

I’ve had the experience of a photo being taken for such use and arguing against it, but the long term impact of such abuse on a creator is that it robs the photo of value.

To put it bluntly, nobody wants to pay for a photo that’s been whored out all over town, so thieves really shouldn’t get upset when the chastity belt snaps shut.

Before getting a lawyer involved, Laura Ferreira made her appeal directly to TI’s team, filed copyright claims with Instagram and Facebook and discovered that such tactics trail reality by a disturbing margin.

She may also have discovered that the emotional cost of the exercise as well as the literal cost of engaging legal representation rarely rewards the effort.

Daniel Morel’s very 21st century case against AFP and Getty won him US$1.2 million for the illegal use of his Haiti disaster images on Twitter, but the court declined his claim for the staggering legal fees he incurred.

If the law firm hadn’t decided to eat the cost, it’s unlikely he would have earned any money at all.

Ferreira declines to accept that she should be grateful for the larcenous attention paid to her work by a popular rapper.

“I invite these people to take everything they’ve ever created and give it to TI, at no charge, with no credit.”