BitDepth 709 - December 15

A difference of opinion on copyright gets hammered out on Facebook.
War on Facebook

The TDC's website for the Divali competition.

Six weeks ago, I got really annoyed about an advertisement for a photography competition being hosted by the Tourism Development Company (TDC).
To be fair, it wasn't targeted at me, or, indeed, at any professional photographer, since it was quite clearly being marketed as a challenge to amateurs to put their photos of Divali to the test.
That competition, which has attracted more than a hundred entries, is now open to public viewing on TDC's Go Trinidad
It's attracted some very interesting work, which is what you'd expect, given the resurgence in photography that the immediacy of digital capture has encouraged.

More than good captures, there is work in the collection that shows some careful forethought and planning in the execution of the images and that's always a good sign for photography in Trinidad and Tobago.
My ire was roused by a single (and final) sentence in the original advertisement for the competition, specifically the final competition rule F: "All images submitted are the property of TDC."
Those eight words robbed the exercise of all its potential, as far as I was concerned. A competition promoted as an opportunity for amateurs to rake in some decent money for an evening's work was suddenly recast as a rights grab for a pool of photographs innocently delivered into the TDC's hands.

I have no illusions about the level of interest that the average citizen of Trinidad and Tobago can sustain for the details of copyright law. Years after it became clear that the sale of pirated movies was illegal and that roadside collections of local music were throttling the career prospects of local composers and performers, neither has disappeared either through official intervention or customer scorn.
I composed a note on the matter and sent it out via e-mail. I won't belabour a patient reader with the details of the rant, but this sentence should sum it up: "This means that the company, a Government organisation, is seizing ownership of EVERY image submitted to the competition, not just the winners."

The Facebook factor
On a whimsy, I also posted the note to my Facebook page, mostly because I'd never used the "Notes" feature and was curious about how it worked.
That's where I came face to face with the power of social media first hand.
In less than two hours, there was a groundswell of response from the local photographic community and interested observers arguing many facets of the situation. Within four hours of the initial posting, the TDC's Jason Baptiste engaged the conversation with corporate understatement: "...we recognise that clause F of the press advertisement, which states that 'all images submitted are the property of the TDC,' has raised a major area of concern."
Cutting the story short, Mr Baptiste announced in the thread that the TDC would only seek to retain copyright ownership of the three winning entries.

From the perspective of a photographer who licenses his work for various uses, I fail to see the need for any level of ownership when copyright use can be so finely contracted using existing laws, but that's a whole other discussion.
Surprisingly, the official TDC boilerplate governing the competition is so dense and requirements so steep for winners that you have to wonder about the original thinking behind the original clause F.
As an example of social media responsiveness, it's worth noting that the TDC's response was measured, appropriate to the situation and ready to acknowledge the quite visible evidence of passionate opinion on the subject.
That speaks not just to their willingness to acknowledge a dissenting point of view, but also to a pleasantly surprising respect for the capacity of new media to raise and engage discussion on a matter of real interest to them as a public sector entity.

I declined Mr Baptiste's invitation to discuss the matter "offline" because I genuinely believed that the TDC was responding to a public matter and the discussion should remain transparent.
That said, this was a fast paced discussion rich with intense, articulate debate and was mostly resolved in a matter of hours without the involvement, or indeed, the awareness of traditional media outlets. This column will be the first that almost everyone reading this will have ever heard of it.
Increasingly, the web is where relevant and targeted social debates will flare up and run rampant. If companies aren't monitoring their brand reputations online where people are participating in more and more discussions, it's likely to be all over by the time it hits the news.

Facebook users can view the note and comments here...
I've aggregated the comments on the issue from
Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and web comment feedback here...
The original note is
archived on my photo blog here...
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