Thursday, 26 February 2009

A matter of ownership

Many of you will have either read the above edition of Metro, or else heard through one channel or another that Facebook recently changed some of its Terms and Conditions; in effect, the powers that be granted themselves full rights and indefinite use of all users' photographs, 'Wall' posts and additional information. There was no advance warning, no communication with users, and certainly no open discussion. As you can imagine, once word got out, the news triggered something of an outcry... which ultimitely brought about Facebook's retraction of their newly amended Ts&Cs.

How does such a large company (are they an 'organisation' yet?) make such a huge mistake, when clearly they have unlimited resources of legal and ethical practice advice? Of course Mark Zuckerberg, the site's founder, immediately started backpedalling by saying that no content would be "shared in a way you wouldn't want". Oh, well that's ok then - we can all rest easy again.

But this isn't about Facebook, so let's move on.

The issue of content and material ownership is still very much a misunderstood one. As image makers, creatives, authors, we know that a breach of the Copyright laws which govern such material is a very serious matter - and one that can have very serious ramifications. But for the 'consumer', there is a definite lack of education on the subject, so perhaps it is not so surprising that people are often taken aback when you try to explain that they simply can't take an image they find and use it for their own purposes.

Here's a real-life example: A while back, I was talking to a client of ours during the course of a shoot. The subject of picture usage came up and the conversation went something like this:

Client - Where can I get a photograph to illustrate computing and technology?
Me - Well, either we could produce a bespoke image to your requirements, or else you could try a stock library, such as ours. But whatever you do, don't just lift a picture you like directly from a website.
Client - Oh, is that not allowed?
Me - No, this is a breach of coyright... etc... etc...

Some months later, I was talking to another client and he happened to mention the man above. Turns out, he ignored my advice and took a picture he liked directly from a website anyway. The website owners found out and started court proceedings almost immediately.

Another example: In the last few days, I received an email from a new client with whom we are due to do a shoot in a couple of weeks' time. The resulting images will be supplied on disk (as is often the norm), and he will be free to use them on his organisation's website and in various local press. In the message, the question was asked "Can we then sell the images on to our members?" I explained that this would also be a breach of the law, because images are supplied for the stated usage and copyright always remains with the photographer unless an agreement is reached to purchase it outright. Essentially, the photographs are classed 'not for resale'.

As a result in the case above, and after finding out more information about just what was required, we are now going to make all the images available via the secure, password-protected Client Area of the GBP website, so that members can purchase photographic prints as and when they wish.

So, what is the moral of this post, if indeed one exists? Well, clearly there are plenty of people out there who will always defy the law, always feign ignorarance if they think it will save them a few pennies. However, in the end, this approach often catches up with them. More importantly, I think, it all comes down to education. Specifically, people need to be educated about how and why they can or can't use images that appear to be at their disposal. There's nothing wrong with asking, as the second example above proves, and in the long run everyone ca and should benefit.

Communication is the key.

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