As we all know, all it takes is a camera or a phone with a built-in camera to take a photo.
People take pictures all day long. Some pictures are better than others because they were taken with better cameras.
Modern digital cameras and smartphones are so easy to use that everyone is a photographer — and it is all free because we don’t need to pay for film or processing. Yet for some reason, people still steal pictures instead of shooting their own.
When this has happened to my photos, I have been told by the person who took it that they thought it was OK because they “found” the pictures on the internet. If it is on the internet, it is free — right?
One photographer’s experience
Some have said professional photography is dead and has been replaced by the iPhone. That might be true, but it still doesn’t give anyone the right to use someone else’s picture without permission — and it is a good idea to get that permission in writing, especially if the use is for business.
There are people who make a living taking pictures for others, and they are being stolen from, too.
People find pictures that I took to promote my listings, and they use them in their own marketing and on the MLS. Our MLS makes it easy to report the misuse — or what I like to call “theft.”
For the rest, I need to send out “cease and desist letters.” I like to include an invoice for $2,000 — which no one pays, but I like to ask anyway.
Right now, there is a condo on the market that is using a picture I took of the State Capitol building, and there is also a photo taken inside a grocery store that doesn’t allow pictures to be taken in its stores.
I know the agent never asked to use my photo and probably doesn’t know that permission is necessary to take and use pictures in the grocery store.
I have a photo album of my most-stolen photographs. Each one of them is a picture anyone could have taken, and all were taken in public spaces that can be used and enjoyed for free.
I once gave a newer real estate agent detailed instructions on how she could take the same picture that she swiped from me, but she never did it.
When I ask someone to stop using my photographs in their marketing, they tell me that if I want to protect my photographs, then I should not be putting them on the internet.
Some of my photographs are on display in local businesses, health clinics and hospitals because someone paid to have them there. It seems ridiculous to pay for something that is free — but to me it also seems ridiculous to give something away that people want and need and are willing to pay for.
I don’t sell my images; I license them and usually retain some rights. I have a few that I have licensed multiple times — to be used in magazines, on holiday greeting cards and on websites.
Real estate use and other marketing requests
Some agents hire photographers to photograph their listings. Agents should get something in writing from the photographer, and they should be reading the fine print. A photographer can restrict the use of an image or grant unlimited rights forever or for a period.
It is true that anyone can operate a camera. My DSLR camera even has an automatic mode so that the operator doesn’t have to understand aperture or shutter speed, white balance or ISO.
Over the years, I have received numerous invitations to provide free images for websites and Facebook pages. Google asks me to put my pictures on maps so that others can see what an attraction or business looks like.
The state and city tourist bureaus want photographs tagged in a certain way so that they can be curated and used to show off the city and the state.
Some people find my refusal to tag my photographs the way they want them tagged annoying. The truth is that I have my own tags, and I use a lot of my photographs to promote my own businesses. I do sometimes participate in the marketing efforts of others, but it isn’t a priority.
The world seems to run on free photography these days, with so many websites being accessed by people looking for information and pictures. The opportunities to take pictures and to let others have them or use them are endless, even though anyone can take a picture.
Sometimes a lot of work goes into a shot. Maybe a long walk in the cold, carrying expensive, heavy equipment uphill — or just a phone — before dawn to catch a sunrise to get a shot that anyone could have gotten. But they didn’t.
If it took years to learn how to take a shot like that and hours to get to the location, and thousands of dollars for the equipment used to take the picture, was it free?