By Sara Frances, M.Photog.Cr.
Copy and remix. No industry is immune. Competing businesses try to improve on each other’s products or duplicate them outright, seeking greater profit, lower cost basis and market share. Mining the Internet is the norm; search engines themselves are a form of information scraping. No one thinks twice about harvesting quotes, music, scientific formulas or images. I’ve witnessed advanced degree university classes where information scraping without regard to copyright is not only tolerated, but encouraged.
Photographers need to wake up to the fact that our industry is no different. Even though we insist our product is not a commodity, customers see only square inches of a print, not the result of years of artistic development. “It’s my portrait anyway.”
Same old argument; new rules and consequences. Shawn Davis, manager of internet services at Marathon Press, says “There is simply no foolproof protection for your images once they leave your studio in any form. Showing session proofs on the Internet essentially means making them available and accessible.” Internet posting in itself tends to equate images with products sold via catalogues, validating the hated commodity comparison. Check back with Marathon soon, as the buzz is they’re working on an underlying image protection tool for session proofing that will not be so easily defeated.
Facts about exposure to theft on the web:
• Copyright notice added on an image-viewing site is usually only a facsimile, and therefore easily defeated.
• Logo and copyright embedded in Photoshop is harder to eliminate, but doable with pirate-friendly software.
• Logo and copyright placed less conspicuously at the bottom or in a corner of an image need only be cropped off.
• Many small, low-res images can be successfully interpolated to 8x10 and larger with current software.
• While right-click disabling with a Java script may deter the laziest of image thieves, it's virtually useless against anyone marginally computer savvy.
• Posting enhanced or greatly retouched images prior to a substantial client purchase commitment elevates the studio’s financial risk.
• Clients can become dissatisfied and sales drop if you post images that are not color/density corrected, or if wedding images are jumbled out of logical storytelling order.
"That’s optimism?" you ask. Well, there is a brighter side, particularly though product innovations that help clients fulfill contemporary needs for social site postings, iPod movies and limited licensing for small size consumer prints.