Theft of intellectual property and the absurdity of rewarding it

It just really grinds my gears.
Intellectual property theft is a huge concern in this modern day and age, simply because it’s one of the easiest things to do without realizing it. Take someone’s photograph, drawing or piece of writing, download it on your hard-drive and upload it somewhere else.

You just “wanted to share it”, you say. Instead of a retweet, “share” or “link”, you download it from Instagram and upload it to Twitter. Because it was two months ago, you’ll say “Message me for credit” or say nothing at all. Heck, you “just wanted to share”.

“Source: Google Images”

At some point in our lives, we’ve all been there. Whether we were still in school, at college in a class we didn’t care about or even in our work presentation we recently gave. At some point, we did use “Google Images” as the source for our nifty pictures we used to spice things up.

Herein, I’d genuinely give the benefit of the doubt – not everyone can be tech-savvy or even law-savvy. Those things are tough. Some just don’t know better.

But what if I were to tell you that “Google” does not own the content they provide nor the images seen on “Google Images”? “Google” is not an encyclopedia but instead the librarian guiding you to the books and encyclopedias you’re looking for.

“Backpfeifengesichter” and Where To Find Them

Meanwhile, your upload gets 1.2 million likes, whereas the original photographer is still idling at 37000 followers and 30000 likes on his end.

An example image of intellectual property theft on Twitter.
You don’t believe me? This sounds too ridiculous? Well, think again. Compare with the original on Instagram and check the numbers.

People like these have, what we Germans call, a “Backpfeifengesicht“. Dear reader that probably doesn’t speak German, I hear you ask, “what does that mean?“! Well, it would be a dick move if I weren’t to explain it or wouldn’t even link a translation, even though it would be extremely easy for me to do so, wouldn’t it? You’d have to look it up for yourself or take the extra effort to look for a translation somewhere in this or other blog entries or comments. You see where I’m getting at, right?

At least, I must add, did the person — which was censored by me — correctly name the photographer. But only in a comment to their own Tweet, being completely oblivious to what they might have done wrong. Exposure is, of course, not money or payment but properly citing sources should be a priority; especially when you exactly know where the images came from. It should not be too hard to add the link to the original photograph. It should not be that hard. If someone did this to me, I’d sue them simply out of spite. There are “Share”-buttons for a reason, use them!

But, personally, I — once again — have to give them the benefit of the doubt as they, indeed, did at least name the original photographer in the comment to the tweet. An attempt was made. They tried.

There doesn’t seem to be any remorse that they feel, the image is still up on Twitter but I reject to shaming them so easily. If you really want to know who they are, it should be no problem to look them up, should it?

But again — we do need to respect the attempt that was made. Seemingly without much “public pressure”, whereas some other people need to feel a backlash before they reluctantly share the credits and play the ignorant dummy when called out.

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Is it willful ignorance?

"Just to clear peoples minds up", they say.
Credits going to the original photographer, again.
"You should have cited it anyway." - "It is now. Where's your problem?"
Them playing the willfully ignorant. “But I did cite it now!” For that behavior, I am torn between not publicly shaming people and having the need to point such short-sigthedness out. I opt to the subtle privacy and possibility of smart people reverse-searching to find it out anyway if needed.

Next up, a clear example on why you should always cite that you took something from somewhere else. People will assume that it’s yours if you upload it to your own page.

Edited or not, I believe this is a marvelous image from Sajal Chakraborty, which leads me to publicly naming him as the sole photographer as this image. He did great. Which is even more infuriating to me, when I see that over one million people liked the image on Twitter instead of the small amateur Facebook group original.

After the image went “viral”, they felt the need to correct the wrong assumption in a response to their original Tweet. Again, this does not look like remorse. Yet, a million people may have been lead to believe that this Twitter user is the photographer of this image. In comparison, only 15000 people liked and only 2000 people retweeted the “corrected version”.

“How could it have been me!? I live in a totally different city!” is one lame excuse right there. After facing backlash, people try to save face. Then the audacity of pinning that popular Tweet to one’s own timeline but not the citation and correction. As if that would help.

Sometimes I feel like I should change my moral code to make it justifiable for these people to burn in whatever city they’re from.

In this modern day and age, like I said, it is just too easy to win all the laurels for something you did not create. Copy & Paste. Simple as that.

You people did something wrong. Admit it. Live with it. If you feel guilty, delete your Tweet, apologize, ask for permission from the original photographer, cite and link them properly or go bury yourself twenty feet deep.

Ignorance is no excuse in law.
Technically speaking, what you did is considered intellectual property theft. “IP theft” for short, or stealing someone’s else intellectual work. Believe it or not, into any photography, drawing or piece of writing, intellectual work and thought is put into it. There is a certain originality in everything you do.

Ignorance is strength. A lack of visual aptitude as well. Some people opt to watermarking their images and still don’t get credited properly. Is this still “intellectual property theft”? You decide. I’d argue: Yes, because it’s for their own personal benefit without much other effort put into respecting the creators.

At a loss of words …

Whereas the above mentioned cases are “considerably average”, I can always make it worse.

Flickr! One person, 478 followers, 88 photos, 884100 views. Most “faved” image? 244 favorites.

Flickr Gallery of someone being accused of intellectual property theft.
The gallery of one particular Flickr user that baffled me just greatly. Note the “lack of image quality”, this is not due to image compression.
Image of a cat's nose with pixels all over the place - clearly photographing a TV screen.
You can literally see the pixels from a TV screen.
EXIF data showing that a regular smartphone was used for capturing supposedly stunning wildlife photography - hinting at intellectual property theft.
The EXIF data on Flickr associated with every image uploaded. Highly unlikely.

Hundreds of comments, hundreds of likes, all complimenting “nice shot” or “wow, such a great image”. What’s the reason? Are people too ignorant to see that the images are not the intellectual property of the uploader? Are people just trying to get extra “exposure” by having their name in the comments?

Most of the people commenting have “Flickr Pro”, a paid expansion mode for Flickr that allows you to upload unlimited images. I did check some of these people out because I was curious — and I was surprised even more. They, on the other hand, did upload quality work that looked like it was their own. Reasonable user profiles with reasonable EXIF data and personal text written alongside the images. No reason to assume that the people commenting are guilty of intellectual property theft.

And yet, they are supporting it. They are complimenting a thief on how “good” his thievery is.

“500 followers isn’t much”, I hear you say. Yes, of course, it’s only a handful of people. But nonetheless a handful of people actively rewarding dishonest and unfair acts. Should this be rewarded? And if so, why are they rewarding it in the first place?

In the other aforementioned examples, it seemed reasonable at first and short glance to assume that the people posting the images are indeed the photographers. But the third and last one is just too absurd. On all ends. Especially because it’s apparently not possible on Twitter, Instagram and Flickr to report stolen images as intellectual property theft. Why?

Even more so, what’s the motive of the person uploading the images? Do they consider themselves a photographer that earned the compliments they receive with honest work?

Care to explain all of this to me? Because I really don’t understand it anymore.
Can you be so stupid? Can you be so ignorant? What is your motivation, even?
Why praise yourself with laurels you did not even remotely earn yourself?
Don’t you feel dirty?

“Where’s the problem? Who cares.”

It’s not only ignorance and stupidity but sometimes even outright hostility. A complete lack of understanding of your surroundings and anything considered right or wrong turns into hostility against those that may see it justified in placing valid criticism.

Who cares about intellectual property theft? Well, I care!
But who am I? What powers do I have? For now, currently none.
Will it change? Who knows. But I hope that some people agree with me and dare to speak out about it.

From my own experience working together with and talking to other photographers and even “digital” as well as “traditional” artists, I’ve come across countless people taking someone else’s work and brazenly claiming “Yes, I did that. That’s mine”. Or: “Who cares? I don’t have to credit them. Make me.” On very rare occasions, the person stealing the work even turned to rather extreme insults.

But can you really do something about it? I don’t know if you can. This feels like tilting at windmills. Asking nicely could help them citing photographers properly the next time but laziness and willful ignorance will still set in sooner or later again.

All I’m learning from this is that exuberant watermarks in images are necessary as long as people do not respect the intellectual property of others and see it, instead, fit to claim it as their own. Personally, I find this sad.

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