Two years ago to the day I went to SlutWalk Chicago on June 4th, 2011. I framed, clicked, and made two shots of this scene. When I got home I selected this image and a handful of others, posted them online, and didn’t think much else about it.
A few days pass and I get a message through Flickr. An editor from MoveOn.org is putting together a Top 10 piece of photos from various SlutWalks and two of my photos had been selected. She was emailing to ask my permission to use them with credit. Of course I said yes.
What happened next is a bit exciting as a human and a bit frustrating as a photographer struggling to gain momentum with his career.
This thing went viral!
I’m not using that phrase lightly. This photo started out at MoveOn.org, then made its way to The Good Men Project, Think Progress, small blogs, countless Tumblrs, the frontpage of reddit, and who knows where else.
What started the idea for this post is that, this weekend, an author contacted me requesting permission to use this photo in an upcoming academic book about “the rhetorical and ideological processes through which victim-blaming has become the dominant mode in mainstream but also sometimes surprisingly well-meaning anti-rape discourse” (from the author).
Once again I granted permission, sent her a hi-res photo for printing purposes, and early next year will get to see this photo being used to support a cause I believe in.
That’s what has been exciting this entire time. My photo is being used to help support a cause I believe in! That’s exciting.
The problem lies in the fact that most people don’t know that I took this photo. For the most part the majority of articles and sites across the web are using this without attribution. While I support the cause, their site, and their articles, it’s frustrating to see my work float out there without some mention of the author.
In college I took a few courses on copyright and copyright law. I worked briefly with Boston University and their Distance Education department working to obtain copyright permission for various works. I’ve been serious about photography since well before college. Copyright, as nerdy as it can be, is something I hold very seriously. (I once emailed the estate of Salvador Dali about the rights to remix one of his paintings as a digital animation. They said no. I never moved forward with my idea.)
I’m not looking to get rich off this photo. Far from the truth. I am excited and have pretty much donated this image to every place that has requested permission. What’s infuriating is the people that use this photo without permission, yet make money on their site (through advertising or other methods of monetary gain). Essentially they are making money by stealing from me. Not only me, but how many other people are they doing this to as well? That’s the larger question at play.
As I was preparing to write this article for today, I went ahead and did another round of reverse image searching to see what I could find. In April there were a string of articles that were released that used my image. I sent out three requests for attribution (Think Progress being the biggest one) and I’m currently waiting to hear back from them.
Both photography and ending rape culture are two things that I care deeply about. It’s really frustrating that my professional attribution is being sacrificed to support a cause I really support. I’m not sure what the correct answer is, or if there is one. What are your thoughts? If you’ve run into a similar experience, how did you handle it?