A Photographer’s Plea

Self-Portrait.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Self-Portrait. Photo by Callen Harty.

I woke up this morning and went online and found several of my pictures in two different places with no credit.  I am not a professional photographer, but I am proud of my work.  I have sold several photos over the years, have won contests, and have earned at least some small amount of recognition for the photos I take.  I love having my work shared–I don’t take photos just to look at them myself–but having it out there with those seeing it not knowing it belongs to me is not that the way the way I want it shared.

I know there was no malice intended and in fact I’m happy that people like my pictures well enough to want to share them.  What happened was this:  one of my friends had taken several of my photos, along with a couple dozen from other photographers and perhaps some of her own, and saved them into an album to document an event she attended this past week. She’s not the only one to have done this.  It has happened with other friends in the past. I know they meant no harm and I’m confident she was just trying to share the joy she had from participating in the event. But without crediting the photographer it appears that she took them and owns the rights to them. If someone shared my picture from her album it would show as her photograph, not mine. If someone wanted to buy it to publish it they may not be able to find the photographer and a sale could be lost. Today she may know it’s mine but in two years will she remember?  I added a credit on the comment field of each of those photos and later in the day she wrote and thanked me for that and for the photos, so it was all good by the end of the day.

The other incident was much worse. Two of my photographs from the same event were published on an organization’s blog. I don’t know if a friend of mine who was tagged in them on Facebook submitted them to this organization or if someone from the organization saw them on his page and borrowed them. Not only was I not credited, but they had my friend listed as the photographer, even though he was in both of the photos.  I know he wouldn’t have claimed them as his own and am confident it was just a mistake, but they shouldn’t have been published without my permission or  a credit anyway.  I sent a message to the blog owner and got an apology and thank you back, and they changed the photo credit to my name, so I’m fine with that one now, too.

I am generous with my photos. Virtually any time a friend asks if they can use one on their Facebook page or an organization I support asks to use one I say yes and I don’t worry about compensation (I do demand compensation if it’s for corporate media or the like, though, so if you belong to ALEC or a Koch Brothers spinoff expect to pay a good price–if I’m willing to sell to you at all).

There are some general rules of thumb that everyone should keep in mind regarding photos that are out in the public, especially on Facebook.

  • Just because a photograph is published online does not mean that it is free to use.
  • The photographer, unless they have sold certain rights, owns all rights to any photograph they have taken.  I am not likely to sue you, but some photographers might.
  • Always ask a photographer if you can use their photo for any purpose.  Most of us can be very generous with saying yes, but some photographers will expect payment for any use.  Even those of us who might not normally charge you for a simple use may have already sold the photo to a publication so your using it could violate the terms of that sale.  Or, we may simply not want it used elsewhere for any one of a number of reasons.
  • Once you have permission, if you publish someone else’s photograph on your blog, Facebook, or elsewhere, always give photo credit.  That photo could be shared multiple times and it could lead to interest in the photographer’s work and potential sales.  Without the credit no one would know who to contact.
  • When a photographer publishes a photo on Facebook s/he understands that anyone can press the share button and it could travel all over the world.  However, when share is pressed the photographer’s name goes along with the photo, such as “Bob Smith shared Callen Harty’s photo.”
  • One other thing about photographs that a lot of people misunderstand.  If you are out in public anyone can and has the right to take your picture.  Courts have repeatedly ruled that photographers have the right to photograph you without your permission in a public setting.  Most photographers will try to ask, but at a large public event that’s often not easy and sometimes not possible (and sometimes would ruin the spontaneity of the moment).  If that photograph is used in an editorial fashion (i.e., published in an album on Facebook, published along with an article in a newspaper, blog, etc.) there is no compensation due to the subject and no permission required.  If it is used in other ways, such as advertising, then permission of the subject is generally required and there may or may not be compensation.

For my work I typically charge if I create a print, am asked by a newspaper or magazine for permission to use a photo, sell to a business for use in a building or in advertising, and maybe a few other instances.  I typically do not charge for friends to use my pictures on Facebook, for non-profits or other organizations I support, for people I know who ask to use them on a blog, and the like.  But even if I don’t charge the one thing I do expect is a photo credit when my work is used, borrowed, or shared.  It may not seem important to someone who takes an occasional snapshot, but to someone who would like to sell or promote their work it is critical.  If you like that work, please support it by following the simple guidelines above.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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4 Responses to A Photographer’s Plea

  1. Yes. Yes. Sharing is far too easy to do in many ways. :/ An article on this subject you might find interesting: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/symbiartic/2013/04/24/science-communication-image-problem/ “Yesterday, my fellow SciAm blogger, entomologist and photographer Alex Wild became fed up with the popular (over 5 millions fans) I F*cking Love Science page when its creator ripped off one of his images and shared it without attribution. His post, Facebook’s “I F*cking Love Science” does not f*cking love artists kicked over a hornet’s nest online. In it, Alex took a look at the most recent 100 images, and how many had attribution and found it appalling. I agree.”

  2. Martina Rippon says:

    Thanks, Callen, for sharing your photos so freely and generously–you take great shots!

  3. Dennis Kern says:

    Didn’t know you were a playwright at Broom Street.

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