The constant battle between photographer and people who would like to just use my work without so much as a by your leave has taken a slight twist today.
I do a lot of pro-bono work for underground club-nights in Leeds, as the scene here is something that I have been involved in for over 20 years and much of it is run on a very non-commercial basis – something I want to support. I get to go out to an event I want to attend, sometimes I get looked after a bit and I put the shots up on facebook. No-one gains anything commercially from this, and it helps us both. Of course, there are many who say I should not do this, and I don’t for faceless corporate events, but I like to help my mates doing something I enjoy.
So in Autumn of last year, I shot an event. The images were well received by the promoters and many attendees and artists from the night. They went onto facebook and were ‘liked’, ‘tagged’, and I was thanked for my contribution.
A week or so ago, I noticed that a DJ from an event I recently shot at had taken an image from my facebook page, altered this and turned it into an e-flyer for an event I had no connection with. No-one had contacted me about this in advance and no credit or link was given.
Very politely I contacted the DJ and asked him to take this down until I had spoken to either him or the promoters (depending on who commissioned the image) about it’s use. I made it clear I’d be happy to have a chat and wasn’t necessarily seeking payment. He claimed that the promoter of the event had used the image without speaking to him, and elected to take the image down, and I considered the matter closed.
A couple of days later he emailed me asking about how much I would charge to sell him the copyright. I explained, again politely, that I would not sell the copyright, but I would happily talk about licensing and that in the situation I would probably let him use the image on his social media for free provided a clear link was given. We even talked about doing a posed promo shoot in the future.
What happened today shocked me slightly. I receive a slightly stroppy email back stating he had spoken to the event crew and I did not have consent to shoot at the night, and that he was not happy that I had photographed his art (presumably a backdrop) without consent – linking to an article on Artquest on the subject of commissioned shoots of artwork.
I am not going to ‘name and shame’ or post the message in full (to save embarrassment, as it was painfully poorly written), but I think this is a suitable opportunity to unpick where photographers stand on this matter, as it is quite interesting.
As we know, in general it there is no prohibition on shooting in a public place. Owners, or people hiring a private venue have the right to restrict photography at their events or on their premises, though this would normally be done by a clear notice to that effect. As I shoot on the premises regularly this is not an issue in this case. I am not obliged to seek consent, simply to concur with any requests or notices. But as courtesy I do. In this case I made my intentions clear on the Facebook event page for the event in question, and received an email from one of the promoters asking if I could supply images for them after – to which I agreed. I posted the images on their promo pages, but the offer of copy was not taken up. This is generally a good idea; though as I have said it is not essential and the assumption is that unless terms and conditions of entry state otherwise photography is permitted.
The matter of artwork is slightly more complex. As the linked page outlines, reproduction of an artwork is prohibited without consent from the copyright owner. This is totally fair – particularly as modern photographic techniques and equipment allow very high fidelity copies to be easily made, and it is natural that I should not be able to photograph someone’s artistic output and distribute that copy.
The issue, however, is what constitutes reproduction. There are two main exemptions here. The first is fair dealing – this relates to research or other non commercial uses, or for fair criticism or review, with acknowledgement of the source. The other is substantial part. This is not about a qualitative amount -obviously I cannot reproduce a detail of another work and claim it is something new, but what it creates in the image. This is not clearly defined – which is a bit of a pain for photographers as like many times we are a little in the dark, but clearly an image of a person with a section of someone’s décor in the background is not a violation of the décor artists copyright in any sensible terms. I am sure, of course that some big corporate monsters may try and sue photographers for shooting street portraits and so on with a visible clothing logo and this is another typical example of erosion of common sense in relation to photographer’s rights. But I would not really expect it in this situation.
But anyway. With a clear statement outlining my position of no wrongdoing, I have removed all images. You may ask why? Because I cannot be bothered dealing with this kind of nonsense. It is no loss to me that they are removed really. And I have no hard feelings towards anyone – but it is regrettable.
[Update – as you will see from later posts this has developed – So I have restored the images. I’m not losing out on displaying my work in an effort to diffuse a situation due to people being dicks]
What vexes me here is what has been gained from this? An charity event has lost a set of images which I provided to them pro-bono to help them as a crew and promote the work they did. I will obviously not be shooting their events again, as it seems internal politics have led to a situation where members of the promotional team do not know what other members have agreed, and I don’t really want to be working in that situation. One less club on the list for me, one less photographer on the list for them. The DJ himself has lost the use of the image he wanted to use in the first place and the possibility of some future collaboration. Because of nothing more than a kickback about giving me the respect of proper credit.
And that helps the music scene how?