Why stealing IP is bad for culture

Mark Lyndersay -
Mark Lyndersay -

NEWSDAY · BitDepth1337 Narration 17 - 01 - 2022


LAST WEEK, a major local media house stole one of my photos and used it in advertising for a broadcast.

In conversation, we often try to diminish this kind of abuse of intellectual property (IP) with gentler words.

The words “inadvertent,” “mistaken” and “careless” are offered as explanations for making commercial use of something that doesn't belong to you, which you didn't create and that you claim not to know the provenance of.

Any of those three conditions should be a red flag to stop, look and Google again, particularly when it comes to, say, an image that you found on the internet to begin with.

"I got it on Google," isn't an excuse. Google isn't a resource for images.

It links, often deeply, to other internet resources and when they go away, the search ends in 404 errors, indicating that a file is not found.

It actually doesn't take much effort to find out where a digital file originates, but a surprising number of users don't care to make the effort.

Attentive readers will be aware that I make a living as a photographer and have done so for decades. In that time, the imbalance of local copyright has swung slowly but steadily back in favour of the creators of IP.

Not that long ago, insisting on your copyright was a sure way to lose work opportunities in the commercial photographic space and the occasional rights grab still surfaces as a condition of working, but there are compelling reasons for creators of IP to hold on to their rights.

Over the past three years, I've made just a bit more money from IP infringement claims than I have from properly licensing images, because when people are caught out today, they tend to accept what's been done as wrong.

That wasn't always the case.

Some of the change is the result of greater awareness of law and the value of IP, but there is also the importance of a case brought by Sean Drakes against Donald Grant in 2018.

The judgment by Justice Ricky Rahim in January 2021 (CV2018-01224) established case law for the rights of photographers when their work is used without permission or recompense.

Maria Nunes, known for her extensive work with traditional Carnival masqueraders, described challenges with her photographs of Senor Gomez when he passed last year and her photo of Narrie Approo was published in a local paper without her permission last week.

She did not consider a byline stating "courtesy Maria Nunes" to be adequate.

"This was untrue," she wrote in a WhatsApp message. "No-one had the courtesy to contact me to ask permission."

"It's important (that) we build a better understanding of our visual archives and what it takes not just to create the work," wrote Abigail Hadeed in a message as she considered what is necessary to preserve IP.

"But it then becomes incumbent on us to also maintain, upkeep and manage."

Hadeed curated a landmark exhibit of historical photographs at the Art Society, Record: Art: Memory, in 2012.

In so many of these cases, the intellectual property that is being stolen is rare and the result of investigation into aspects of culture which attract little mainstream media attention.

The result is that the casual misuse of creative work becomes a punishment to its creators who then bear the burden of seeking out fair recompense.

This does not act as incentive to the creation of such work or the intensive and expensive efforts that preserving and archiving it demands, further guttering the public record of our disappearing culture.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there


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