Again and again I am amazed at the degree photographers are being treated like dirt when it comes to copyright infringement. While the industry of moving images (Hollywood studios and TV broadcasters) and the music industry have strong legal support when it comes to defending their copyrighted works, photographers are really screwed.
Latest example: polyvore.com
Polyvore, founded by ex-Yahoo! Pasha Sadri, is a nifty little site that lets users pull together image objects from around the web and then do “collages” from these images. Cool, eh? Yep, some of the resulting images are certainly interesting and of good artistic quality. Yet, it would be even more cool, if the users who create the collages would actually ask for permission to use the photos.
And they better should do that, because most of them create and publish derivative works without permission. Often they remove existing watermarks from the images, which can be fined at US$ 2,000 per case. And they display the works across the web. Now, if they were found to sell the resulting images, U.S. courts can assign damages up to US$ 150,000 per infringement. (Have a look at Netcopyrightlaw.com to see how things might turn out for infringers.)
Here is an example how my work has been taken and modified:
- Original photo (no, not the most beautiful shot I ever did :-)
- Modified Collage at Polyvore.com (created from 11 images)
My image has been cropped by the user, and the copyright information in the image has been removed.
Exploring this user a bit further, I found that she has collected more than 6,000 photos from around the web. Looking at the photos, I’d say most of the images infringe some photographers copyright.
All that is well known to the creators of polyvore, but they do hide behind the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows services to accept “user created content” and re-publish this content without risking to be sued. So I sent a notice of infringement to polyvore to get my material removed, along with all the derivative works created from it.
As a side note, isn’t it interesting that there is no easy way for copyright holders to figure out which sites have been hotlinked by Polyvore? It would be easy to introduce a search that let’s you enter the domain name of your site, returning all collages that use your photos. But no, it’s more convenient to let the users just steal and to hide behind the DMCA, while making it as difficult as possible for owners to find potential copyright infringements.
So I used Google to find out where my work might have been used elsewhere on Polyvore. To my utter astonishment I came across a page cached by Google. It shows that the service apparently had had a feature to find other works of the same site:
A Polyvore page cached by Google reveals that Polyvore used to show “More from” a given site.
The cache copy was made by Google on 17th September 2008. Now, about two weeks later, this feature is gone. At least, I can’t see it anywhere on any page. Was it taken down? Why?
Polyvore.com – another nice service that supports copyright infringment.
P.S.: Some may argue that “it’s just teenagers having some fun on the web”. Sure, that may be right. Someone should supervise these teenagers and tell them about copyright. But Polyvore is a service that tries to earn money from their service. The foundation for this are in fact the copyright protected works of countless photographers that make the service a useful, attractive, and monetizable service in the first place. Without this, there wouldn’t be a service.
P.P.S.: An old, but nonetheless interesting thread on Polyvore at The Flickr Help Forum. Plus a petition to stop the nonsense, signed by hundreds of members of photo sharing community RedBubble. And the standard “it’s-not-us-it’s-our-users” excuse from polyvore can be found here.
Update 07-OCT-2008 – Apparently, Polyvore has changed the page linked above and has now removed the former entry that mentioned that one item in the collage has been taken from my site. However, the service did NOT remove the part of the image that has been used. It’s still in the collage. Plus, an Adsense ad is now visible. Fools!
Update 12-JAN-2009 – The link above now returns “The set you were looking for was not found!”, i.e. the infringing image has been removed.