BlahBlahBabble Getting Down to Business

Dear Media, How to Not to Cite Photos…

I caused a kerfuffle on Twitter about an hour ago. Over photographs that weren’t my own. I’m posting about it here not to point a finger of blame (note the apology at the end of this), but more so to discuss what happened and how photographer’s works should be credited. On to the story…

As I was eating lunch, I was really excited to spot a post from the Houston Press about the top 10 romantic restaurants in Houston. I love to check out new restaurants with Mike, especially since he is such a foodie at heart. (Ok, I may be a little bit too, even though I’m a selective eater.) As I browsed the article, I was a little shocked to see photos credited to FACEBOOK.

Facebook, as you probably already know, is not a photographer. I am a photographer. While these photos were not mine, if they had been? I would have been pissed. And since I’m a photographer, I was feeling a little indignant for all the other photographers out there. Because even YOU, professional photographer or not, iPhone or fancy SLR camera, own the copyright to your images the second your finger comes off of the trigger. And just because you post them to Facebook, that doesn’t mean Facebook should be credited as the source. You are the source. Not Facebook. EVER.

I respect the Houston Press. I like to read articles by the Houston Press, especially the food-related articles in Eating Our Words. So I was just stunned that they would ever credit Facebook.

And? I told them so.

Then I saw that they had a slideshow of other romantic restaurants in Houston. I opened the link on my iPhone this time with hesitation. I went through 4 photos credited to Facebook before I finally came to one with a person credited for the photo. Stunned all over again, and this time fuming because I know they should know better, I tweeted about it again.

Click to view larger. Screen capture of the Houston Press – “Love is in the Air – Houston’s Most Romantic Restaurants. Copyright the Houston Press and the respective owners of the images, whoever they may be. Posted without permission for educational purposes only.

I was horrified at the response I received to my tweet.

Floored, I tell you, floored.

Before I go any further, let me add in here I am NOT A LAWYER and I don’t work for any Criminal Attorney either. So seek out proper legal counsel if you need it regarding this matter. I am not a lawyer. Clear? Ok. Moving on…

Also, these photos were not my photos, and I’m not some lawsuit happy photographer claiming I’m going to sue the Houston Press. If you are a photographer and you find yourself in that situation, get a lawyer. Personally? I’d ask quietly first for them to fix the source. Then, if online, file a DMCA. Lawsuits are a last resort! This time, this topic though? I wasn’t so quiet, because I was mad for all of us. I am ready to call a Court reporter from NAEGELI. Court reporters may conduct business within a courtroom setting, but just as many are found in other settings. This is because court reporters, who are educated and trained to record and transcribe verbatim, are in demand in a number of settings and for a number of purposes, from broadcast closed captioning and captioning services for the deaf or hard-of-hearing at live events, to legal depositions and shareholder meetings.

Dear media, if you use a photographer’s work without citing them as the source and the photographer choses to do so, they can sue you for it. (I am the type of person who normally plays nice, but not everyone is.) Especially in this case, where the images are not licensed to you to use, were taken from Facebook, may or may not have been licensed to the venue and may or may not have had terms attached to that license, and where you are making a profit off of the website displaying the images. A photographer could sue you for even more damages if they have registered them with the Copyright Office. Claiming that it is all that the restaurants gave you is LAZY JOURNALISM. Research the source, ask them who they came from so they can be properly cited, and cover your ass! Because when I sue you, and we go to court, “I dunno – they gave them to us that way” isn’t going to be acceptable.

Media & journalist that work for the media? You of ALL PEOPLE should know better.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. There are even other publications in Houston that have a far, far worse track record. Matter of fact, publications all over are doing this.

This even goes beyond the media. It goes to all of us. If you post a photo online that someone else took, cite the source. Exactly who took it. Exactly where you found it. If you don’t know, find out. On your blog, on Pinterest, on Facebook – wherever. Credit the photographer.

Copyright law has a lot of gray areas. I’m kind of in love with copyright law, quite a champion of it actually, and yet I release most of my personal photos and work under a Creative Commons license. But that is a topic for another day. The main point? Know how the work is licensed before you use it!

Photographs, and other works of art, are licensed for a reason. For example, for my wedding clients they receive a DVD of images *for personal use*. I then give vendors a DVD of images of their venues, flowers, whatever the case may be and I license that for commercial use, with credit to Christine Tremoulet, and a link to my site online when applicable.

I need to be credited though. Not Facebook. EVER.

Facebook is not a source. Pinterest is not a source. Twitter is not a source. Flickr is not a source. Your favorite style blog is not a source. The person who took the photo -or- the copyright holder? THEY are the source.

If we don’t all stand up and demand that this sort of activity be stopped, well … it isn’t going to end well for us, the photographers left holding the camera and not much more. Even you, the amateur photographer. You own those photos. (I’ll save the discussion for who has a stake in your copyright when you upload to social media sites for another day.)

The final irony? Journalists are upset & losing their jobs because they are being replaced by social media sources instead. Yet here is media using social media as a source for photographs instead of hiring a photographer to go out and get the shots or licensing them properly. Seems pretty circular to me. And somehow? Just sad.

PLEASE NOTE: Katharine Shilcutt of Eating Our Words & the Houston Press did apologize for this incident and is diligently working to clean up the sources. I still respect the Houston Press because of that, probably more than ever before. This post is not meant as an attack on the Houston Press – just as a wake up call to all journalists to please cite us as sources just like they would want to be cited, to respect our copyrights, and to play nice. The Houston Press was just the latest media outlet to do this that I’ve come across recently, and the one that finally moved me to write about it.

Do not go on a witch hunt of the Houston Press. We are cool.

Repeating the disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a photographer. If you are seeking legal counsel, hire a lawyer to help you out with these murky issues. I highly recommend Katie Sunstrom in Texas, and Dineen Pashoukos Wasylik in Florida, who are lawyers. But I am not. I did however take Katie’s photo on that site, which she has permission to use for commercial use.