Photographer Learns the “Value” of Exposure

We all know the cliche, right?  Free distribution made possible by Internet technology gives the artist exposure that will lead to otherwise hidden rewards; and so restricting use through ownership is anathema to the opportunity provided by social media.  Bullshit.  A friend just shared what may be the perfect real-life anecdote that gives lie to the culture of permissionlessness.  Photographer Rachel Scroggins tells a story on her blog that so clearly demonstrates what happens in a society in which the creator of a work can disappear amid the frenzy of sharing.

In September of 2013, Scroggins explains that she took a photo of supermodel Karlie Kloss in the act of taking a selfie with her smart phone.  Scroggins showed the photo to Kloss, who proceeded to share the image on Instagam without permission or a photo credit.  I’m sure Kloss was not being deliberately unkind but was merely acting like a typical citizen in a time when the very idea of permission or credit has been culturally bred out of everyone’s consciousness.  This degradation in the social contract is commonplace, but examples like this one don’t come along too often.  Because when a supermodel shares a photo, it has a tendency to go kinda viral.

As Scroggins watched her unattributed image rack up about fourteen thousand views, she could only imagine the potential good it might have done her had Kloss simply understood how essential that credit is.  Karlie Kloss did eventually apologize, but the image subsequently began to appear uncredited on numerous mainstream fashion websites all over the world.  Thus, Scroggins proceeded to spend time and energy in that new, thankless and unpaid second job of the digital-age artist — chasing down infringers of her works.  In some cases, she received apologies and compensation from the publications; but in many cases, she’s received little more than brush-offs and some reluctant acquiensce to her takedown requests.  And she’s still chasing the photo around the web, “All because, as she says, “Karlie Kloss used my photograph and neglected to credit me properly.”

So, on behalf of all the artists like Rachel Scroggins, spending countless hours pursuing thousands or millions of casual, unattributed and permissionless uses through cyberspace, I have to say to y’all who claim the “exposure” is worth abdicating copyright, that you are so completely full of shit.  Because while you — and I’m looking at you Mike Masnick — extoll the virtues of free, mass distribution for artists and creators, you simultaneously pimp out messages into the heads of beautiful users everywhere that the individual who made that work they’re “sharing” simply doesn’t exist anymore.  Pity the same phenomenon has yet to fully manifest among those of you promoting lame ideas about copyright.

© 2014, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • People die of “exposure”..

  • If you can make copyright work, I’m sure there are people out there that would basically make your their king and shower you with large stacks of money bags. There is naturally hundreds of billions of dollars on the line – right? (I believe I read that study on this very blog.)

    Nobody has any real solution to make a copyright-like system work. At least, without going back to the conditions that existed after the creation of the printing press (consequently, around the time organized copyright law appeared) to right before the rise of computer networks, the information age (consequently around the time copyright started to break down). You know, where we are at now.

    Copyright is designed for the printing press economy. What you want is a way to make money in the information economy.

  • Who took the IOM cover photo?

  • Permission works both ways. Nowhere in this article did it state that the photographer had permission to take the photo in the first place.

    • You don’t understand the law. A photographer doesn’t need permission to take or distribute a photo, but only to “convey endorsement” as in a photoshop job turning a photo into an ad or something. Most companies secure releases just to be on the safe side though.

      • Also, in this case, the photographer by her permitted presence behind the scenes as a freelance journalist may shoot anything she wants up to a point. For instance, in light of recent news, she would not have permission to photograph the models naked between wardrobe changes and distribute those at will. That would be a violation of the models’ rights as well as her own ethics as a fashion photojournalist.

  • The ignoring of Copyright / Creator Credit IS Bullshit! But to be fair, did she have the super model sign a release? After all, It is her (The super model) in the picture, right? The road goes both ways.

    • Not really. The typical release only grants the photog or his employer permission to use the picture, and usually doesn’t go the other way (toward permission granted to the model) unless specific arrangements have been made, or the model is the one paying the photog or something like that.

  • I do feel that artist deserve the right to their credit, but you lost me when you said a selfie. As a model, I’m sure she’s not accustomed to selfies with her photographer or anyone else for that matter being contracted works. It seems to me that the issue arose because of the following…not the other fashion sources that used the image definately should have to pay & provide credit for their use of an image they extracted from social media!!!

    • Please check the source article and you’ll see the photo. (Sorry, that short response was by phone.) The photo belonging to Scroggins is of Karlie in the act of taking a selfie. Thus, it is fashion reportage, not a selfie taken with model.

  • Perhaps, if Scroggins had taken the time to add her name to the photo, embed it in the Meta Data, and begin the copyright process for the shot (she knew it was exclusive and it’s a good image) she could have avoided all of this. I understand why she probably didn’t – doing that to Every Photo she takes would be time consuming I am sure.

    • metadata isn’t persistent.
      In fact, even Google’s Youtube strips metadata upon upload.

      As far as registration, in particular with photographers, that’s an unreasonable burden considering that pro photographers take tens of thousand if not hundreds of thousands of photos a year…add that to registration fees and the cost of registration is far exceeding the income made from doing business.

      • Theses mechanisms also miss the point of the story. Karlie Kloss didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. It’s common behavior to disregard the author of a work now, which represents a cultural shift that can undermine all the BS about the web being the great DIY promotional vehicle for creators.

      • AudioNomics and David,

        I didn’t know that about Photos and Metadata – I know musicians, like myself, use it for a variety of reasons, one of them is contact info.
        There is alot of talk on music blogs about how to earn any sort of real income off of “streaming” sites like Spotify or Pandora type radio, and most folks a wringing their hands because the general public attitude is music is free – so this story comes as no surprise that it happens in the photography world as well. But I think you are wrong that the web isn’t a great DIY Promotional vehicle. With all the crowd sourcing options available, email lists, Social Media, …. I heard about your blog through an ASCAP email… can create a niche for your work in ways that were completely impossible 20 years ago.

        Scroggins takes great photos – there are so many avenues she could take and she could USE Kloss’s image to promote it. Your work is going to get stolen – Lars Ulrich of Metallica was laughed at 15 years ago over Napster, but now many DIY musicians see what he saw and it is not a pretty picture, so you have to change how you market and sell your work. There are many people making a viable living off of their internet work – YouTubers, Musicians, Artists of all types, Business Coaches, Yoga Teachers…….these avenues are new – less than 10 years old and its all possible DIY through the Web.

        She got ripped off, it sucks, some photographers put their name on every digital photo – photoshopped as part of the photo before it goes online. (it changes the image but the credit is there). Here is an example

        The web is a necessary tool for Every DIY Artist and the general public thinks Information, Art and Music and Photos are FREE. How you make a living with that knowledge requires creativity but it can be done successfully. Its a new world.


      • All good thoughts, Joshua, and thanks for commenting. What I find interesting about the Scroggins story here is that she was NOT in fact ripped at the outset. Income is one issue, but even before that comes the basic respect that there is a person behind that photo, song, etc. you like.

  • Pingback: On Sharing Without Attribution | artist sense

  • I understand the pain the photog felt … but this is a perfect example of why you need to watermark ANY of your professional photos that you share with friends. That way, when the photo is carelessly shared without attribution, or just inevitably stolen and reposted to some other website, the watermark saves your butt!

    • Agree that this story makes a good practical lesson, Gerry. But taking a big-picture view, I think this example highlights the reality that the digital age atomizes everything, even when nobody actually means any harm, into context-free bits of ephemera devoid of very notion of human authorship. It belies, I think, the “permissionless culture” gibberish that is promoted by our friends in Silicon Valley. Yes, there’s a business lesson here but a cultural one as well, I believe. Thanks for commenting!

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