Copyright Applies to all Media

As a mostly amateur, but sometimes pro photographer, I struggle with finding the perfect balance between being able to share my work and also protect it from being misused. I’ve blogged about people stealing my photos before, and I’m certainly not alone in having this happen (this guy’s story is particularly unbelievable). But as I begin to sell more of my work online, I’m finding it increasingly frustrating. Half the time when I find my work ripped off, I would have gladly let the person use my photo had they simply asked permission and then acknowledged me as the creator of the work.

One of my most frequently plagiarised photos. I've had to ask sites advertising for things in Bali and Hawaii to take this photo down (never mind that this is actually a photo of Saipan). © 2010 Brian Farrell

The latest case of this blatent sort of copyright infringement that I’ve discovered is a site called weheartit that is copying and indexing millions of photos, many of which have been clearly marked as copyright, and even worse, many of which are copied off of sites offering them for sale. This isn’t the first site to do this, as Tumblr has already been driving many a photographer crazy for years, and there are plenty of others out there, but this site is particularly malicious in that it doesn’t seem to have any other purpose aside from ripping off people’s work.

The agency that I have some photos licensed with, Getty Images, will go to bat for photographers and have their legal team contact these sites to remove photos that they represent. Unfortunately, beyond this, it’s up to individual photographers to use reverse photo search engines like TinEye and to keep a close eye on referring site statistics to try to catch their work being misused. The internet is kind of big though, so it’s impossible to catch everything.

As educators then, I feel it’s incredibly important that we instill a strong sense of ethical behaviour in our students when it comes to using work that they’ve found online. There are fantastic sources like Creative Commons that students have available to them to legally access and use creative works, and we as teachers need to be making the use of these sorts of tools a standard requirement. Whether it is written, sung aloud, painted, danced, or in a photo, work created by someone else must be acknowledged and ethically reproduced. The medium does not matter, and any other sort of behaviour is plagiarism.

4 thoughts on “Copyright Applies to all Media

  1. Hi Brian! I would love to hear your opinion on something that came up during a curriculum writing project I was on. While writing lesson plans, in the ‘resources’ section, many teachers were writing “Watch a Canadian Brass video” or “Listen to a Mozart Symphony on CD”. Then, someone just started listing Youtube links to these videos and pieces. Some people started to take offense, as they felt music programs should be purchasing these videos and CDs, and some felt that Youtube was a great way to expose students to new musicians and composers without blowing your budget,
    Eventually, it was decided by the powers that be, that it is Youtube’s problem to be vigilant with copyrights, not ours. And if this material is available from a website (though obviously taken illegally), it’s not our problem as music educators to be the copyright police. What do you think?


  2. Sounds like an unfortunate debate Jordan. Of course you can find things online, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always ethical to use them. If teachers aren’t training students to make good choices and helping them to realize why protecting the rights of creators is important, than who will?

    Having said that, there is of course a lot available online that is put there for free intentionally. Artists obviously want people to find their work, and so I think it’s pretty common to put samples on YouTube. I’d feel a lot more comfortable directing students to an artist’s official site or even official YouTube stream though, as they are the ones controlling this content.

    At least in this case it’s just a consumption of content and not students taking things as their own work. And in the case of a lot of classical music, the copyright limitations have long since expired.

    Still, I think it’s just good practice to have students acknowledge sources and to see the value in artists being compensated for their work.


  3. Hi Pat. Looks like the video you mentioned didn’t come through with your post.

    Creative Commons is a great resource, and I encourage students to use the Creative Commons search limiters under ‘advanced search’ in Flickr as well.


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