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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA, PIPA, and Copyrights

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia
You've probably noticed some sites (like Wikipedia and Google) are blacked out today to protest the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).

Personally, I feel both bills are extreme, but I hope it stirs up a dialog and brings greater awareness to what copyrighted material is.

What is copyrighted material? A good starting place is, if you didn't create it, if you didn't pay for it, and if you didn't ask permission to use it, it's not yours to use. Period.

In spite of asking its users to confirm they aren't uploading copyrighted content, YouTube is one of the biggest copyright violating websites that exist. But I can't imagine my life without it. Under the SOPA & PIPA bills, YouTube would virtually be shut down. Why? Here's a reason:

See this video?

The person that created this video owns none of the content. The images don't belong to her. The song doesn't belong to her. Yet she has attached ad revenue to the video and makes a few cents every time someone clicks on the video and the ad. At over 2.5 MILLION views, she's earned some money. She is making money off of content that, in essence, she stole. But what really burns me, other than the fact this person stole content that wasn't hers and is making money off of it, the thumbnail image that you see representing this video is my photo.


That image of the man with his arms outstretched, lost in worship, is MY PHOTO.

I had that image on my Flickr site with the "All Rights Reserved" limitation and right click disabled. Somehow, this person obtained the image created/owned by me and used it, along with other copyrighted images, to create a video using Michael W. Smith's song, which is also copyrighted/owned by Provident Label Group. And she's making money off of my work, the work of other photographers, and a musician/label.

Here's another one for you: The Love Song Couples Getaway, a Christian cruise organization, stole an image I had taken of Aaron Shust and used it on their promotional materials in conjunction with the cruise they took last year without my permission. They found it on the internet and decided to use it. I discovered my image via Aaron Shust's website, contacted them, and gave them a choice to pay a full license to continue to use the image to promote Aaron's involvement with the cruise, or a 1/2 license for the time they had been using it (generous since they'd been using it for 11 months of promotion). I also suggested that as a professional organization they should be using the artist headshot provided by artist management, not an illegally downloaded image from the web taken at a concert. Straight up: my image of Aaron Shust was one I took early on when I was learning photography. It's not an image I would use if I'm trying to sell him on a cruise, especially since it's a 7 year old photo. The conclusion? They removed the image and they never paid up and never admitted to any wrong doing.

This kind of stuff happens all the time. The general thought is, "It's no big deal." But it is a big deal to those of us who create content, have it stolen, and watch others profit from it. Big enough of a deal that others are tired having their work stolen and profited from. Big enough of a deal that a bill has been introduced to stop it. By the way, according to this bill, because I've linked up to this video that so clearly is a copyright infringement, my blog would not pop up in search engines and would virtually be shut down because I'm linking to copyright violated content. That's how extreme this bill is.

So, no, while I don't agree with all the tenants of SOPA & PIPA, and I hope it doesn't pass because it has some outlandish content, I DO hope it starts a dialog on what is lawful, ethical, and right when it comes to copyrighted content.

If you want to sign the petition to let Congress know what you think, click here.



  1. Erin...thanks for this perspective. I admit, I'm only now learning what SOPA and PIPA are. And I feel like I've been disengaged from the conversation and dilemma for too long. But I like hearing from someone I know and respect how piracy affects her personally. That helps me form my own opinion. Thanks for your own little part in engaging the dialogue.

  2. Wow, Erin, you need to start your own petition online for your listeners to send a message to the Love Song Couples Getaway to get the money you're due. It's sad when you can't even depend on a Christian organization to do the right thing, even when confronted about it.

  3. Erin, I totally agree and understand. as a photographer, graphic design and website developer I can not tell you how many letters I sent out telling groups, organisations and even other artists to stop using my art or pay me. People do not understand is how long something takes to design and how much money we have spent in training/education, materials, equipment and programs to make the art used. Sadly, its forcing many of us to even stop posting on social medias like Facebook. to end my rant :) the thing that kills me is most time they steal crappy 72dpi images that they then re-size making the resolution even worse and it makes the art we love look like junk!......... ok I feel better that I found someone who understands my pain...



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