BitDepth#830 - April 17

Taking a photo that's found online for publication has become one of the great irritations for photographers active on the web. Here's the story of what happened when a local photographer had his work published, without his permission, on the cover of a local weekly newspaper.
Take a picture
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Minister of Local Government Chandresh Sharma and Chairman of the Siparia Regional Corporation, Leo Doodnath. Photograph courtesy Jason Nicholas Sookermany.

It began with a simple photo shot by Jason Nicholas Sookermany; a young civil servant from Siparia at the La Divina Pastora Procession in May last year.
Sookermany put a watermark on his photo and uploaded it to his Facebook gallery, tagging the people in the photo as he did so. Sookermany is an enthusiastic photographer and posts many images to Facebook under his nom de photo, Jason X Photography. His equipment and his intentions are humble.

Then his photo appeared on the front page of the TNT Mirror, his watermark cropped out and without credit to him. Unhappy about the situation, he began a thread on Facebook explaining the situation.
I’ve had this type of thing happen to me too often not to empathise. I wrote a note about his story, posting it as a comment on a TNT Mirror Mediawatch story that declared the management of the paper to be “mildly amused” by al the fuss on Facebook.

Not expecting the Mirror to approve the online comment (they did), I posted the note to Facebook, where a discussion ensued, which you can find
That debate largely disapproved of the Mirror’s decision to publish without permission or credit, but the comments surged after the paper’s CEO and Publisher, Maxie Cuffie, showed up to gamely defend the publication’s decisions.

That led to another Mediawatch notice on the matter, in which the Mirror, no longer amused, declared itself “taken aback” by what it described as a “bitter response.”
The thread is far too long to get into here, and it’s all available online for the terminally curious.

Short version here.
Cuffie, who has announced a settlement with Sookermany, remains unmoved by arguments against his image acquisition practices. In Cuffie’s own words, “...we consider any publicly available image fair game and we do scrape the Internet for images, but we do so within the law and we respect all assertions of copyright.”

The Mirror boss believes that the copyright law supports what he’s doing and cites this wording from the 2008 Copyright Act, which supports “the reproduction in a newspaper or periodical, the broadcasting or other communication to the public of an article published in a newspaper or periodical on current economic, political or religious topics or a broadcast work of the same character.”

The journo in me nods at this, but the photographer laments what’s been left out. There’s a caveat on such use, which enjoins the media to honour an “obligation to indicate the source and the name of the author as far as practicable.”
The law then goes on to state quite plainly: “...this permission shall not apply where the owner of copyright has reserved the right to authorise reproduction.”

Cuffie argues that such restrictions represent a chilling effect on newsgathering, but they also represent the only legal bulwark against steal...sorry, wholesale resource reallocation.
Ultimately, this isn’t about the TNT Mirror or Maxie Cuffie. It’s about understanding the commonsense rules of engagement that make an expansive commons like the Internet valuable to all its participants, while respecting the rights of creators who wish to share their works there.

Before stock photography became available conveniently online, magazine photos were blatantly copied to illustrate supplements and feature stories. This wasn’t reproduction in the public interest; it was simply stealing images out of expedience.

Sookermany was three mouse clicks from a message requesting permission and a sentence of text from a credit for his photo, either of which might have resulted in a different outcome.
Since Facebook strips embedded metadata, automatically creating orphaned works out of everything posted to its galleries, embedded watermarks are almost mandatory for anyone who wants to reserve their rights of reproduction.

Three decades ago, an advertisement for NCB appeared with my photo of the cast of a theatrical production. I raised a stink with the agency, beginning my side career as a person who “does get on” about his work and Israel Khan advised me to forget about a lawyer’s letter and put a stamp asserting copyright on my photos thereafter.

In an era of Facebook’s tag-fuelled distribution, such a copyright notice may not be enough anymore. It may be necessary to point out you are reserving reproduction rights, even though Trinidad and Tobago copyright law grants you such protection on creation.

Photographers might be better off skipping ornate graphics and imagery in their watermarks in favour of simple, tidy statements like, your name, copyright the year of creation, all reproduction rights reserved.

The copyright symbol is supposed to convey these sentiments, but in local courts, where there’s been no testing of the specific provisions this aspect of Trinidad and Tobago’s copyright act, more information, more bluntly spelled out, is clearly better than inference.

Related links...
My Facebook post and the comments or you can find a facsimile on this site, here.
original Facebook post.
The TNT Mirror Media Watch posts are
here and here.
Name and shame
posts on copyright violators.
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