July 7/12 14:01 pm - Please Do Not Steal
Posted by Editor on 07/7/12
In the last three weeks of June, I drove over 5000 kilometres, spent 900 kilometres on the back of a motorcycle, covered a six day stage race, the national Road and Mountain Bike championships, four World Cups (two Cross-country and two Downhill) and two Olympic team announcements, shot roughly half a terabyte of images and wrote thousands and thousands of words.
So, it annoys the piss out of me when a so-called pro team blatantly steals my images and refuses to pay.
One of the upsides of the digital era is that we can get images out faster than ever, and that people from across the country and around the world can access our photos, words and video interviews.
One of the downsides of the digital era is that the same technology that allows us to provide such extensive coverage also makes it easy for anyone to peel stuff out of our site (and other sites that we supply), and repost it.
We've found our images in websites ranging from Poland to Argentina, from Taiwan to Uganda, including, in one of the more bizarre cases, on the website of some South America guy who was trying to pass off our La Ruta photos as his own, and offering his services as a photographer!
I don't have a problem with athletes wanting to post an image of themselves with their blog on a race. I would like to be asked (and pretty much every rider does), and I would like a photo credit saying where the image came from, but other than that I'm fine with the athlete's personal use of the image. (Although, earlier this year I was accidentally CC'd on an e-mail from a Canadian MTB team sponsor asking an athlete to request an image, so they could then steal it to use themselves - very, very uncool)
However, from a team, with sponsors, I expect to be contacted and that they be prepared to pay for the use of images of their athletes on their website, news release, Facebook, etc. Similarly, I expect a newspaper or other media outlet to pay for usage of material Canadian Cyclist created.
I spent a lot of time, effort and out of pocket expenses to get those photos, including standing for hours in the heat and rain, being eaten by black flies, and getting bounced around on the back of a moto. Tracy, the Editoress, spends at least as much time doing the live coverage, posting the results immediately afterwards, and making my images look better and posting them to our website (and sending to clients).
Most teams understand this, and we have numerous regular team clients, plus a lot of one offs. One of the latter was Orica-GreenEdge, who wanted a photo of Svein Tuft after he won his fifth straight men's time trial title. I asked the planned usage (which was wallpaper on their Facebook page), quoted a price, they agreed and they had to photo. Done.
A local newspaper (twice-weekly) similarly wanted a photo of the national women's coach with the Olympic squad she will be taking to London, for a profile they are running. For such a small publication the price is pretty nominal, but I told them how much, they said okay and, again, done.
Contrast that to a North American pro team - which I will not name, to save embarrassing the riders, but you should be able to figure it out. First, they grabbed an image we posted of the Olympic Road team from the press conference in Lac-Megantic, on which they have two riders, and sent it out in a broadcast e-mail, without asking permission or even giving a photo credit.
We, of course, received the press release, along with probably dozens of other media outlets, some of whom likely ran it with our image, assuming that the team had rights to the image. So, not only did they use the image without permission or giving credit, but so have others, most likely.
We contacted them, pointing out that they used the image without permission/credit. Someone got back immediately, apologizing and explaining they were in a rush to get the release out. Fair enough, that happens and we usually settle up after the fact. This happened with another North American team after they won the National Crit later in the week; we contacted them, they apologized profusely and asked where to send payment.
However, this team promised it would never happen again and offered to give me (wait for it) ... a photo, in exchange for the one they took. Gee, thanks, but I have lots of those!
This sort of thing happens probably one time in ten - basically, they dig their heels in, say they have no budget, take it down from the website (the damage has been done, since there is a short shelf life on this sort of image) and 'what's the big deal, it's only a photo'. Sort of like me wandering over to the team area and swiping a helmet - what's the big deal, they've got extras, right?
To add insult to injury, within two days there were two more of our images posted on their bike supplier's website from podiums that their riders appeared on. One of them had even been explicitly altered to crop out the watermark we put in. This is nothing to do with the riders or the team director on the road, this is further up the management chain.
I pointed this out - this time a little less politely - again, profuse apologies, we'll take it down, it won't happen again ... but no offer to pay up, and they have ignored attempts to follow up since then.
Probably more insulting than the blatant theft is the obvious contempt they are displaying. Clearly, from their perspective, our work isn't worth anything, or they feel there isn't any penalty for stealing. To a certain extent, they are correct - the cost (in time and money) for us to initiate legal proceedings against them for a few web use images is not worth the effort (not that we haven't done so, in other cases).
However, the word gets around - I told every other pro photographer I have seen since then exactly which team it was and many weren't surprised. I'm also posting this essay, something I haven't done before, even though these guys are far from the first to pull this sort of shit.
Will it make a difference? Probably not, because we are talking about an attitude here, and that is hard to change. Will it make them less likely to steal our stuff? Again, probably not - there aren't too many photographers that cover the Canadian scene, so there aren't many places to access these images.
In the long run, all I can do is make a request: Please don't steal.