29 September 2010

When stealing someone’s property is OK.

Once upon a time…

I went round to a stranger’s house and stole some of his property. But it wasn’t just any type of property. This stranger’s property was something he had created using his knowledge, skill, time, effort and money. He makes his living selling this type of property. It wasn’t much really; just property worth about £50-£100 on the open market. I was hoping for a happy ending and that I wouldn't get caught. And all was sweet for a while, and I was happily using the stranger’s property. Well today the stranger discovered that I had trousered his hard earned property, but suggested that I pay him for having used his property and nothing more would be said about the matter. Yes, you heard me (and I know you will find this as ridiculous as I do) he actually asked me to PAY for the use of his property! Unbelievable! But in these situations I always have a few cast iron get-out clauses to deploy.

I said, “sorry mate, I didn’t realise it was your property. Here, you can have it back because I don’t want it any more” (luckily he didn’t realise I’d been using his property for ages-tee hee). I thought that would be OK but he insisted on calling the rozzers to have me arrested and charged with theft. I thought this was totally out of order. After all he had his property back and I wouldn’t be using it anymore. To be honest, and purely as part of my strategy, I had been a bit rude to the stranger, calling him a “shit kicker” and a “troll”. For some reason he got a bit annoyed at this. Time, I thought, to deploy excuse number 2.

I said, “actually this property was given to me by a friend and I thought it belonged to him. He said he’d got it off the internet. It didn’t have your name on it so how was I supposed to know it belonged to you? It’s your fault that I am using your property because it didn’t have your name on it”.

Using such irreproachable logic, I thought, was sure to sort out this little misunderstanding. Oh no. Unbelievably, and beyond my comprehension, the stranger called me a thief and still insisted on getting Mr Plod involved. Time for phase three; the classic Charitable Status Ploy:

I said, “I’m using your property for a ‘not-for-profit’ project. Surely you can’t want payment for that. What, you think it’s a commercial project? Well as you can see from my website I am only ‘promoting’ something, I’m not making any money from it, not even from all the referral links and advertising other people’s (commercial) businesses”. I am afraid to say this stranger was a stickler and kept referring to something called “the law”. Well pardon me, why would he think I am subject to “the law”?

Time for phase four; the Inversion of Guilt Ploy.

This ploy is often used by men who are caught by a passer-by with their dicks out urinating against a lamp post. The correct Inversion of Guilt Ploy response in this example is, “what you lookin’ at” (pause to look the passer-by up and down with an expression of disgust)…”pervert”.

I said to the stranger, “actually, your attitude is very threatening to me, especially as I stopped using your property immediately I had been caught…eh...I mean you found out that I had been using your property, even though…eh…I didn’t know it was your property and it was really someone else who gave it to me after he got it off the …eh…internet”. That last bit didn’t go too well, but, hey, what the hell, by making the stranger look like the aggressor, rather than the aggrieved, I knew he would back down.

So there we are. I’m sitting pretty. I’ve been using the stranger’s property for quite some time for free, and he’s now feeling pretty bad because I’ve accused him of using aggressive behaviour by threatening to get the law involved. Admittedly my accusation is totally without merit, but I am in a bit of a tight spot here, and I’m going to do my damnedest to get away Scot free on this one. And I think I will…..unless the stranger picks up the phone and reports my crime…….

And they all lived happily ever after. The End.

Now just for a bit of fun substitute the word “property” in the above tale with the word “photograph”, or better still the words “intellectual property”. This particular fairy tale is based on a true story, and I have reversed my role for dramatic effect as a means of analysing the strange mentality of those who believe anything on the internet, if not entirely everything is “free”. I am the “stranger”, or more accurately the Photographer. The “law” is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The person who stole…eh…I mean “used” my photographs on his website shall be nameless to protect the “innocent” because he says his website is “not for profit”. My hand is poised over the telephone. Now where’s my lawyers number…..?

18 February 2010

Archant Great British Life Rights Grab

It is pretty difficult making a living from photography at the best of times. Most of the time I feel like the petrol guage. It is made more difficult by the actions of publishers who seem hell bent on making it impossible. Chris Barton at Photographers Direct has just highlighted a rights grab by Archant, the publishers called Great British Life. It's a classic play to vanity; Archant will (of course) credit the photographer, but will not be paying a bean for the content. It also says; "there's even a chance that your photograph could become a magazine front cover". Whoopy doo!

If this is an attempt at saving money, frankly this does not make sense. In order to process, review and edit the hundreds of photos uploaded there will be a need for people who need to be paid. The more photos the more effort it will take to manage. The extensive website needs to be managed and bandwidth paid for. Having members of the public upload images means increased vigilence on the editorial staff - the last thing Archant would want is a libellous/offensive image getting through the net. And what does this save them? What is the cost of a quality stock image for the front cover of a 25,000 circulation magazine? £100, £150 at a push? And the chances are that the editorial staff will have to wade through a mountain of dross before finding that diamond which is of sufficient quality and composition to feature on the front of their glossies (check the Archant website to get a flavour of the quality of images submitted).

It did not come as a surprise to me that Readers Digest (UK) went into administration yesterday. Last time I picked up a RD book in Waterstones it was packed with $5 microstock photos. It was clear to me that RD was trying to cut costs; in vain it now appears. If that meant undermining the livelihoods of photographers, so be it. The trouble is there is no way back. Once on the road to nearly free content it is hard, if not impossible to go back to paying for premium content. Those who provided the premium content will have packed away their cameras and got nine to five jobs and there will be a general decline towards the mediocre. Ah well, it was good while it lasted.