Monday, March 7, 2011

Why I Don't Worry About Image Theft on the Web

It doesn’t mean I don’t think about it or don’t do anything. In my situation it comes down to the potential risk and amount of harm that could incur and then doing as much as is reasonable to mitigate risks. I know there are some photographers who really should worry and don’t do enough.
Behind me is the village of Neddy Harbour Newfoundland in Grose Morne National Park. Distance 14km. The rocky dome in the very background is Grose Morne mountain.
Theft has always been a problem, even before digital images on the web, except then, it was known as 'burglaries'.  We have become good, for the most part, at securing our photographs (ie, locked houses).

The web is effectively still in its infancy and we need to understand the risk and potential harm either from lost revenue or damage to you or someone else's reputation etc.

In my case, the artistic medium of choice is large printed photographs. The web images I show are like showing a snapshot of my son as compared to you meeting him in person.  If you take the snapshot, I still have him.
Here my son is standing near the top of the table-rock formations in Newfoundland. It's late July and there is still snow at the top. The cavern in the dark is the size of those air-inflated dome stadiums.

Since my printed photographs are at a minimum 14” (4,200 pixels) and since there is no program that can create that much new information from a web image, the risk of theft here is minimal.  Also, my photographs are signed and numbered, and this creates impressions in the paper especially heavy mat. For signed images the risk is very minimal.
Goolge maps with elevation set at 2 times. The red arrow is approximately where the snow cap was and where our photographs were taken.

But even the web images have merit and I don't give them away for free. At least not free for the taking. I keep image size down to 800 pixels and use 9 of 12 compression ratio for jpeg. The images are watermarked with a small signature. At least they can say they didn’t know whose images it was. The meta data is kept within the jpeg file and this contains the copyright notice and other information.

You can never stop all theft, just look at the famous artworks in museums but you can reduce the risk.

In deciding risk you should consider:

It seems that there is theft from all walks of life but don’t forget the ones that you inadvertently give away for free like contests, web sites and the famous case on Twitter with the Haiti images. Do read the fine print and especially those sections that deal with Rights or licenses.

Images can range from either a thumbnail image on a web page to the brochure cover.
Size does matter and the smaller the better. With bigger photos there are more places it can be used. If your photos are in demand then 600 or even 400 pixels is not unreasonable. Viewers can always ask to see larger and you can decide on risk.

If your are producing images that are in demand and this changes regularly, they take it. If it's general tourist type, then probably not a big deal. Even sometimes there is a need for nostalgia in a venue. Old and borrowing can become rediscovered and exciting.
If it's cutting edge advertising then watch out.

Harm can come from  monetary loss of a potential sale. Someone sold an image of yours. If you don't make a living by selling your images then harm is not as drastic but still, it is money that should have been yours. They should have come to you to ask. When you post images, do make it easy for anyone to see how to contact you and whether your images are creative commons (CC) etc.

Harm can also arise from identity theft from using image of a person in another's context or even harm from image  identifying scene information that could lead to yours or someone else harm.

That is why I limit my own family and friends exposure.

If I do find any photos of mine stolen I will pursue rigorously as warranted. That is one thing you need to do in order to let courts know that theft is a legal concern for you and always has been and not just now because of large financial amount involved.

Do not forget that theft or loss can also happen if your online storage is your only source and the firm either changes entities or no longer exist.

Niels Henriksen


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