Yesterday, I discovered that one of my images had gone viral (semi-viral? However viral over 200,000 shares is, anyway). Great, right? I can’t really think of any artist who wouldn’t adore that much exposure. Except that it’s not exposure when your project stamp is cropped out and there is no mention of you anywhere. This sort of thing happens all the time, all you have to do is search ‘art theft’ on tumblr and there are countless cases. When you upload your content to the internet, it’s bound to happen to you at least once; people see an image on Google and assume they can use it for whatever. It’s a fact of life in this new age where anything that wants to be anything is shared digitally. I’ve had my images pop up on little Russian websites, which Google translate can’t make any sense of, but this is the first time that an image has exploded.
The admin of the page in question were adamant that they didn’t crop or edit the image in any way and posted it as they found it because they liked it (their catalogue of badly cropped, low quality images suggests otherwise). They work with hundreds of artists and care deeply about treating them fairly, and wouldn’t do anything to harm an artist’s reputation. Even if this were true, a reverse image search using the version they uploaded yields my original uploads as the first results (thanks, Google!).
It’s not hard to trace an image source. Their lack of research shows a gross lack of respect, and you see it everywhere. Art is not treated as something with value but it should be.
After I turned into a giant green rage monster, they eventually agreed to put a credit in the caption (though, I had to jump through hoops to prove it was mine), getting them to include a URL was incredibly difficult and they’re still using my real name, rather than the name I use for my artistic endeavours: Elou.
Don’t get me wrong, I am pleased that so many people enjoy the image but so much is lost when an image is stolen and edited. It damages artists when large pages, with giant like counts, take images and don’t give due credit. My 1,400~ likes is nothing compared to their 600,000+. But big pages don’t care about little ones.
Big pages don’t care that this image was taken almost exactly a year ago, at around 7:30 in the morning, in the Dartmoor countryside. They don’t care that my model and partner in crime had a dilemma on her hands when she noticed how perfect the weather was that morning. Nor that the skirt she was wearing once belonged to her mother (I think), and that the wellington boots still belong to her Oma (who has incredible taste in brightly coloured shoes). They don’t care that beneath that outfit was another outfit, to make it easy for us to shoot an entirely different set of images afterwards. Or that we spent at least an hour in the mist and the rain, trying to get the perfect images, even though we weren’t entirely sure what we were after. Or that it is incredibly hard to shoot in the mist and the rain, through a viewfinder, when your breath is steaming up your glasses every other moment. They don’t care that my model, who is one of my favourite people in the universe, took this opportunity to walk around barefoot in the rain for a while because she loves the way it feels; and that we were on holiday, and decided to fill that holiday with creativity.
They don’t care about the hours of shooting, choosing and editing time; the styling time; the time it took to craft the original blog post and distribute the image via several kinds of social media. They don’t care about the photos which followed, or the photos I have yet to edit. They don’t care that people might want to see more, they don’t care that people might not realise there are more. Why would they? They have their booming stats.
I’m not the first person this has happened to, and I won’t be the last. I had it easy, as far as I’m aware no money was made off my image. The version they posted was not of a high enough quality for them to really do anything with it, I’ve seen countless cases of art being printed onto t-shirts and bags without the artists say so.
The moral of the story is: check your sources. If you run a high profile page, posting random images from the internet damages art. Art and artists deserve more respect than that.