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In defense of copyright

Because there's no real punishment for those who steal my work



I am outraged by all the outrage directed at the new copyright bills that were proposed this past week.

I understand why this happened. The laws (the SOPA and PIPA bills) seemed harsh for people who violate copyright law, but I think strong legislation is exactly what we need. The current laws are ineffective. A quick search in Google images under my name finds more than 25 unauthorized uses of my photographs in just the first few pages I searched. And these are the sites that give me credit when they use my photos without my permission. Truth is, I really don't know how many people are using my work for free on the Web.

I used to get paid each time someone used my photographs. Now, people take my work, use it, and don't even bother to credit me, let alone contact me for permission and price. My work has been stolen by some of the biggest websites in the country: Huffington Post, Salon, Gawker. Even Creative Loafing has run uncredited works on its blogs. (The company was just asked for payment for an unauthorized use of a wine glass picture on its Omnivore blog from October 2010.) Eric Celeste, the Editor in Chief of CL, recently declined my request to take down a small picture of a baby smoking, calling that instance of unauthorized use "harmless." I'm sure the same has been said when my work was taken.

Why do people do it? Because they have no fear of reprisal. Sure, some of them pay me after they are confronted or take the image down, but why should I have to find them and confront them? I guess it shouldn't be so surprising since modern journalists call aggregation "journalism," when really it's just slapping your name on someone else's work and sometimes adding a snarky couple of sentences. People say that they will link to my site. Oh, really? That's great, but I prefer cash.

This past week, there was an outpouring of self-righteous outrage about "censoring the Internet" if strong piracy bills are passed. The bills contain harsh punishments for copyright violators, and, yes, some of those championing the bill are huge corporations.

People assume Internet companies like Google have their best interests at heart. Example: A photographer I know was arguing against the proposed bills and said that "even Google is against it." I wonder if he knows that Google is currently trying to settle a lawsuit for copyright violation since it scanned more than 15 million books without copyright holders' permission. One Forbes columnist called the company's practices in regards to copyright "systematic theft." Are these the folks you trust to define what copyright law should be? Strong copyright laws protect corporations but they also protect independent artists trying to protect their work and their livelihood.

Yes, media has changed with the Web, and everyone believes we can share anything we find there. I understand that. But that doesn't mean we should abandon the idea of copyrighting our works, and punishing those who don't adhere to the laws.

Joeff Davis is CL's Photo Editor.

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