4 August 2011

Watermark? Wot Watermark?

So you think you're OK if your image is watermarked? It's big, bold, in uppercase letters and hits you right between the eyes as soon as you clamp your beedies on it. No-one will steal your images and use them for free if there is a whopping great watermark, surely? Well, even if someone does use an image with a watermark, they will at least know that it belongs to someone else and that they should have paid for the use, or got permission? Think again.

  I have just had a bizzare email conversation with the "founder" of aella.org, or "The Alliance for Earth, Life, Liberty and Advocation"; (I had to look up that last, baffling word, which has something to do with Scots Law and, it appears, naff all to do with the site's campaign message. It means; the action of a superior court in calling before itself or reviewing an action originally brought before an inferior court). I had cause to contact aella.org to request that an image of mine (see above) which was being used be taken down or a small fee paid. If there was any chance of the latter happening, then I would have gladly supplied an unwatermarked image. I had a polite reply from the "founder" apologising (sort of). He said, "We were unaware that the image belonged to you...". Well, it certainly did not belong to them! Such peremptory responses calls for a response in kind and so I pointed out that the image had a clear watermark. The reply back; "I did not see, or notice a watermark"!!! Admittedly the colour of the watermark against the beach makes it subtle, but unless you think the random action of waves on a storm beach has miraculously ordered the pebbles so as to advertise the site from where the picture was lifted, it is still pretty hard to miss. The biscuit has been firmly taken.

29 September 2010

When stealing someone’s property is OK.

Once upon a time…

I went round to a stranger’s house and stole some of his property. But it wasn’t just any type of property. This stranger’s property was something he had created using his knowledge, skill, time, effort and money. He makes his living selling this type of property. It wasn’t much really; just property worth about £50-£100 on the open market. I was hoping for a happy ending and that I wouldn't get caught. And all was sweet for a while, and I was happily using the stranger’s property. Well today the stranger discovered that I had trousered his hard earned property, but suggested that I pay him for having used his property and nothing more would be said about the matter. Yes, you heard me (and I know you will find this as ridiculous as I do) he actually asked me to PAY for the use of his property! Unbelievable! But in these situations I always have a few cast iron get-out clauses to deploy.

I said, “sorry mate, I didn’t realise it was your property. Here, you can have it back because I don’t want it any more” (luckily he didn’t realise I’d been using his property for ages-tee hee). I thought that would be OK but he insisted on calling the rozzers to have me arrested and charged with theft. I thought this was totally out of order. After all he had his property back and I wouldn’t be using it anymore. To be honest, and purely as part of my strategy, I had been a bit rude to the stranger, calling him a “shit kicker” and a “troll”. For some reason he got a bit annoyed at this. Time, I thought, to deploy excuse number 2.

I said, “actually this property was given to me by a friend and I thought it belonged to him. He said he’d got it off the internet. It didn’t have your name on it so how was I supposed to know it belonged to you? It’s your fault that I am using your property because it didn’t have your name on it”.

Using such irreproachable logic, I thought, was sure to sort out this little misunderstanding. Oh no. Unbelievably, and beyond my comprehension, the stranger called me a thief and still insisted on getting Mr Plod involved. Time for phase three; the classic Charitable Status Ploy:

I said, “I’m using your property for a ‘not-for-profit’ project. Surely you can’t want payment for that. What, you think it’s a commercial project? Well as you can see from my website I am only ‘promoting’ something, I’m not making any money from it, not even from all the referral links and advertising other people’s (commercial) businesses”. I am afraid to say this stranger was a stickler and kept referring to something called “the law”. Well pardon me, why would he think I am subject to “the law”?

Time for phase four; the Inversion of Guilt Ploy.

This ploy is often used by men who are caught by a passer-by with their dicks out urinating against a lamp post. The correct Inversion of Guilt Ploy response in this example is, “what you lookin’ at” (pause to look the passer-by up and down with an expression of disgust)…”pervert”.

I said to the stranger, “actually, your attitude is very threatening to me, especially as I stopped using your property immediately I had been caught…eh...I mean you found out that I had been using your property, even though…eh…I didn’t know it was your property and it was really someone else who gave it to me after he got it off the …eh…internet”. That last bit didn’t go too well, but, hey, what the hell, by making the stranger look like the aggressor, rather than the aggrieved, I knew he would back down.

So there we are. I’m sitting pretty. I’ve been using the stranger’s property for quite some time for free, and he’s now feeling pretty bad because I’ve accused him of using aggressive behaviour by threatening to get the law involved. Admittedly my accusation is totally without merit, but I am in a bit of a tight spot here, and I’m going to do my damnedest to get away Scot free on this one. And I think I will…..unless the stranger picks up the phone and reports my crime…….

And they all lived happily ever after. The End.

Now just for a bit of fun substitute the word “property” in the above tale with the word “photograph”, or better still the words “intellectual property”. This particular fairy tale is based on a true story, and I have reversed my role for dramatic effect as a means of analysing the strange mentality of those who believe anything on the internet, if not entirely everything is “free”. I am the “stranger”, or more accurately the Photographer. The “law” is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The person who stole…eh…I mean “used” my photographs on his website shall be nameless to protect the “innocent” because he says his website is “not for profit”. My hand is poised over the telephone. Now where’s my lawyers number…..?

18 February 2010

Archant Great British Life Rights Grab

It is pretty difficult making a living from photography at the best of times. Most of the time I feel like the petrol guage. It is made more difficult by the actions of publishers who seem hell bent on making it impossible. Chris Barton at Photographers Direct has just highlighted a rights grab by Archant, the publishers called Great British Life. It's a classic play to vanity; Archant will (of course) credit the photographer, but will not be paying a bean for the content. It also says; "there's even a chance that your photograph could become a magazine front cover". Whoopy doo!

If this is an attempt at saving money, frankly this does not make sense. In order to process, review and edit the hundreds of photos uploaded there will be a need for people who need to be paid. The more photos the more effort it will take to manage. The extensive website needs to be managed and bandwidth paid for. Having members of the public upload images means increased vigilence on the editorial staff - the last thing Archant would want is a libellous/offensive image getting through the net. And what does this save them? What is the cost of a quality stock image for the front cover of a 25,000 circulation magazine? £100, £150 at a push? And the chances are that the editorial staff will have to wade through a mountain of dross before finding that diamond which is of sufficient quality and composition to feature on the front of their glossies (check the Archant website to get a flavour of the quality of images submitted).

It did not come as a surprise to me that Readers Digest (UK) went into administration yesterday. Last time I picked up a RD book in Waterstones it was packed with $5 microstock photos. It was clear to me that RD was trying to cut costs; in vain it now appears. If that meant undermining the livelihoods of photographers, so be it. The trouble is there is no way back. Once on the road to nearly free content it is hard, if not impossible to go back to paying for premium content. Those who provided the premium content will have packed away their cameras and got nine to five jobs and there will be a general decline towards the mediocre. Ah well, it was good while it lasted.

14 July 2009

UK Border Angst

I had the dubious pleasure of returning to the UK last weekend through East Midlands Airport and had my first taste of the new border security measures which this government belatedly seems to think are necessary (in their words), "to ensure only those eligible to enter the UK do so". On entering the terminal building we were confronted with a long snaking queue of slow moving humanity which was going nowhere fast. I was shocked, dismayed and angry in equal measure. It appeared that this was an exercise in control rather than one of ensuring the integrity of our borders; our passports were scanned and the immigration officer looked at her screen (not so much at me interestingly) to make sure a) I wasn't a wanted criminal, or b) a terrorist, and c) I was a British citizen (entering my own country BTW) and lord knows whatever other information the computer spewed on to its screen. This was Big Brother in action. It seems we are the only nation in the European Union which has such stringent measures in place at their border-last week we crossed between EU countries unchecked, unprocessed, unmolested.

I later read the words on the inside front cover of my passport. It read,
"Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty, all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary".

How ironic then that the only "hindrance" I discovered on my trip was when I wanted to re-enter my own country! Perhaps the Secretary of State should read his own blurb.

It took over 30 minutes to get through immigration at East Midlands Airport simply because there are not enough desks to process people quickly and efficiently. Perhaps if the government, who seem to be proud of their record on border security (see here) need to spend a bit more money on the infrastructure.

3 July 2009

The National Truss

The National Trust certainly knows how to court controversy. The NT does some great work, and although I rarely if ever pay to enter any of their properties, I am like many others a beneficiary as I walk the well maintained coastal paths, explore the managed woodlands and marsh habitats or wander around the free to enter properties. I always had the impression that the NT was a rather old fashioned organisation, as much preserved in aspic as many of it’s properties, smelling musty like your grandma’s living room and policed by elderly white haired volunteers doing their bit for charity. And yes, let’s not forget the National Trust is a charity. Recently, however, the NT has bared its teeth and begun looking more like a ruthless commercial bank than a charity, and not overly bothered about the ruckus it has caused among the photographic community.

To kick off with, NT Northern Ireland announced a photographic competition and was immediately condemned for including an over-riding rights grabbing clause in the Terms and Conditions; it read,

“If you submit any material to us, you agree to grant The National Trust a perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide, non-exclusive licence to use your contribution in all media. This includes the right to copy, edit, publish, grant sub-licences and exercise all other copyright and publicity rights over the material. If you do not want to grant these rights, please do not submit your contribution to us.”
It seems this has now been amended (see here ) , but not before one of the competition’s high profile judges, Simon Norfolk, pulled out after reportedly being “furious” about the National Trusts actions.

Then in April this year the National Trust approached Alamy to request that
all photographs of National Trust properties on the site be removed (except of course those belonging to the National Trust Picture Library-NTPL) siting a bylaw of 1965 which prohibits the taking of photographs for reward. Alamy photographers were contacted by Alan Capel, Head of Content, requesting that photographs of NT properties be reviewed to ensure they were within the “rules”; i.e. full property releases available or taken from public land. My not very extensive portfolio of NT properties (2 to be exact, one reproduced here) took 10 seconds to review and I replied by email that these two were taken from outside the gates at Charlecote Park so were “legal”. It seems this process is now complete and my two images are still there, but it has been reported by Amateur Photographer that 8,000 images have been pulled from the catalogue as a result of the NT’s action.

This is a monumental own goal in my opinion. The NT, although a charity, has to pay its way to be able to continue to do the fine work of preserving and maintaining the fabric of the British countryside and historic properties. But this action is seen by many as greedy, especially given the charitable status of the organisation. The action against Alamy was also seen by some as a protectionist measure to ensure the images in the NT’s own library were protected. It is a shame that the NTPL itself does not play by the rules; the great majority of NTPL’s images on Alamy are shown as “Model Released”, including this one of an “unknown man”. Quite how they managed to get a MR from an unknown man, and one who looks like he may have been dead for quite some time is beyond me.

21 June 2009

Taxes; and Death by Paperwork

There’s been a heated debate recently between the Government and the Opposition parties about who is going to be cutting spending and who isn’t. For some reason both parties seem to think we, the people, are pretty thick and cannot see through the spin, massaging of figures and fibs being told. Well, some breaking news for the Gordon and Dave Show; we know exactly what is going on, we know exactly what is going to happen soon (cut, cut, cut) and we know exactly who is going to get the sh*t end of the stick (we, the people). But here’s the rub; are cuts always a bad thing? No, is the answer. There are doubtless vast areas of government ripe for efficiency savings and this week I have yet again been the debatable beneficiary of government waste. I refer to the Child Tax Credit System of Wasting Tax Payers' Money. This week my wife and I independently, but on the same day received a large bulky envelope through the door, marked with the foreboding HM Revenues and Customs logo. Each envelope contained yet another letter from the Child Tax Credit people telling each of us, individually, we were no longer entitled to child tax credits. Not surprising really as our “children” are now 23 and 19 years old and should be standing on their own two feet. Accompanying each letter was a thirty page A4 booklet explaining everything one needs to know about the child tax credit system, a tome of such soporific intensity it would cure the most chronic insomniac of their malady. “So what?”, you say, “HMRC has kindly explained you are no longer entitled”. Well, the problem here is that this is at least the third time HMRC have told us we are no longer entitled to CTCs, and each time we are told another tree dies to supply us with an information booklet we don’t read. So this time, I thought a letter was required, and it has been sent with the faintest glimmer of hope that it will be read by a human being of sufficient intelligence to note its contents and pass it on to another human being who has the power and authority to initiate change to this astonishingly complex, expensive and wasteful system:

Dear Sir

Re: Tax Credits – Annual Review for year ending 05/04/2009

You wrote to us on 6th June 2009 (with 30 page notes pack-in duplicate) regarding the annual review for year ended 5 Apr 09. You have correctly stated in Step A that we are not responsible for any qualifying children or young people.

You wrote to us on 6th August 2007 correctly stating that the tax credit award for period to 5th April 08 was zero.

You wrote to us on 11 October 2007 correctly stating that the tax credit award for period to 5th April 08 was zero.

Thank you. We get the message.

Should our situation change we will notify you. However, you may assume, with certainty nearing 100% that our situation is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. You may therefore safely stop telling us we are no longer eligible for tax credits and save the tax payer a bit of money.

Yours faithfully...

I live in hope….

4 June 2009

Slow News Stories for Stock Photographers

Events worthy of exposure in major periodicals have a very short half life. A few days to a week is the rule of thumb and stock photographers relying on agencies to market their work generally cannot respond quickly enough to fulfill the media's need for current news images. It is also unlikely to be economically viable to get to a breaking news event when the resulting pictures, which have a short life span, have been taken on a purely speculative basis.

However, there are plenty of opportunities for stock photographers serving the secondary editorial market to supply topical news images but this requires a bit of creative thinking. There are some stories which come around every so often; history does repeat itself and not just over a generational time scale, but every year or every few months. These are the slow news stories which lend themselves to a more relaxed approach from the illustrative photographer, and I find all it takes is a little anticipation or identification of the repetitive events. In the current recession the economy, business and personal finance is particularly high on my agenda. As a stock photographer one could do worse than having one good image of every FTSE 100 company logo; sooner or later every company
will hit the headlines for good or bad reasons and newspapers and periodicals will need an image to illustrate their news story.

Recently I read a story on the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) web site about pub closures. This isn't a new story, it's ongoing; in May 2008 the British Beer and Pub Association reported in a news release that pub closures had increased to 27 per week, seven times faster than in 2006. CAMRA's story reported in Jan 2009 that pub closures were at a record of 39 per week. This is one of those slow news stories ripe for stock photography.

So when I saw a local pub
which had been boarded up and with a large "for sale" sign on the old sign post, all I needed was a sunny day, a blue sky and a bit of imaginative composition. The result (left) taken in January 2009 says it all, was used last month in a national newspaper.