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.