A quick note on photos

My friend, Liza, just removed all the pictures from her blog, and posted a link to this blog post about being sued by an image owner.

I’m not going to do that, at least not today.

I believe that most people are good and reasonable, and some aren’t. And that there’s little I can do to protect myself from the ones who aren’t, and that living as if everyone is good and reasonable pays great dividends. (The front door of my house presents what you might call an “optional barrier” to a would-be thief, and I live in a big city. I haven’t yet been the victim of a break-in. Knock wood….)

I agree completely with Liza that using people’s artwork without crediting them is a form of theft. And I would love to credit every photographer (and model, for that matter – why is it that photographers need to be credited but models don’t?). But logistics prevent it. The reality is that Tumblr is the source of most of the photos I use, and much of what is on Tumblr is unauthorized or worse.

So what I do is trust – trust that most photographers have a reaction similar to what I might have if someone posted my words, not claiming them as my own, but as an example of something they admire – namely, flattery.

And to the extent they don’t?

Please contact me.

If you want me to take a picture down, it’s down. If you want credit for a picture, I’ll add credit. If you want some sort of payment? Nope. Not because you’re not entitled to it, but because, well, because I’ll happily go picture-less rather than spend money on content. Photos add something for which I’m not prepared to pay.

An aside: I steal regularly. I never did before, but I run ad-blocking software when I surf the web, and so am the beneficiary of all sorts of web sites without paying for them. I have no moral argument as to how or why this is ok, other than that, well, I fucking hate all the ads on these interwebs. (If there were some way I could subscribe to the internet, for say, $20 or $50 a month, with micropayments going to the web sites I visit from that fee, I’d gladly pay it.)

But that stealing seems to me far more egregious than the image theft I’ve done.

To Roni Loren, the blogger cited by Liza, I’m sorry. But there is one big difference between her and me (and Liza): she is, according to the banner across her web page, a “National Bestselling Author.” She’s using her blog to create value for herself, whether directly or indirectly. If I were a photographer, I’d be much less happy about someone like her using my work than about someone like me.

I’m not a bestselling author, and have nothing to gain (other than neurotic exhibitionism utils) by writing here. Someone who sues me would be making a very different calculation than the person who apparently sued Roni Loren. I assure you, if I ever publish a word for sale, if I ever stand to make a penny from any of this? I’ll take down every picture I don’t have explicit authority to use.

Until then, if you’re a photographer and I have used your work without your permission, I apologize, and ask your permission – and request information adequate to credit you appropriately. If you’d prefer that I take your picture down, please let me down and I’ll take it down as promptly as reasonably practicable.

Readers, what do you think? I know that no one comes to my blog to look at the pictures. Should I lose them altogether?


  1. Okay…my 2 cents.
    No I don’t come to your site for the photos but I do like them. Your words are so much better. When I want to just look at pics, I go to your tumbler every 3-4 days. I’ve only used one photo that is not my own(I think) and I asked permission to use it. She was flattered. The only reason I thought to ask was because I use it as my profile pic. But suing? Good grief. That’s the second story I read today about suing over internet content.

  2. You make some good points. It didn’t sit well with me though, and kept gnawing. Sadly, many people (based on my search terms) do get to my blog because they’re looking for photos. I have most certainly lost a source of readers.

  3. As a content creator and as one who knows other content creators, I appreciate the creators’ side. There are many works that get redistributed without any credit being provided to the original creators… and many times that the users make money off that content while the original creators do not get a share. Even those non-crediting users who do not make money still take traffic* from the creators’ sites. My blog posts look dull as a result, but I prefer to not use others’ images… particularly not if I do not have a source that I can credit.

    * Lost traffic may translate into into lost ad revenue. Even if money is not an issue, it is demoralizing to get no hits or comments on your content where you posted it. Why bother continuing to create if you receive no money, appreciation, attention, or credit?

    1. I think that’s a more ethically unassailable position than mine. I just don’t think mine is very assailable.

      As a friend of mine says, buying a lottery ticket may infinitely increase your chances of winning, but it doesn’t MEANINGFULLY increase your chances of winning.

  4. Speaking as a photographer (a marginally talented amateur hobbyist, but still) and not as a blogger, if you use one of my images and you *know* it’s mine, you’re wrong if you don’t give me credit. Other than that, I agree with your approach, and have the same attitude myself.

    Re: your comment to Roni Loren, the point is irrelevant. Copyright violation is copyright violation, whether it’s a big for-profit site or someone like you or I posting someone else’s work without credit.

    1. I don’t agree that my point is irrelevant. It may be LEGALLY irrelevant – I suspect it is – but ethically? Morally? It’s totally relevant.

      Copyright is a legal, not an ethical, protection. The purpose for which Roni Loren put her stolen photos was ultimately her own enrichment. That’s a very different use than the use to which you or I are/am putting photos repurposed for our blogs. Not legally, but ethically.

      And, for example, I presume – perhaps incorrectly – that people generally have the same view I do: if you republish my words and claim they’re yours? You’re an asshole. If you republish then and say, “I don’t know who write them, but they’re hot/smart/interesting/thought-provoking”? I’m happy and flattered. That’s what I do with photos.

      If I were a professional photographer, I’d be flattered by, even grateful for, such uses of my work.

      For the record,I think not publishing such photos probably is ethically better, or rather, entirely unquestionable, rather than debatable. I’m just not that troubled by the questions my use of such photos raises.

  5. The whole debate reminds me of the music industry (Metallica in particular) vs. Napster from 12 years ago. The louder they advocated their position, the less I wanted to listen to them.

  6. I read Liza’s post too, I admit it rattled me. More my concern about losing my anonymity over a damn photo. I did take down some photos, but I left a good number up. I share the same thoughts you have, I trust in the good of people. I try and credit where I can, but it’s not always possible.

    I also feel my blog is relatively unknown. I have no idea how known Roni’s blog is, but the fact that her blog is clearly there to benefit herself financially I can see why a photographer wouldn’t want his or her work used for that without compensation.

    Mine is for fun, so I would hope that if someone got worked up about seeing their photo on my site that they would be happy if I just removed it.

    But like you and Hubman discussed, that is relying on their morality and ethics, legally could be a different story.

    1. I would be curious to see if anyone has brought suit against a blogger like you, or Liza, or Hubman, or me – someone who’s simply BLOGGING, as opposed to engaging in commercial activity. Roni clearly is a horse of another color, and frankly, her suggestion that she’s NOT is a bit disingenuous.

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