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Don’t Steal, But Don’t Get Robbed, Either

Brooklyn Bridge from the River

©2011 Tracey Lawrence

We live in a digital age. That has meant trouble for content creators since the internet took off at the turn of the century. Presenting one’s work in a digital format is a double-edged sword: distribution is easy. Too easy. Replication without degradation is a fairly simple process. For that reason, many users are completely ignorant of the consequences of taking and reusing the intellectual property of others. After all, this is the age of the “mash-up,” of “sampling,” of “sharing.”

I am an artist. I come from a conventional background. I bought records. I still buy music (on CDs and digitally). I take photos, use them in my work and distribute them to others. I try to protect my work to a degree, but not to the extent that I would sue someone for using my intellectual property. The opportunity has not arisen. Yet.

To clear the air about this image-use situation, I do not advocate the theft of intellectual property. If you are going to use someone else’s work to create a money-making work of your own, you should have their permission and pay for the privilege. I practice these principles.

If someone approaches you and tells you that you are improperly using their work and demand that you pay them for it, shouldn’t they be able to prove it? Should you have to pay anyone anything just because they CLAIM ownership without any proof?

That’s the crux of this matter with Getty. Getty shows no sense of proportion or responsibility for legal conduct in their pursuits. They CLAIM an image, which I received legally from a client many years ago to do a project, is theirs. They will not prove it and expect me to pay them anyway, because they say so.

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. There was an urban legend about a guy who went around trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to people, with some success. Whenever someone seemed a bit too naive on a topic, the expression “if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you” would often be used.

Note the image on this blog’s masthead. It’s a portion of a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge. The same image is used on the Graphic Detail web site, the Graphic Detail Twitter account and YouTube channel. Had I stolen this image from another artist, I would deserve to be punished. This image represents my brand and I should only use it if I have the right to do so. And I do. I took the shot myself.

Now, what if Getty’s web scanning bots detected a similarity between my shot, which I can PROVE I own (it was captured 7-16-11 on my iPhone) and one of the many images they CLAIM to own? It’s just as ridiculous for me to be asked to pay for use of my own image as it is for them to ask me to pay for the use of someone else’s image without any proof of copyright ownership.

I don’t steal. And I won’t be robbed. And if you disagree, there’s this bridge in Brooklyn you might like to consider buying.

About traceysl

Author of the #1 bestselling book "Dementia Sucks", (Post Hill Press). Having cared for my father, who had vascular dementia and died in 2004, and my mother, who died on April 14, 2015 after a long fight with Alzheimer's disease, I have refocused professionally to helping others through my experience. My company, Grand Family Planning LLC, provides Coaching and Support Services. I am a professional speaker, offering programs for businesses seeking solutions to recruit and retain employees who care for loved ones. In this way, I share my knowledge and give meaning to the tragic turn of my parents' journey through the misery of dementia.



  1. Pingback: A kinder, gentler approach to copyright enforcement « Speaking Productionese - October 20, 2012

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