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The Art of stealing images

Yesterday, a well-known photographer, Trey Ratcliff, posted his thoughts on watermarking online images. In short, he doesn’t believe in watermarks and he explains why. And it works for him, which I respect. Others responded by explaining why they do watermark their images. There are multiple reasons for that – commercial, social, ego-driven, etc.

I watermark mine too. Generally, watermarks don’t bother me, unless they are overwhelming, badly applied or extremely distracting. In most cases they aren’t as many photographers rely on software like Lightroom, which enables them to create and compose individual watermarks and control their position, size, transparency and other parameters.

My brain processes the image and ignores the watermark. I can understand that many people’s brains work differently and that’s fine. But that’s not the point of this post.

In his post, Trey Ratcliff explains why he doesn’t watermark his numerous images. He claims that, since they are protected by Creative Commons, people can repost them with attribution (except for commercial purposes) and that – because he registers them with the Copyright Office – any lawsuit will be easy.

I don’t necessarily agree with Trey – I certainly think he is wrong when he says that “legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially” – but as I said, I respect his choices. In the post he does admit that there will always be those who steal images – he calls it the cost of doing business on the internet.

And, as if to prove his point – less than 12 hours after reading Trey’s post, I came across his images, reposted on Google+ by someone called Art Rudenko (assuming it’s his real profile). Oh, the irony.

Art, whose profile is in Russian (all screengrabs here have been translated into English using Chrome) seems to have a penchant for stolen images. His profile is a loose collection of images, videos etc. collected from all over the web and reposted – without any attribution – under his name. You’ve probably seen many blogs like this on Tumblr.

Trey Ratcliff has become Art’s latest victim. I noticed at least two of Trey’s images on Art’s profile, including one which he subsequently deleted from his profile (see screengrab below)

Exif data from both images confirms without a shadow of a doubt who the original creator was.

Under pressure from a few Google+ users Art eventually added attribution to one of the images and deleted the other one.

But his ‘discussion’ with Google+ users confirms he’s one of the bottom feeders (Trey’s expression) who don’t give a damn about intellectual property, and is likely to continue stealing from others, republishing under his profile and thinking nothing of it.

So here is my point. Most people whose images have been misued (for commercial or non-commercial purposes) don’t have, unlike Trey, 300k+ followers willing to speak up for them. Many of them don’t – or can’t – submit their work to the Copyright Office as they either don’t know of its existence or live outside the US (although the Office does protect “many works of foreign origin“).

Many live in territories where all forms of copyright theft are widespread and they simply feel more vulnerable. Watermark might be a form of security – yes, it’s weak – but it’s some security.

Others have been stung in the past or maybe simply want to discover new talent online.

So, Trey, if you are reading – I assume that you wrote your post simply to share your point of view, and not to lecture. But it was slightly detached from reality. And when it comes from someone with such a huge fan base, it is bound to unleash some criticism.

You may consider them ugly, but for some photographers watermarks are a necessity.

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