There is a little cancer sat around the edge of industry right now, and like all cancers, the effects are never pretty.
But I needed to talk to you about this today because it’s an issue that potentially effects all of us, yet it’s something that we either don’t seem able to address, or able to address without causing further damage.
I’m talking about the issue of image theft.
Recently it came to light that one of my Shining Lights Members had stolen images from other photographers for her own website, in order to promote her own business + site.
From my perspective, this is about a serious a crime as a photographer can commit. Photography IS our business, and unlike other businesses who are able to use stock images to promote their services, to use images taken by others and claim them as our own, as a photographer is both dishonest and disrespectful to the industry as a whole; to all of the photographers out there who are working so hard to build their brands, names + businesses in an honest + ethical way. And this is aside from the actual legal implications of actually stealing another photographer’s work.
Image theft also seems quite practically pointless from the viewpoint of an outsider- you are claiming, whether you state on your website and in conversation to your clients or not, to potential clients that is the work that you are capable of creating. As most of us know, it’s a pretty difficult thing to be able to directly replicate someone else’s work- those particular looks and styles that we become recognised for are usually hard earned. All this does is leave you open to further legal action from your clients when they realise the work they thought they would be receiving is inevitably nothing but a poor imitation.
As a huge lover and supporter of the industry the FPA works within, I suspended the member involved from the mentoring programs that she is a part of. And just in case you don’t get it from this article – I would NEVER condone image theft, or be associated with anyone who chooses to do that outside of my knowledge or influence as a mentor.
This decision has weighed very heavily on my heart for the past few days – the member involved is full of remorse for her actions and claims naivety, which I am inclined to believe. And so the thought that has stayed with me thoughout the past few days is why?
WHY, oh why, did this happen? Why would a photographer who is relatively good in her own right – feel the need to take somebody else’s images?
Why would anybody, ever, feel the need to take somebody else’s work and by allusion or otherwise, attempt to present it as their own?
And the reason I’ve tried so hard to understand the reasons behind these actions is because theft is becoming increasingly common throughout our industry – from big name rock star photographers, to those who have been in business for under a year; and it’s a global issue.
Only last week another of my Shining Lights members found that her work had been stolen and placed on a stock image website for download! And we were horrified. And guess what – she isn’t the only one.
My very own images were taken a few weeks ago, by a new wedding magazine – an entire magazine – and blog – and scattered liberally throughout its pages, including full-sized double page spreads- without one single credit or mention anywhere!
So why would another photographer – who should surely understand better than anyone else – feel the need to do the same thing?! It just didn’t make any sense to me, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I just didn’t understand how or why this could happen. After all, it wasn’t like she was some budget chinese factory ripping off other photographer’s designs, and I could tell by her previous actions that she actually is invested in both her business and the industry as a whole – aside from this (gigantically wrong) action, her attitude and dedication to both have been exemplar.
I come from journalism training and have a mind that never sleeps (both blessing and curse) so I found it impossible to NOT think about this issue, aside from the fact it was one of my members involved (it goes without saying that this was of course carried out independently and without my knowledge)!
But I also think that this issue is important to understand at a root level. Before we blast it with invasive treatments with the aim to destroy, perhaps surely as an industry we should be pulling together to uncover what triggers image theft so that we can try to prevent this from happening at a grass roots level, and treat it when it does.
So this is what I uncovered during my thought processes. These are the only motivations I could fathom as to why image theft occurs.
1. People steal others images because they are dishonest and liars and view it as a quick way to get clients in the industry. They couldn’t care less about the work of other photographers or the industry and just want to get ahead as quickly as possible.
But there is a problem here. You see, I just find it hard to believe that there are people this deliberately nasty and dishonest in the world. Call me naive if you wish; I just don’t buy it. I try my best to always see the good in people where I can and perhaps that is a personal downfall; but I just don’t believe the majority of humans have this nasty streak inherent within them. So then… What else could cause someone to steal images?
Perhaps people who steal others images genuinely don’t understand that what they are doing is wrong. Just like before, I also find this pill hard to swallow. Surely people understand that taking another person’s images and using them for themselves and their own business is completely and entirely wrong?? But perhaps they really don’t!
Perhaps they are brand new to the industry and don’t have a clue about what shouldn’t be done – especially when we live in the age of the image, where Primark steals Topshop who steals Prada designs minutes after they step off the catwalk. Where statement necklaces are all over Chanel and then next week splashed all over Accessorize, and then all over Thailand backstreets.
That doesn’t make image theft any more right or any less immoral, but I prefer to think more of those stealing images as possessing great naivety, over believing that the majority of those who steal images with deliberate and selfish intentions. But that part is just my opinion and yours may be different.
Look at this thing that we have built right here. A beautiful, thriving, incredibly diverse industry. Look at the levels of success some of us have achieved with our business – look at the quality of our work. It’s incredibly breathtaking, technically amazing– and left, right and create people are creating more and more wonderful ways to set up and present shoots, products, workshops, festivals, books, courses, relationships + far more.
Is it any wonder that a newcomer to the industry might start to doubt their own abilities and wonder how on earth they can even begin to compete against such talent and artistry?
Talent and artistry that we have all worked so hard to achieve.
And so this post is really for those amongst us who are new to this business.
If this is you right now- if you sit looking at your work and just wishing it was greater, and you’re hovering somewhere on that slippery slope between wanting to create your own beautiful business and ‘just borrowing for a very short period’ somebody else’s- this is my plea to you.
And it’s not for me. It’s not for the industry. It’s for you.
Please understand that we have all worked incredibly hard to build our businesses. We have won our accolades and our publications and our achievements and goddamnit, our own CLIENTS, by busting a gut to make our dreams happen. We have worked through all night editing marathons, worked incredibly long days, often with less than appreciative clients. We have experienced hungry periods, both financially and in terms of clients. We have been turned down by publications possibly countless times, have had to edit and re-edit images for hours upon end – (possibly the ones you’re now thinking about stealing. Or worse, taking without a second thought). Some of us have fed + clothed our children from the profits of our business. Some of us have been through personal struggles and focussing on our business at times has seemed like the only thing we can do to make it through the day. Our business isn’t just ‘a business’ to us, that can be taken away at the whim of an innocent-or otherwise, poorly thought out OR malicious intent. It is a part of us. Part of us that we have created with heart + mind + body + soul, as an artist, business-person, entrepreneur, and photographer.
Please respect us + our businesses, as we will respect you as you enter into this usually-wonderful, kind, generous industry- you will find that this place is full of all of the help that you need to be able to grow your own business and quickly gain beautiful work of your own.
In fact, there are quick ways for you to obtain beautiful images for your websites, if this is what you are worried about – and these ways are entirely honest + legal.
You can create a styled shoot, attend a workshop with a styled shoot component (or any workshop), find a mentor, attend a training course, join Facebook groups and local groups. Set up styled shoots at home on just a tabletop, borrow your best friends for shoots in the woods and buy clothes for shoots with the intention of returning them afterwards. Read blogs and immerse yourself in the history of photography and your camera manual and find contemporary photographers whose style you love- not with the intention of taking their images, but to share from their inspirations- in short, – do all of the things that we all did when starting out.
There is no shortcut to success, but there are things that you can do to make the route much swifter – and a far more beautiful and fulfilling journey filled with the help and assistance of everyone here in this industry who was also once a beginner and facing challenges exactly like yours.
And I tell you this with utmost of love, as much as a mentor+ business coach can possess. Your business will only ever truly grow if you give yourself to it. Clients will never be won over by a poor imitation of somebody else- not the real, long-lasting type of clients that you need to win in order to make it in this business.
And you know what else that you need in order to make it? In order to be a success? The kindness, love, generosity, patience- of others. This industry has it in spadeloads and most of us love to sit here and share and support you in your journey. But this doesn’t come easy.
Just like a photography business, you often have to work for this too- and when you steal the work of someone else, you’ll very quickly find yourself in a world that is now cold and tough to navigate.
Listen, readers. I know that most of you aren’t beginners here. But if you are, then please take note- you can get there. Your business is all that you can dream it will be. This industry is both pleasure and privilege to be a part of. And if you’re a seasoned photographer, please share this post so that others might benefit.
Because it’s only by taking steps to understand why image theft occurs, and by providing + sharing advice to those newcomers in the industry- in the kindest way that we can– that we can treat this cancer that threatens and jeopardises the honesty and integrity of all of our work.
When I found my images in the pages of the magazine, and all over the blog, I was both flattered and angry. Flattered my work was good enough to steal, annoyed that my work was featured without credit. So I contacted them directly, personally, and addressed the issue. The magazine was very apologetic and explained they were all from a non-journalistic background who were struggling, and truly didn’t realise the implications of what they did. They promptly added credits to all my images and were very apologetic, and we have now created a great working partnership together which I hope will grow. They truly were, I believe, naive.
With new photographers + businesses entering the industry every single day – with the knowledge that anyone with a website and a business card and a digital SLR can call themselves a photographer, we have to show those that are new to the industry the right pathways to take- with guidance, forgiveness, and kindness.
Because otherwise what’s to stop every photographer that enters the industry with either naivety, ignorance, insecurity or even a deliberately selfish and dishonest nature, all stealing our images and passing them off as their own?
The only way we will beat image theft is the same we we will beat any sickness that takes root within a corporation, business, or industry- sufficient treatment, understanding, healing, and a deep desire to all work together for the greater good of one another and the business + industry as a whole; and it’s shining, beautiful, diverse and UNIQUE, future.