Saturday, December 30, 2006

Creative commons/Copy left help the big co-orps

Sion Touhig takes a well placed swing at the copy left movement saying that they not only don't achieve their avowed goals but also deprive photographers of their living.

He discusses it further at his blog here.

Need I remind you that everything on this blog is copyright?
Look/link back but do not touch!


Rahul Siddharthan said...

The author doesn't supply much evidence that stealing photos is hurting photographers. The more convincing argument seems to be that people who put their photos out there for free are hurting commercial photographers.

To which I'd say -- well, yes, but so what? Photographers (and writers) do need to compete with the general public. Only professional neurosurgeons can remove brain tumours, but lots of amateurs can do excellent writing or photography. If you want to make a career of it, that's a risk you're taking. If you're extremely good, there's still a market.

Large corporations are not profiting from competition on the internet -- they're hurting, badly. And most of them deserve it. In India and in the US, the media are just not doing their job, and the blogosphere is filling the gap.

Example 1: Khairlanji. The massacre took place at the end of September, and was ignored by the media for a month. It was the blogosphere -- particularly this blog, and more particularly the (very much amateur, gut-wrenching, but must-see) photos here -- that kept it alive and eventually forced the story the mainstream media's attention.

Example 2: Gautaman Bhaskaran, movie reviewer of The Hindu, who was caught a blogger plagiarising from the New York Times. I'm told this is not the first time he's got into trouble; this time the Hindu couldn't ignore it and he disappeared from their pages for a few months, but now he's back (though less high-profile than earlier). Still, he's got his comeuppance -- if you google his name the second hit is the plagiarism story.

Example 3 -- the entire US media (with some honourable exceptions like Seymour Hersh, who's from the Vietnam generation). If you wanted to learn anything about either the Bush administration's domestic policies, or the Iraq war, you needed the blogs.

Example 4: The tasering in the UCLA library. Example 5: Macaca. If these hadn't been caught on video (by amateurs) they would have attracted no attention. As it turns out, Macacagate was the start of George Allen's slide in the polls, and gave the Democrats the senate.

The number of high-quality amateur photographs (and written content, and, increasingly, music and film) in the public domain or under "creative commons" licenses is only going to increase. I see that as a very good thing, both as a consumer and as an occasional non-professional creator. The professionals may be uncomfortable but they'd better get used to it.

Natasha Mhatre said...

You know I would love to respond to this, but I would suggest reading it without being defensive abt the copyleft movement, which has its merits, but hurts and is quite pointless for people who do these things professionally...

"If you want to make a career of it, that's a risk you're taking. If you're extremely good, there's still a market."

This is something Sion, as a professional is somewhat more qualified to comment upon, don't you think?

"Large corporations are not profiting from competition on the internet -- they're hurting, badly."

I think you misunderstand his point. His point is large co-orps make money of the pictures of people who put their pictures up free or for small amounts. You realise that when you're selling images at any prize through an agency they collect a commission? Even the pennystock agencies collect and you as a photographer get not much, but they cumulatively do get quite a bit. With things like blogger or flickr/blogger they get content to put ads on!

Yes off course it has its up-sides, Kherlanji is one of them. And the UCLA incident.

To digress, I don't know however how much of this is responsible journalism, however, and sometime I feel that a lot of it can slide into just plain ranting and raving and defamation. end digression

As Sion points out, not too many armchairers are going to put their asses in a sling going to Darfur, or Iraq. So all of that commentary on US policy on Iraq depended on someone being there on the ground and getting the news out. Those are the professionals...and edging them out of the market is not going to help us.

Sion also argues that the responsibility for this lies not with the people who participate in the CL movement but with the media barons themselves, who seem to be undermining they're own ability to deliver the news by playing the pro against the amateur.

Its not a good thing for us as a consumer...not if the guy who goes to Iraq / Darfur / Vietnam / Palestine / What have you is out of the equation altogether. And surely you realize that wedded as much of the media is to local politics that this will be in their interests? Unless we either demand better reporting? Or we start find ways of paying people who do this? Cause man you can't make a living of adsense revenue! And a cab in Lebanon during the aggression cost $250 a day, show me an amateur who was going to do that? Or a Lebanese who could be unbiased or even rich enough to be there?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Hm -- after reading some of Sion Touhig's writings on the net, I see a bit more clearly where he's coming from. He's not lamenting the old days where there were very few photojournalists -- he says "Lament the old days of dealing with film? No thanks -- the digital media has exploded and most photojournalists havent even begun to get to grips with its implications... If you want to know when the Golden Age of Photojournalism was -- it's now and it began with the invention of the digital camera." (It's a very interesting exchange, he says photojournalism is about reaching the masses and someone else argues that artbook photography is also photojournalism.) He has been an activist against the orphan works bill, which was promoted by the creative commons people (for good reasons -- copyright originally lasted 14 years and now lasts well beyond the death of the creator, so a lot of creative works are just "locked away" with nobody able to legally reproduce them... other photographers' comments agree that it's a well-intentioned idea with, in its proposed form, bad side-effects for photographers).

Having read that exchange, I understand Touhig's Register article even less. He does not give any examples of how stealing images has harmed him or brought down prices. He complains about the free content put out by mobile phone camera wielders. Everyone knows the quality is crap, but that will change rapidly, and in a "breaking news" situation where a crowd of hundreds is present and half of them have camera phones, a pro can't really compete even today except by pure luck, so he's right to be worried. But he sounds happy (in the exchange above) that the field has "exploded", and everyone knows that when supply goes up, prices come down... so why is he surprised?

Anyway, despite his first paragraph he's not talking about creative commons and the Internet generally, or even about professional photography generally, but specifically about photojournalism. You make a specific point about warzones. I agree very few photojournalists will make it there (and most of the pros are "embedded" in the military). But that holds for print journalists too, and there are a few -- Robert Fisk, Dahr Jamail (who does photos too) -- that do it. They have outlets like Democracy Now, The Nation, and some of the leftie European media (the Guardian even published the "Baghdad blogger", Salam Pax). The reason more don't do it is surely the danger involved. (Unfortunately the US wingnuts have succeeded in turning Fisk's name into a derogatory verb, but I think he's the only remaining mainstream journalist who reports on location in the middle east). I doubt paying better will cause more non-local people to report or take photos there. A lot of the photo credits in the Iraq war are for Muslim names: I wonder whether they're amateurs, freelancers, local stringers, or employed by some Western agency... but some of those photos are very good.

I get the feeling that Touhiq's complaints are specific to his own subfield, and possibly not even shared by his colleagues, and he's unfairly using those complaints to bash the whole creative commons crowd. It is fair to complain of piracy, but he doesn't show that it's actually hurting him. It is not fair to complain that someone does an (in your opinion) inferior job and gives it away or charges less for it: that's like the Rolling Stones complaining about a college rock band that posts their own songs (which are not even Stones covers) on the internet. Not even the RIAA has gone that far. And if it were truly an inferior job, you'd still be in business, as the Stones still are.... Vice versa, the net has given a lot of ordinary people (including you yourself, to some extent) prominence and visibility that they wouldn't otherwise have had. I'm amazed at the readership my own (mostly pointless) blog seems to have. As for piracy, a lot of people (Microsoft included) don't care about it as much as they may pretend to -- any publicity is good publicity, what's important is mindshare.

About your digression on the "slide into just plain ranting and raving and defamation"... omitting mention of British tabloids or the TOI or NDTV here, have you read, for example, Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post? The blogs have to slide a long way to catch up with that.

Natasha Mhatre said...

Oooo, the Orphan works bill, you know I signed the petition that was circulated on Lightstalkers, which is a reasonably large group of photojournalists. Most active members signed up as well, and while not everyone in the photo world shares Sion's point of view that large co-orporations are undermining their ability to deliver good content by playing the pro against the amateur and reducing a pros ability to survive there is a lot of debate.

The Orphan works as it was drafted essentially allowed you to claim that you tried to locate the author of a particular piece of work but couldn't and so used it gratis. Well, it easy to remove signs of the author from images if they aren't water-marked and people do do it.

While technically I could take someone to court over this, its expensive to do this, and for an individual to do it might be prohibitive considering the possibility of a verdict against. Agencies might still follow up, mine apparently makes nearly a few lakhs each month just on copyright violation, mostly without litigation however.

The Orphan works bill just gives people a legal loophole to steal and stealing it is. We wouldn't think it ok if it were tangible physical property, would we? And c'mon maybe its ok for MS to not worry about piracy, its a small percentage of a huge turnover, but for an individual who expects to sell an image 3-4 times in a lifetime, even a single loss counts. And the total income isn't much.

Clearly, (or maybe hopefully) this wasn't the intention of the cc folks, but thats what the bill draft stated, which is dangerous to an individual photographer / illustrator living off those images.

I agree that Sion doesn't put up graphs of prices falling, but anecdotally I'm sure the pressure has increased. My own agency has dropped prices in the one year I've been with them.

I agree with you that the web gives us visibility that we couldn't have earlier, but thats not what he's talking about is he? Sion on the one hand exhorts photographers to catch up with current practices and to come with solutions to deal with the exploding number of images out there without going under. On the other he's asking co-orps not cut out the PJs who're out there delivering 'quality' content, to learn to recognise quality. and with on the third hand (!) cc people to stop undermining copyright and therby the livelihoods of people like him. Maybe the confusion is because he's addressing different audiences?

Its not about asking the band to stop posting their music, its asking them to stop lobbying to undermine the right to secure copyright for other small bands who making a living off it.

As for price drop being only a PJ concern, let me tell you that someone recently suggested that they should have my images to reproduces for eternity at INR 1k an image! "Its digital right? It doesn't cost you anything?" Off course, at least they were offering to pay this time! Worth / effort / actual cost has never been how prices have been settled, particularly for intellectual property, that is fixed by far too many other things....

RE the digression, did you catch me saying our media is responsible? No, I didn't, however, they have a public face. A blogger is an anonymous entity which means no accountability. That we don't hold our media accountable is our course as you point out, with the case to Kherlanji, blogging maybe the way to do it!

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I don't think most creative commons people are lobbying to remove copyright -- they're just trying to create a body of work in the public domain. They are certainly lobbying to prevent extension of copyright.

As I recall, the orphan works law was partly spurred by the Eldred vs Ashcroft case -- where, though Eldred lost, there were strong dissenting opinions from the judges. That case sought to limit extension of copyright terms to infinite time. Having lost that case, the creative commons crowd argue that, at least, works with no identifiable author should not be held under copyright to infinity.

If copyright law extended for 14 or 28 years, as was true till the 20th century when big lobbyists like Disney got into the act, nobody would have thought of an orphan works bill.

Would like to know your reaction to this:
(Ian Anderson's statement on extending copyright -- as you can predict, I don't agree)

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