The irony. The idiocy. Photographers ripping off Guardian content..

Every week I run a Technorati and Icerocket search against the links of the stories from the Guardian’s Technology supplement to see what people have been saying about our articles. And pretty much every week I find at least one blog where they’ve taken all the content, lock stock and barrel, and simply reposted it on their blog.

This never fails to annoy me, I’m afraid. The point I make is that by doing this they’re contributing to a spiral which goes thusly: people read the content away from the Guardian; people don’t come to the Guardian pages to read it; Guardian reading figures fall; advertisers pay less and less to be on Guardian site; Guardian has less money to pay contributors; less is on site; nothing to rip off from Guardian site. So by nicking our content, these folk are cutting off their own source of stuff. (Sure, they’ll just move on to the next paper, but the idea that they’ve liked the stuff enough to take it from us is an indication that they think we’re worth something, surely.)

When I point out that this is theft and that they could be done for copyright infringement, most react by taking it down fast. Some apologise and say they weren’t aware. (This is I guess excusable; most people don’t get schooled in copyright law for everyday use.)

Some sites keep doing this; generally they’re in the US and use forum software.

But what’s remarkable is when you have a group of people who I’d always thought were very protective of copyright – photographers – who then go and do the same to not only the text but also the picture from a story.

Thus it was with Bruce Schneier’s latest piece, about the imagined threat that people taking photos of buildings poses to our safety. Because we’ve seen dastardly tururists taking photos of their intended target in films and TV, we assume that’s how it works in real life. Not so: it’s there for dramatic effect, so we’ll know what the target is and feel the unease at the people not knowing that they’re a target. When in fact all the terrorist attacks of the last however long haven’t had photographic reconnaissance.

Lots of people linked to this piece (unsurprising: it’s a very good piece, like his previous one about how border guards may take a copy of your hard drive; Schneier has had a galvanic effect on readers). Including photographers. Who in some cases copied the photo from our site and stuck it on theirs – no credit, no nothing. What is with these people? (One was here, another here, another here, another here.)

Update: the last of those four sites, who didn’t take all the copy but did (in the first version) copy the photo, belongs to a professional photographer from Manchester who in his comments is insisting “Good god do you people not know how the internet is changing and raising all kinds of questions about ownership etc. Wake Up”. Obviously, he’ll want you all to use his photos for free without crediting him if this chain of logic is followed through…

One person (not the Manchester photographer) wrote back and said:

Thanks for your note. Stealing is a harsh word when it could just be a misunderstanding first and foremost. (Also, we’re not a site about copyrights, it’s a site about photographers’ rights. There’s a difference.) Every picture we link to we will credit that site. We’re not in the business of stealing images. It’s a simple personal blog, so there’s really no need to get so hostile.

I did use the photo from the Guardian, with a link. There was no photo credit on the Guardian’s site. It looks to us like a still from the movie. Check out the post again. What more would you like?

A photographers’ rights site that doesn’t understand copyright. My irony meter just exploded. What would I like? Well, for you not to have copied the image and stuck it on your site, and left the credit to the very end of the blog post.

I know one thing: I could never work in the music or film industries. I’d simply spontaneously combust at all the expectations of people that because you’ve made something, they can get it absolutely gratis. Some people have the attitude that they’re being forced to acquire the music industry’s output, and that it puts Evil Price Barriers in their way. Uh-uh. Nobody’s forcing you to buy these things. people.

Bonus link: Wendy Grossman’s story from the Technology section from last year: A picture paints a thousand invoices:

Copyright owners are cracking down on the unlicensed use of images. A sample case: Geoff Cox runs Quest Cars, a small cab company in Taunton. In 2001, he hired a small local web developer (since gone bust) who decorated the resulting website with a few small photographs. Then in July, Cox received a letter from the legal firm Baker and Mackenzie saying that one of those photographs used on the website was copyright to the large picture agency Corbis and asking for £1,300 for a one-year licence to use that photograph (to expire a month later) plus administrative fees. The letter quoted copyright law and stated that there would be no negotiations.

24 Comments

  1. Yes, people who simply nick your content without regard to copyright and use it are annoying, and damaging. But in this case I think you might be tilting at some of the wrong windmills with regard to the image.

    The image you used was, of course, a still from a movie (the marvellous “Rear Window”). While I don’t know for sure where you guys got it from, it looks a lot like a studio-released press shot (exactly the same image is at http://www.screenrush.co.uk/film/galerievignette_gen_cfilm=983&cmediafichier=28052.html, for example, which suggests it’s been released by the studio).

    Given that, we’re not really in the situation of photographers stealing other photographers work. They may still be technically violating the original copyright, but if it was released as a promotional still in the first place, that seems to me to be a whole lot less problematic than if someone pinching the image from http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/jun/05/broadband.advertising, for example.

  2. Presumably quoting is okay. What about quoting at some length?

  3. I’d have to go with ’tilting at windmills’ – as Oscar baby said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Far from destroying it, posts that quote from the Guardian and link to the full story on the Guardian drive traffic to the paper and drive awareness of the paper as being a place where interesting issues are debated and covered. So they are… wait for it… good for the paper!

    Flailing at bloggers for quoting (and, yes, using a studio still shot) from a piece seems to me to be a little over-zealous… and doesn’t, from the last link you feature, appear to be making you any friends. Although their response was a little incoherent!

  4. This kind of nonsense drives me up the wall. I have had so many ‘discussions’ with people who think crediting a URL justifies nicking text or an image. Some journalists I know have been told they should be flattered/having their work stolen is providing a shop window/etc. But people just don’t get it, either in terms of the individual’s copyright or the potential lost traffic/revenue streams.

    I don’t understand what is so difficult to grasp about the basic tenets of IP (e.g. I spent half an hour the other day trying to explain why TV Links was illegal to someone who insisted it’s OK to link to pirated content so long as you don’t host it). People know that copying a page of someone else’s book or essay into your own would be stealing. So why don’t they get that it’s the same on t’internet?

    I am in the camp of buying music and sometimes TV shows from iTunes and renting/buying DVDs. Some people tell me I am crazy. I have broadband! I can get it all for free! Yes, but I a) quite like having new music to listen to and new films to watch and would prefer not to contribute to killing off those industries and b) think it would be somewhat hypocritical when a decent chunk of my income comes from writing about film and music.

    I really hope Viacom win against YouTube, or there’s no hope for any of us.

  5. Is this covered in McNae’s at all?

  6. As for those pointing out that the image yoinked from the Guardian looks like a press shot. That doesn’t mean it’s free for the taking. Movie screenshots are widely disseminated, but they’re still owned by someone and are still governed by copyright law, hence all the images on image.net, for example, come with legal stipulations about how and where they can be used. Just take a look at the guidelines for doing anything related to Harry Potter. Some properties are more strictly protected than others – Harry Potter, The Simpsons and Star Wars, for example.

  7. Charles

    Monday 9 June 2008 at 1:23 pm

    @Ian – good point. Not much I can say to that except they do it on other stuff..
    @Caitlin – well, quoting “at length” depends on the length – it’s the proportion of the original. Generally, “fair use” implies less than half – perhaps (rule of thumb?) one-third.
    @kenobi – don’t know; if it’s got something on “fair use” it might.
    @anne – good point. I just find the irony of photographers grabbing photos and using them with absolutely no credit too jawdropping for words. The manchesterphotography.blogspot one (the fourth “here” above) is the most ergregrious. Have a look – it’s turning into something of a tussle.

  8. Charles

    Monday 9 June 2008 at 1:36 pm

    @alexander: but they’re not *quoting* from the paper. That we encourage and delight in.

    They’re taking *the entire content* of the story, and in these cases also copying the photo onto their site (not taking the “img src=guardian…” which would mean we served the picture, which being nice people we do: the photo of the front page up at the RH top of this page is served by the Gdn).

    I don’t think that drives traffic anywhere. (Increases Googlejuice a bit, perhaps, but we do OK there without the odd full-text blog post.)

    It means people don’t come to our site because there’s no need to. Especially on forum sites, which post the entire content of the piece and then leave them open for comment on *their* sites, so they get the content for free and then serve ads against readership. That’s really iniquitous, in my view. Happily, so far they’ve reacted when I’ve complained, though anne (commenter above) has seen one site that just ignores requests – and the host ignored a DMCA notice, which I thought it couldn’t do under US law.

  9. Re fair dealing: this does not apply if you prevent the copyright owner from gaining financial benefit from the sale of rights to their work (which applies to all of us who have content that can be syndicated, I imagine). Fair dealing is okay for the purpose of reporting current events provided they have already been made available to the public, but this excludes photographs. There’s a lot more about this in McNae.

    I’m off to comment on the manchesterphotography one.

  10. @Anne: You’re right, of course, regarding it still being someone’s copyright – and there are strict terms for using promotional shots. That’s why I said above that they “may still be technically violating the original copyright”. But using a shot which is available at no-cost (if you ask) does seem to me to be somewhat different ethically than taking and using a shot which would cost money to use. Not that this makes it legally right, but still…

    By the way, an interesting caveat to the story: If you go to the Wikipedia page on “Rear Window” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rear_Window) it uses a grab from the trailer of the film (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Rearwindow_trailer_1.jpg), which it claims is in the public domain because “it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 without a copyright notice.” Personally, I’d be surprised if a film trailer was actually left without any kind of copyright notice, but there you go…

  11. The one coherent link (I don’t count Manchester thingy as coherent) did quote, though – wasn’t just a total rip.

    I do get, and appreciate the point – and am a strong IP advocate myself. But the question of what and when to quote… the third link above (the first two have been taken down) struck me as OK… with the exception of the picture which is hardly today’s World Press Photo winner.

    A PR shot distributed by a studio some 40-something years ago is still subject to copyright and license? It’s an area where I have to confess I’m a little ‘grey’. If I give you my shot without a limitation on license at the time of distribution, ain’t that free for use?

    I’d personally have linked back to The Guardian, but I can understand why someone would get this wrong and not bother. I do feel there are much more egregious breaches of copyright out there, to be honest.

    Having said all that, it does look like winding up the Manchester thingy bloke might just be more fun for everyone involved.

  12. Interestingly, Mark has switched comment moderation on on his blog, and seems to be refusing to accept my comments now. Funny how precious the “information wants to be free, man” brigade can get when challenged.

  13. Charles

    Monday 9 June 2008 at 4:41 pm

    @Ian – even more amusing is the invisible mending going on at manchester photography. First he said I was from the “Independant” (sic). He changed that to the Guardian when the error was pointed out. Before even that, though, he had used the picture – James Stewart in Rear Window – from the Guardian site. I called him on it. He searched Google for a picture from the film, but different from the one the Guardian used and said “What’s the huff about?” Except – why, if searching on “movie” and “photographer” would you alight on Rear Window… unless that was what you were looking for to replace what you had there already?

    I still find the idea of a photographer using other photographers’ work without credit, without getting it directly from them, as if the web was just something where rights didn’t exist, enormously ironic.

  14. Charles

    Monday 9 June 2008 at 4:44 pm

    @ian – and now he’s closed the comments. Ah, me – the last resort of the man with Right On His Side. Still, he’s said we can all use his pictures as we like on the web. Something like that, anyway.

    BTW, comments never close on this site. (Though the spamfilter may eat your comment; email me if so.)

  15. @Alexander, for info’s sake, copyright lasts longer than 40 years, indeed I believe it’s 70 years (though I think it’s shorter on some things inc typography – haven’t got time to look it up). And it will have been used since, in recent home entertainment campaigns, for example. Image libraries may have the rights to distribute it. The Guardian may have had to pay to use it. Or perhaps a picture ed had to sign a copyright agreement. This isn’t always a straightforward process.

    I used to be the cover disc editor for a DVD mag. I project managed a covermounted DVD every four weeks containing featurettes, trailers and complete TV episodes, and had to arrange for the sleeve and body proofs to be signed off by anyone involved who requested it. You would not believe the amount of red tape I had to go through (copyright agreements, approval processes, sleeve proofs having to be sent to studios in the UK and US and on some occasions to directors and actors for approval) just to arrange use of a few pack shots and stills.

  16. Comments seem to be open in a new post from the man in Madchester. And the font size just keeps getting bigger: give him a couple of hours and you’ll have to read the posts from the other side of the room. But he still seems desperately confused about the difference between the Guardian and the Indy.

  17. Wow, where to start. Charles, I took my post down and emailed you immediately upon reading your comment to me. I did not disagree with your logic once presented. I perhaps received some poor advice but I did not and do not wish to champion the theft of content either written or visual. I took the content immediately down out of respect for your explanation not out of fear of legal reprisal. Yes, it is true that Mr.Schneier’s piece was excellent and this is why I felt it was worth putting on my blog. I still say his work was excellent and meant him no harm. I erroneously felt, at the time, that I was helping him and The Guardian. My beef with you now is that you are lumping many together that should not be. References to theft of music, etc. I have never stolen music from the internet and yet I have a vast music library. I will not knowingly steal photos or other content. Perhaps I am guilty in the fact that I should not even be blogging if I don’t completely understand the rules of the game.

    I plead ignorant and am guilty of learning as I go. Again, perhaps I should not be using this strategy and am actually rethinking this whole blogging thing. Not in fear of reprisal but, in respect for what is right.

    As a bit of a background, I did not start a blog to make any profit off of anyone and do not wish to steal anyone else’s due. I don’t have ads nor want them. I originally started blogging as a way to kind of store a semi-permanent record of those things I found interesting to me on the internet without having to have a million bookmarks. (Sure, anyone with the same interests and a like-mind could potentially follow and have these sort of things gathered in one place). Perhaps silly to some but, I liked the idea. Sure it is evolving some as I go but, not that much. I know that if you want to be popular original content that is king (and should be) but, neither money, fame, or popularity is my goal. Hell, I am admittedly not even a good writer. Anyone that has been to my blog could tell you that but, then I am not trying to compete with (or steal from) any writer. I run a personal blog not a business blog. I do not do photography for a living, I have a satisfying career that has nothing to do with photography. I have a tiny link on a web page that offers my photographs for sale but, this was on a whim and from repeating hounding by certain friends and relatives.

    I am doing my web stuff for fun. I have almost no readership and I don’t go out soliciting it like many sites suggest. If fact, most of my dismal readership is friends and family and I am fine with that. Sure if others should occasionally stumble on my site I am giddy and happy. If anyone should want a photo I would be ecstatic. This is not my driving force, however, it would simply be a wonderful by product. Why you would feel threatened by a site that happily gets less readership in a year than you probably get in a day, is beyond me.

    None of this writing is to justify theft. Your comparison to photographer’s stealing to me is harsh. Photography is an enjoyable hobby which I like to share. Like I say I am not a professional. If anyone should want to use one of my photos I would welcome it, if they gave proper credit, as that would give exposure. And remember, I gave full and prominent credit to The Guardian in my post. To any photographer that does not want his photograph used – I totally respect that. I, erroneously, I guess though that it was an old film still I was using and thought it was in the public domain. I thought (again probably wrongly) that the criteria was based on the idea that if you were trying to make money from it it was wrong and that if it was not a money making thing it was ok.

    Finally, I do apologize for not doing my homework on the legal and moral issues before I started this little blogging endeavor. I will be going over all my content after researching the issue and making corrections where needed. Don’t expect this overnight, as I do have a real career a will have to do this when time allows. If it gets too confusing I will simply refrain from further web publishing altogether. I wish you well in your profession, however.

  18. Augphoto: I think your post is very eloquently written and I’m sure you’re a good writer. The thing is that whether or not you’re writing a blog for profit as opposed to fun, posting someone else’s content in full can stop people visiting that website. E.g. if you post a Guardian article in full, nobody needs to go to the Guardian’s site to read it. And while it might not seem like a big deal because, you say, you don’t have many readers, with lots and lots of small sites doing that it becomes a big deal. That’s why people get uppity when they find their content on blogs and similar. What you have to remember is, for the people who write for the Guardian (for example), it’s not a hobby – it’s their livelihood. For example, I’m a writer. My writing is my bread and butter. It pays my rent and pays for me to eat and go on the internet and comment on people’s blogs. I can’t afford to let people use it for free, even if those people aren’t making money from it. In the case of the Guardian, even if you’re not making money from using their content, you are potentially stopping them from making money – their advertising revenue is directly tied to their web traffic. Less traffic, less budget, less content.

    Copyright law is very confusing if you haven’t been taught about it. It’s easy to assume things are in the public domain when they aren’t, for example, and it’s not easy to guess who is – and isn’t – likely to come after you for using their content unless you are in the know.

    I think it would be very sad if you stopped publishing on the web. If you want some know-how on copyright, it’s worth looking here. Basically, a good rule of thumb is, if you want to post an article, post a bit of it then add a link so people can visit the original page to read the rest.

  19. Anne, thank you for your kind words.

    I did not realize the results of which you and Charles are speaking, at the time. I do understand and agree with these thoughts now. I did not intend harm at the time. I thank you, again, for your link and I will earnestly be doing some self-education in this area. You are correct, however, in that Copyright law is very confusing. Perhaps I can sort it all out.

  20. Charles

    Monday 9 June 2008 at 10:17 pm

    @Augphoto – to echo Anne, we wouldn’t want to lose your voice on the web. It’s simply a question of finding it. If you only copy someone else’s work, where’s the input? A machine could do that. Don’t lower yourself. Create something new. Comment on what you find. Create. Enjoy. That’s all, really.

  21. it’s funny how you originally attacked the writer for not giving photo credit to The Guardian which in fact they did from the very start — even though the image was pulled from google and the only quotes were pulled from the article. More importantly, once this was pointed out to you and you realized you were wrong, you immediately changed your position and started barking like the annoying little english bulldog you are about the location of the credit being at the bottom of the posting. so where so the credit go? how ’bout up your ass? is that good spot?

    Oh, my douchebag meter just exploded!

  22. Charles

    Tuesday 10 June 2008 at 7:03 pm

    @discarted: if by “the writer” you mean manchesterphotography.blogspot.com (which I think you do), the trail has been obscured, as the web can do.
    Event sequence is like this.
    -I find blog which has extract of Schneier piece, and copied photo from the Guardian site (obviously, because it’s the same James Stewart pose from Rear Window. You’d not go to GglImages to find what’s right in front of you). I leave displeased comment.
    -blog owner changes the picture to a different one, but still of James Stewart in Rear Window, while accusing me of being “envious” because he’s linked to the Gdn and thinks I’m from the Independent (which I left in 2004, but hey).
    -many people pitch in and point out his error.
    -he then starts plastering his blog’s pictures with “image copyright: XXX” (XXX being the photographer, though not in the case of the Ansel Adams one that’s there), in an interesting bit of retro-fixing up. Again, this isn’t obvious if you haven’t been visiting the site over the course of a few day – and why would you? Nobody else does – I only found it through Technorati. (You can see whether he’s consistent in doing this by going back a few months and looking to see if he had “image copyright XXX” on posts from, say, January.)

    Putting an image “credit” at the bottom of the post doesn’t get around the fact that it’s not legal to just copy a professional photographer’s picture and stick it on your website (as I’ve said, if he’d got it served from the Guardian site via an img src=”guardian.co.uk…” link that would have been *fine*). And most of all, a photographer – especially a professional photographer – should know that and respect it. Sure, the average Joe Blogger won’t know about copyright, but a professional should. And he should know that a national paper takes a lot of care about such things.

    And – thanks, in your particular case, for reacting and replacing the Gdn-sourced photo with another.

  23. Warning. This might be slightly off topic, but hey…

    So this has all had the effect of making me think about this stuff more than I would normally and I happened to want to put up a post that quoted some lyrics from a Stranglers song. With that in mind, I trotted off to try and find the publisher to ask permission. After a vast amount of time-wasting searching, which had the result of delaying my post by 48 hours, I finally found a company which appears to own the publishing rights to the Stranglers’ back catalogue, Complete Music. They have a single email address, info@complete-music.co.uk. The mail bounces.

    At that point I finally give up and post anyway, reckoning: 1) It’s part of a larger work and a partial quotation of the original work. 2) It is used for illustrative purposes, attributed and linked back to the artist 3) Sod them. If they ask me to take it down, I will.

    In this fast world we live in, where we all slap up posts on blogs that are frequently of great currency and rarely of any commercial (or even intellectual!) value, tracing down rights ownership does all seem a little redundant. And, as I found out, not easy. For instance – how do I obtain permission to quote from The Guardian? How long does it take? Surely in 99.9% of cases, by the time the permission request has been processed and granted, the posting finger has, as it were, moved on. AND the vast majority of posts have a lifetime of 24 hours before the next post comes along – so by the time you’ve granted your permission, I’ve moved on to something totally different and so have my readers.

    As long as we’re not distributing whole works of value and charging or distributing saleable property for free – and we’re crediting and also linking back to the rights owner, surely we’re doing enough? It seems to be impractical to impose the standard of rights/permissions regime that you would impose on, say, The Guardian, on individuals having ‘a conversation’.

    There. A comment so long and convoluted I might even make a post of it… :)

  24. Charles

    Saturday 14 June 2008 at 11:19 pm

    @alexander (comment rescued from the spam pile) – you’re mistaking “quoting” and “using all of”. With text, quoting means using a small amount of – which is legal under “fair use” laws. No permission needed. Though as you clearly know, it’s different with song lyrics, where quoting anything more than a line can cause problems with some groups. I think you were right to go ahead.

    But a photograph will tend to be the entire work, copied, right there. That’s one thing. What I find amazing is photographers, who really should know about copyright and the theft of entire works (because it denies them recognition), doing it. Especially professional photographers.

    As I’ve said, pulling the image directly from the Guardian would I think be OK. Sure, it’s using Gdn bandwidth; but we have quite a lot of that, and we could decide to prevent that if we chose, which simplifies the copyright/rights question a great deal.

    Yes, the web was built around non-copyright principles (that’s why you can see the source of a page), which can complicate things. But it’s not impossible to be creative and also to respect peoples’ rights, for text and photos.

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