Earlier this month, my friend DisneyRollerGirl emailed me with a quandary she had received from a in-house fashion PR suggesting it would make a good subject for NakedPRGirl blog to tackle - and a good subject it is. The fashion PR was explaining that as a brand, they added images to their blog of cultural events - artists and exhibitions, and wondered from a bloggers perspective how DisneyRollerGirl would feel about this. They always add credits and link backs to the pictures they use. DisneyRollerGirl replied (in the exact way I would have) saying that she would think it was fine as 'you are essentially promoting them right?' and to add their social media handle so they would retweet. She added 'But if they did have a problem with it they would surely just email you?' Well it turns out that someone did have a problem with this because unfortunately for the brand and the PR in question, an invoice from the photographer of one of their features had landed on their desk. Which begs the question, in this day and age of increasing social media and pressure on 'sharing' to grow your network - who owns your images?
In real life, and I refer to UK Copyright Laws if you have taken an image then there is a good chance you own the copyright. The laws here are lengthly and extensive but in the main if you took it, you own. Get it? Hang on then, that's all well and good, but we know full well that it doesn't mean anything. Just look at Jennifer Lawrence and Cara Delevingne who were the victims of IPhone hacking with their nude selfies leaked on the internet. Who do they complain to? Those images are still up there, they own the copyright and now after many months of perving, sharing and downloading, they are preparing to sue Google as The Metro explains on Friday 3rd October;
"US lawyer Marty Singer sent a legal warning to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. He accused the company of failing to 'act expeditiously' to remove the images from the web of 'profiting from the victimisation of women'. In the letter Mr Singer added: 'Google knows the images are hacked stolen property, private and confidential photos and videos unlawfully obtained and posted by pervert predators who are violating the victims' privacy rights. Yet Google has taken little or no action to stop these violations.'
So are copyright laws not worth the paper they are written on? The above, is clearly true. There has never been such an open and shut case of 1) the theft and hacking - is illegal and 2) under copyright laws, these women haven't given their permission, making posting the photos and sharing them - illegal. But Google is self governing to an extent, a business so big and intrenched in society that has become a modern day verb. It has operated as above the law for so long and now, it is being subverted and used for evil. Note - no one seems to be suing Yahoo or Ask. Yesterday Google did reply to this saying they had removed thousands of images. But this clearly shows that as mighty as Google are, there is no way they can control their own power - unless they went to extreme measures of checking and controlling every image upload. We are responsible to a large extent to screening and controlling our own content. And unfavourable images, in the same way as images we love can spreading wildfire - going viral worldwide in the time it takes to say 'whoaaah is that Jennifer Lawrence?'
The law is stepping in here and there with how online operates, the cases which have been heard through the recent 'right to be forgotten' cases raise interesting questions - who has the right to erase history? Is this just another form of writing a one sided history book? Who is ultimately governing Google? Who is policing the police? Is it time to add enforcement? If this is the World Wide Web, would all countries need to sign up to a new code of conduct? Is it too late? If this was a stable door, the horse hasn't so much as bolted but it is doing a parade and a show jumping routine at the same time - how can you retrospectively apply rules so something thus far so free and powerful.
Going back to the original question, according to copyright laws, the blogger, brand and everyone should be seeking approval before regramming, retweeting, re sharing, borrowing any images taken by anyone else. The only time you are EVER off the hook is if the image is over 70 years old. Removing metatags is bad, if they accidentally remove, still bad. So there's a mental note for all of us, no matter how busy we are we should be seeking to credit all our images properly and seeking permission to use. But there does seem to be a distinction between blogs and brands (not legally but with image agencies). When I spotted that Getty Images had become free and open to bloggers to use their images on blogs, I was so excited, I went on immediately to read the small print so I could look at using them on a blog of the boutique I was working for. What I found was that as we would commercially gain from the use of the images - i.e. the end use was to entice people onto our main website, that we wouldn't be allowed to use the images and our normal fees for this would apply.
Which makes you understand that images aren't just a free for all. If you work really hard to get original images and would equally be miffed if someone stole them without crediting. But the lines are blurred as commercial businesses become so powerful they are becoming content creators in their own right, rivalling magazines and newspapers for features - like the fashion PR who is creating a world for her community by sharing cultural experiences. So in a sense, if brands are becoming media platforms, is it not just the same as say a newspaper sharing your images and information/images. Be careful if you are a commercial business, even if you buy the images legally, you may run into trouble if you are giving an impression that a third party is endorsing your product. For example, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony were photographed with their new twins and shiny Silver Cross pushchair and the images were featured in People magazine. That was fine. What wasn't fine is when Silver Cross used the images next to the pushchair on their website which read "Jennifer Lopez will be the envy of Long Island when she's out and about with their new baby twins, thanks to two beautiful Onyx Black Silver Cross Balmoral prams she has taken for the pair". Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony filed a $5 million lawsuit against Silver Cross in 2009 for misrepresenting them and making it sound as if they were endorsing the product. That's brand damaging for Silver Cross. A celebrity might have been pictured using your product but official endorsement is a different thing altogether.
The other thing to remember is that often bloggers are not just the smiling happy, designer clad bunnies you see on Instagram. They are also monetised, they're not working for free. Some use affiliate links to cash in on what they're posting, so if you see a picture of Marilyn Monroe next to a cut out of a dress from a brand and you click through to buy, that picture of Marilyn has secured the purchase. Does the photographer get a cut? Probably not but with the explosion of social media and the rise of platforms like Instagram which is a public photo sharing app, it is easy to see how confusing this is for the industry, where do you draw the line? Do you need to copyright all your personal images with a watermark? It's all very Chinese whispers, a RG from one person, to suddenly...well who knows who took it? But it's sure nice hey?
If you are in the industry, if your blog is attached to a brand I would highly suggest seeking permission before posting. Brands are often seen as huge rich institutions, and why should they gain from a photographers creativity, after all being a photographer isn't cheap, training, kit, lighting, getting up at dawn to catch the light, retouching, and then you go and stick it on your blog without a moments thought. If you're desperate to use the image, most likely they'll let you use it for free if not, pay for it, or use something else. If you do decide to use without asking, credit the name of the photographer, social media handle and website link. If you get any complaints, take it down. For photographers, I can assure you no harm is meant, so I would always advise getting in touch before invoicing. Who knows, the brand may be looking for a photographer?
And perhaps the other side of the coin, is wording. Words used to be copied quite freely and happily 're-blogging' until Google created an algorithm which penalised such practices, it brings me to Chanel's latest statement at Paris Fashion Week, and no not the one about feminism, the one they advertised on the back of Women's Wear Daily. Quite the statement - and why not? They've taken years to build that brand and every time you chuck a tweed jacket on you call it 'Chanel-esque' because you don't understand or because it's lazy copywriting.
Perhaps the problem is we're all cut price journalists - little experience, no NCTJ qualification, no press complaints commission (or whatever they're called now) to keep us in check, on image rights or copyright. Words and images have gone from being produced via a media house or through our own brands to a veritable free for all. Content creation is at an absolute premium and speed is of the essence so cutting corners and just whacking it together has taken precedence over doing it properly. Doesn't make it ok, but with laws that are difficult to understand and enforce, it may be high time that online is tackled and given agreed guidelines to work within. When I was researching this article I did come across the World Wide Web Consortium but they appear on the surface to be lacking powers. I may be wrong, and there may be a guard dog hiding somewhere but it looks like each individual country and each organisation has to govern their own territory.
The World Wide Web has emerged as a new kind of world leader, more powerful than any single country. In all the ways it has opened our world up, it exposes opportunity for corruption. As with everything on earth, where there is dark there is light. Use your World Wide Web experience responsibly.
The Golden Rules
1) Did you write it? Then it is yours. Publish it.
2) Did you take the picture? It's probably yours, go nuts, post it (as long as it's not breaking any laws).
3) Did someone else write it? Don't publish it. Unless it's an extract you can reference and link back to (and I mean an extract, no plagiarism or duplicate content kids)
4) Did someone else take the picture? Use your brain, is it responsible? Can you credit it? Can you ask? Think about it before you post. If in doubt don't do it.
5) Are you a photographer? Do you sell high resolution images? Use watermarks to protect yourself and upload low resolution or thumbnails. Add guidelines to your website - eg 'all images are mine and email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to use or share.