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What Copyright Theft Means to Me

I've been wanting to put something out there on this matter for sometime but I've never felt I could put into words how it makes me feel. Its a little hard to describe. On one hand my brain is telling me it shouldn't matter that much to me but the feeling in my stomach when it happens tells me something else entirely.
(Pictures are just to add a little interest and break up the text - couldn't think of any images specific to copyright theft and thought I might as well include some pretty pictures as well)

Well today I read a story from a friend who had a guest of a wedding client produce a canvas from a Facebook download of one of their images. When informed that this was copyright theft she couldn't care less. And this really bothered me. It sparked me into thinking its time I put out there my feelings on the matter. I want more people to know what this means and how it makes anyone who creates digital work, which is easily stolen, feel.

To get to the point quickly before I carry on further and for those who will get bored of my writing, let me just say I feel like I've been robbed when my work is stolen. It may not seem as personal as an actual robbery because we've not had our privacy stolen along with our possessions. No one has stepped foot in my home and riffled through my belongings. But I have had something taken from me. That something has value. And that something is very personal to me.
Please note: Before I carry on I just want to be clear and say that this does not refer to the sharing of photos using the share functionality within Facebook or reposting within Instagram. I love and encourage people to share my work. In doing so my name is spreading farther and I love to see people proud of the work I've created for them. What I am referring to here has to do with using work that a person did not purchase for the intended use or maybe didn't even purchase at all. 

I put a lot of time and effort into the work I create and in fact there is a little of my heart and soul in there as well. I take every photography job I do very seriously. If my heart isn't in it I don't take the job because I know I won't do a good enough job otherwise. This is why it eats away at me when I see work I've created used without my permission, whether that's a simple proof copy of an image used as a profile photo on Facebook or to hear that someone has or wants to scan one of my prints to make it into a large canvas rather than buying the canvas from me or by purchasing the digital file. You might not realise but in scanning a print to copy you are committing copyright theft. And copyright theft is theft.

This theft is no different than walking into a shop and taking a chocolate bar and putting it into your pocket and walking out without paying for it. It is no different than taking an item of clothing into the change rooms and putting it on under your clothes and walking out without paying for that. Its funny that most of us would never dream of doing such a thing. We don't steal. We don't commit crimes. Yet many see nothing wrong with taking digital property from a creator and using that without paying for it.
Copyright theft hurts us and not just financially. It frustrates us and makes us feel resentful. It makes us photographers (and any creatives who produce digital material for that matter) feel cheated and robbed. We want to speak our mind with the people we see doing such things but of course we can't usually as it might damage our reputation, as happened with my friend and the uncaring wedding guest who stole her image. Although I am now hearing more and more of photographers who are starting to take legal action as its becoming too much to sit by and watch.

Imagine what it would feel like if your boss one day decided that he wanted to use your presentation for a sales pitch because he liked what you did but he wasn't going to pay you for the time you worked on it because he felt it wasn't worth paying for. To know you put in several hours or in some cases several days but you weren't going to get paid and to make matters worse the work was still going to be used. This is how it feels for some of us. We did the work and sometimes it gets used anyway, but we don't get paid.
You've probably witnessed it on many occasions yourself. Perhaps you've seen a friend post on Facebook a proof copy of their child's school photo. Or another friend who posted a copy of themselves at an event with a big copyright and logo splashed across the face of it. If that image wasn't paid for it's copyright theft. And if those images are not purchased, which is happening more and more, eventually it results in those businesses losing their business because they are no longer earning enough money to keep the business going. At some point it will result in those types of businesses no longer being around and people won't have access to such services whether they want to pay for it or not. I stopped doing jobs that required online sales a long time ago because I'd had enough of people using my work without paying and I could see income declining steadily as a result. It no longer made business sense to continue doing those jobs. The others will go the same way in time.

Photographers and other industries in similar situations just want to earn a fair income like everyone else. We might love our jobs but that doesn't mean we don't need the money to live. We have bills to pay like everyone else and when we see our work stolen we know that means less money to pay those bills.
So there, I've got that off my chest now. I feel better. I'm very thankful that it hasn't happened to me often, and not recently that I'm aware of. But then I don't really run a business that allows for it anymore. Most of my sales are done in person and I give my clients files for their social media after they've placed their order. I know so many others though who have work stolen and I see so many examples of people doing it all the time on Facebook.

Please think about how we feel if ever you feel tempted to steal digital material. Copyright theft is still theft and someone always suffers.

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