What we can do about the copyright thieves
Let me tell you a little story. A story to make photographers weep. When I first started my photography business (photographing people), I had a portrait shoot with the two adorable children of a women who I then worked with. It was a really fun shoot, the children were angels and I was more than happy with the images that I got. As I didn’t yet have proper systems in place for doing client viewings, I created very low resolution versions of the images for her and put them on a DVD to browse through so she could tell me which ones she wanted to buy. How clever was I doing this, I thought… there was no way that she would be able to print high quality prints from those files. My work and profit were both safe.
Yet the day after I gave her the DVD, she couldn’t wait to proudly show me the framed images she had created with them that were sitting in pride of place on her desk at work. She had printed them on the work photocopier on standard printer paper and placed them inside frames what were too big for the size of the images. They looked terrible. But she loved them anyway. She didn’t care. They were her new pride and joy.
I went on a copyright crackdown
After that lesson, I went on a copyright crackdown. Every image I created was plastered with a huge watermark over it (you can still see some of that evidence in the earlier posts on this blog). I disabled right-clicking on my website so people couldn’t “save to desktop”. I hunted out every possible way I could to make sure no-one could steal my precious work and take money that was rightfully mine away from me.
I realise that landscape photography is a different ball game to photographing people. With social photography, there is an underlying feeling amongst society that if a photograph contains an image of you, then you have a right to do what you want with that image. I’m not going to argue the rights or wrongs of this sentiment here. But there is also a general sense that any image on the internet is fair game. That as soon as it goes online, it becomes public property. That anyone can take images from your website and use them on their own. Again, I’m not going to argue the rights and wrongs of this. But it bothered me. A lot.
I stopped wasting my energy on copyright thieves
The problem was that the more I made things difficult for the thieves, the more I made it difficult for the people who genuinely wanted to enjoy my photography too. The people who would potentially champion my cause, spread the word, pass me referrals, buy my prints.
I found myself struggling to place watermarks where they wouldn’t disturb the balance of the composition that I had put so much thought, time and feeling into getting just right. I started to annoy myself with the disabled right-clicks, which not only stopped visitors saving images, but also (depending on their browser) bookmarking the page, creating shortcuts, viewing the page source. A multitude of context menu items that I had forced my own will over. That’s when I realised I had to stop. If I wasn’t welcoming those who would champion my work, why was I even putting anything online? So slowly, the watermarks became smaller, until I realised that really they were completely inefficient. Anyone with a couple of minutes to spare could easily clone or crop them out. Or anyone without the inclination to do this would probably just use them as they were anyway. Yes, I could spend hours hunting these thieves out. But would I really catch all of them? Would I even catch any of them?
The woman who I worked with ended up being so happy with her “free prints” that she never did order anything from me. I may lose out to the few who decide to take a copy of my images from my website. But the chances are that they would never spend the money on a print anyway. I’d rather put my energy into finding the real members of my tribe, my true fans, than worry about chasing after those who aren’t.
PS. But please don’t steal. It’s really not nice.