Virtual confetti rains down from my browser’s title bar. I shield my eyes from the garish text flashing rhythmically to the pulse of John Philip Sousa, which squawks with all the pomp and grandeur that a poor little MIDI File can muster. “Congratulations on reading your 500th photography article on the subject of copyright infringement!” it exclaims — further proof that Google knows far too much about my personal proclivities.
I’m not sure exactly what attracts me to this particular genre. Perhaps I’m just endlessly fascinated by human audacity.
The articles divide into three distinct classes. In many cases, the author recounts how some rookie photographer decided to bypass the tedious learning curve by simply claiming the author’s images as their own. Other authors tell of compunctionless corporations who poach photographs from Flickr, and use them in worldwide marketing campaigns for hamster deodorant. Every so often, the articles are outrageous narratives about idea-bereft photographers who painstakingly recreate (rather than appropriate) another photographer’s carefully staged image — thus crossing over into the area of intellectual property theft.
What I find particularly curious about these articles is that, in nearly every case, the image thief rarely recognizes that they’ve done anything wrong. To the victim, it’s a crime. To the perpetrator, it’s “fair use.”
Alas, I’ve learned it’s beyond the humble scope of ULTRAsomething to alter social mores. The best I can do is observe, learn, react and report. As such, my report on copyright infringement might surprise you, but here it is: In the seven years that I’ve published ULTRAsomething, no one (to the best of my knowledge) has ever stolen a single one of my photos.
Intriguing, isn’t it?
You’re probably wondering how I’ve done it. Intrusively visible watermarks? Digimarc registration? High-priced lawyers crafting menacing legalese?
My technique is far simpler — I take photographs that no one wants to steal.
It’s important to realize that I’m not advocating crappy photography. Just because someone doesn’t want to steal something doesn’t mean it’s without value. For example, I’d wager more people would bootleg a recording of Beyoncé snoring than would steal, say, a copy of Bernard Parmeggiani’s De Natura Sonorum album. But this doesn’t mean the Parmeggiani album isn’t great, nor does it mean that the slumbering Beyoncé album is. It’s just the inevitable result of the bell curve of popular culture. The more popular something is, the more unscrupulous profiteers it attracts.
At some point, every photographer must choose between two audiences. Either they must satisfy the visual requirements of the world at large, or they must satisfy those of a single individual — themselves. The all-too-human desire for recognition, validation and income makes it rather difficult to ignore the call of the world. But it’s this same call that also attracts thieves, opportunists and copyright infringers.
I’m one of the lucky ones — I chose the “personal” path, and my photographs diverge markedly from public inclination. Occasionally, some less-fortunate photographer will also choose the personal route, only to discover they’re actually in-sync with world sentiment. Granted, this enables them to pursue their passion without having to renounce popularity or earnings, but at what price? The price of being targeted by image thieves, that’s what!
It would be a rare rookie photographer who would recognize the “charm” of my photos — so noobs never steal ‘em. Likewise, their obfuscated and metaphoric appeal means they receive little interest from corporations, who require photographs that register with a mass audience. And, since my photos are almost totally of the “found” (rather than “staged”) variety, there’s no intellectual property to steal, because there’s no intellect involved in their creation.
In general, the more personal your photography and the more intimate your motives, the less likely others will claim your photos as their own. Sure, you’re destined for a life of obscurity. And yes, people might snicker at the fact you only own two shirts, which you’ve worn on alternate days since Y2K was an actual global concern. But it all seems worthwhile when you find yourself kicking back to read another photographer’s tale of copyright woe, rather than settling in to write one of your own.
©2015 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THESE PHOTOS: “Artistic License” was shot with a Leica Monochrom M (Type 246) and a Leica 50mm f/2 Summicron APO ASPH lens. “Mixed Metaphors” was also shot with a Leica Monochrom M (Type 246), this time fronted with a Leica 28mm f/2 Summicron. “Jack” was grabbed with my little Ricoh GR, while “Abduction” sees the Monochrom M (Type 246) return to action, but now with the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton lens.
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