Beautiful, depraved

Intimacy. Debauchery. Irreverence.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Open letter to photographers

I just received an email yesterday from a photographer, the likes of which were as follows:

"You have a photo on your web site that you do not have permission to use. Take it down! Where did you get this photo? It's a photo of a girl on a bed with her but (sic) exposed."

At first, I was thinking that someone was impersonating said photographer: the language, the tone - it was so juvenile that I had a hard time believing this was written by any sort of professional. I double-checked and yes, definitely written by the photographer.

My response:

"Happily.

However, since I have about 175 pages on both of my sites, perhaps you could be a little more clear - such as sending me a link - as to where you saw this photo. "a girl on a bed with her but exposed" isn't quite enough to help me find it.

As to where I found your photo? I have no idea, at least not until I see it. I probably found it on another non-commercial site that posts pictures from photographers whose works they love. That's actually how I learn about photographers I like so I can pay them to do photo sets for me in the future. I believe you've already been in contact with debauchette, who is my partner in an upcoming online magazine, to do a paid photo set with her. I'll let her know you probably aren't suitable for us."

I will absolutely remove anyone's photographic work from my tumblr or blog - both non-commercial, not for profit sites - though I'd prefer that someone ask in a polite and dignified manner. Given the current climate of viral marketing and publicity, my posting a credited image (well, I think it was, I still don't know what image this person was referring to - oh wait, of course, it's the one of a girl's 'but') on a non-commercial site doesn't seem like it warrants an obnoxious request. However, in the end, the work belongs to that person and if they feel their rights are being encroached upon, it's their call to make.

What I'd like to say is this: before I started posting on my tumblr last year and by so doing, viewing many other people's tumblrs and resultant links in the process, I didn't know who 80% of the photographers were whose work I post. I learned about it through tumblrs I like - meaning we have similar taste and I look forward to their choices in content. A major impetus for even starting the tumblr, and restarting my blog for that matter, was to extend out into the vast web of like-minded people and find others like me. To connect.

When someone reprints blog pieces or excerpts of mine elsewhere online my first response is that I'm flattered. My second is that I am grateful for the additional influx of new traffic that I otherwise would not have had. Occasionally, people write to me for permission to repost my (written) work, which is a lovely and respectful gesture, but for me also not necessary. Apart from the strange aggregate mirrors of content I find once in a while that seem to duplicate my blog in its entirety, I'm absolutely fine with it.

There's a fantastic piece written by Courtney Love for Salon.com quite some time ago where she goes into her thoughts on music 'piracy.' I'm extending that to cover 'piracy' in general. The reality as I see it is that anything that's already online is both copyright and in a sense free for distribution with proper attribution. It's an unwritten code and sometimes written because in this online era, that's how news travels - everything is viral.

As debauchette and I step into launching fgt, we're faced with real questions such as: What value can we offer in original content (that we pay for) if it can just get lifted and reposted elsewhere? Do we pay for photographs that are already widely distributed online? Why would we?

Our intention is to create a venue that houses almost entirely original content. We'll pay for that. If we run something that is already out there, we'll gain permission to run it and not pay for it. In our minds, people are benefiting from their work being distributed to a wider audience. And we enjoy being able to introduce people we love to other people we love.

The thing I dislike about tumblrs is when people deliberately remove the name of the author/photographer. That's errant. An argument I've heard is: "It's my own personal scrapbook; I don't want all those messy names cluttering up my page." Em, right. I sometimes reblog/post images that are not credited, (only after searching through link after link in hopes of finding the artist). Reluctantly. I get the idea of wanting to collect something even when I can't attribute it to its rightful author, but I would never deliberately remove a credit.

My suggestion? Lighten up. Stop biting the hands that will feed you. Republishing your already published work seems like more of a compliment and a way of extending your reach. For free. Eventually, in gaining more fans and prospective clients, it will bring you money. I'll pay you. But I can't pay you if I never discover you.

I'm very curious to hear points of view from all parties involved in these situations.

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