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Taking pictures

Too many people tend to see the internet and its virtual content as a common property. Well, I believe that access to the internet must be a common property, exactly like clean air or radio broadcast – everyone should have the option to receive it – for free. However, although things are put online for the interest of all users, too many people don’t accept the fact that a content produced by one person belongs to that person only. This ownership, called copyrights, has been invented long before the internet has started spreading around and long before people used to carry their digital cameras anywhere they go. And this legal arrangement is still valid.

The fact I’m furious every time I hear about such a case probably has to do with the fact that I’m earning my money out of content production (and that includes stills photographing), while others who simply take fine and mostly exclusive pictures don’t regard it as such a big deal. I believe that every content found to be good enough for publication (especially when it’s commercial use) should reward its creator financially and fairly. But the good hearted people I just mentioned only expect to be given a credit if anyone uses their photos, with or without their permission. They would get upset if it doesn’t happen, but they wouldn’t fight for that. However, this fact is extremely often exploited by those who simply don’t give a damn about this very simple “gesture”. It happened to me lately when photos I’ve taken for personal use during a concert in the university were circulated among my girlfriend’s friends and one of these photos happened to find itself on the website of the Student Union, obviously without asking for my authorization and without giving me a credit, even after the author was explicitly asked to do so: Exhibit A

But here are two recent cases of other people who found their photos used by much wider circulation publications, and the responses they each received when they were “arrogant” enough to clearify the issue.

Amit, a well-known environmental activist, runs a unique website that covers almost all the nature reserves and national parks in Israel and actually serves as the most extensive database for Israeli protected lands for almost six years now. Therefore, it’s likely to find there, not only detailed and up-to-date information, but also photos, of nature reserves that most people never heard of before. One such is the Gad Hill nature reserve announced a year ago. The Planning Authority in the Ministry of Interior celebrated this important achievement in one of their recent newsletters [PDF], using photos they bothered finding using google. Obviously one of the very few photos of that reserve they happened to find was on Amit’s website. When he found out about that, he decided to send the Ministry a very polite email, for their awareness only. So far he didn’t get any response what so ever. Another worried friend of his sent a similar email clearly mentioning that this is a criminal offense for which a judge can rule compensation of up to 20,000 NIS. And he did get an answer from the person who wrote the newsletter:

Thank you for your important and just reference.
The photos integrated in the newsletter were indeed taken from the Internet, although we are strict on checking there was no comment noted for them in regard of copyrights.
Unfortunately, I haven’t saved the list of websites from which the photos had been taken, and therefore I’m not able to check whether the photo of the Gad Hills was indeed taken from Amit’s website or from another.

Efrat Afek
Consultant to Head of Planning Authority

Well, what can be said. This is definitely no ignorance – that’s plain rudeness. It took her no more than 90 seconds to google and find the photo in the first place, so it wouldn’t have taken her longer to do so again and see where the photo has been taken from. Nonetheless, it actually doesn’t really matter since she still finds it totally legitimate to steal other people’s content, simply because it was put on the internet and since “there was no comment in regard of copyrights”. If the state isn’t aware of the fact that copyrights are owned by the creator from the very first moment of creation and until they give the permission for the use of the content or until they agree to give it up, then I’m not sure who can we expect to acknowledge that.
Actually, this is not the first time for Amit. It has already happened to him before a number of times, and at least in one case a photo of his has been removed after he sent the same kind of polite email to an ignorant company which was promoting a new housing project and decided to cynically use Amit’s photo to show the potential customers the beautiful natural surroundings…

A response from either Efrat Afek or the Planning Authority in the Ministry of Interior could not be retrieved.
August 19th, Efrat Afek: “I would like to emphasize that we are highly strict on ensuring that the photos we use, and downloaded from the Internet, don’t carry a notice in regard of existing copyrights over the photos”.

In another case, Tal, a true mountain biker and photographer, has given a biking company with which he’s working the rights for a number of photos of his to be used. Only later he discovered that one of these photos, taken in a French alpine resort, has been used by the Tel Aviv edition of the Time Out magazine without printing any credit. Actually, when he was browsing through the magazine, he found no photo had a credit. The only photographers who are rewarded with one are the staff photographers, on a regular basis on the magazine’s imprint.
That’s the place to mention that Israel was among the first states to introduce the “Moral Right” in the intellectual property legislation. This legal right simply states the right of the creator to be given a credit for his creation within the customary extent and portion, and without making any falsification or value-reduction within the creation. This legal arrangement can also be found in the international law and even in the Human Rights declaration, and even in Israel there have already been a number of court rulings regarding this law.
When Tal decided to send a kind email to the magazine’s editor-in-chief, he received an answer that once again reflects a patronizing attitude. “True, we really don’t put a credit to photographers who aren’t staff photographers,” confirmed the editor of “The good life” section, Dan Gonen. However, it seems like this isn’t necessarily the policy at Time Out Tel Aviv. Yael Gal, who had received Tal’s email forwarded it to Gonen laconicly writing:

read the mail …and please answer her. Write that you’re sorry for the mistake, it was a big issue.. we keep giving photographers credits, there was a mistake.. Blah, blah blah..

A response from the editor-in-chief could not be retrieved.