How would you handle violations of photo rights?

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Tuesday September 22, 2009.

Fremont Cannon 2

The image above is mine.

I shot it almost exactly four years ago for potential use on a postcard or something like that for the Nevada Alumni Association, which is who Christy works for. I wasn’t paid. I was actually just happy to have access to the cannon without interference and with the ability to do whatever I wanted with it. I went home that evening and edited and uploaded the shot to Flickr.

Since that time, this shot has become sort of iconic. I see it pop up all over the place when I see articles about the cannon or groups on Facebook having to do with the Nevada-UNLV rivalry. I put it on Wikipedia myself, even having to battle moderators there to keep it up. They thought I had violated copyright by uploading it and I had to convince them I was the same person who took the photo and attached the rights to it originally.

I haven’t spent a lot of time researching it (read: none), but it appears that the licensing I use on Flickr does not have an exact counterpart on Wikipedia. The key difference is that on Flickr it specifies that the photos can not be used for “commercial purposes.” That’s a tough one anyway. Creative Commons just released its findings from a study to determine general understanding of the term “non-commercial.” So, it is rather pointless to worry about the difference in licensing offered by the two entities. It is, however, extremely important to point out the similarities in the licensing. Both licenses explicitly say that “attribution” is a precursor to using the photo in any way, shape, or form. I even went as far as to add the line “Please credit Ryan Jerz when using the photo” to the photo’s page on Wikipedia.

The license has applied since the day it was uploaded. The problem I’m running into is that I while I have seen the image in several places over the past couple of years, I have only given permission to use it one time and in every other case, I have not seen any mention of who took the picture. The only instance where permission was granted for the photo was when I was asked by Silver and Blue Outfitters (full disclosure: I shoot their products for their online store) if they could use this and a photo I shot while at a football game on a poster advertising football season. The two photos are on the poster hanging at the front of their store in Meadowood Mall.

Some examples of the photo’s use include:

  • Facebook group UNR vs. UNLV Tailgate and their corresponding Twitter account
  • Blog post from Blogging Vegas (where the above group seems to have gotten their image)
  • Blog post on Rock M Nation, a Missouri fan site—Update – Rock M Nation has added the photo credit. Thanks for that. We’ll get you Friday.
  • Weird story: I was on the front page of the Nevada Appeal a while back (a photo of me touring the Stewart Indian School) and only saw it because my mom let me know I was on there. Above the photo I was in was a series of a few shots promoting upcoming local events. One of them happened to be the Nevada-UNLV football game and what photo do they use to promote that? Why, the cannon, of course. No link unless I can find the paper to scan.
  • Update – Another Missouri fan site, Barking Carnival, has come upon the photo

Those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. There have been others.

I’m writing all of this to ask how you would handle these situations if it was your photo that was being used. Heck, maybe yours has been used1. What would you or did you do about it? Ultimately, the only thing I’ve actually done about any of this is send out a tweet:

my response to use of my cannon photo

It should go to show that I don’t take a huge offense to the use of the photo. I actually am pretty proud that it is used in a good way. It does irk me just a bit that this photo has been used without my name being attached. I could argue that it was even used in a commercial manner (front page of a newspaper, above the fold) without asking permission or attribution. But I also believe in sharing and appreciate that my work is recognized by others as useful.

So, tell me—what would you do in a similar circumstance? What have you done? What should I do in the future?

1 I was once forced to take down a video I made as a joke because I used a friend’s photos. He didn’t take kindly to it and even contacted one of the sites that hosted the video reporting me as a copyright violator. I had no idea he took it so seriously and thought he’d get that I was just having fun. He either didn’t or didn’t care. I should note that I did actually credit him at the end of the video—just not to his standards.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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