Copyright. I know we're all having fun playing with our cameras but please read this...


It's an incredibly well written piece aimed at enlightening copyright infringers about their moral and ethical obligations to artists. In your particular job it might not mean much to you right now but things change and you may want to try your hand at being a professional musician, writer or photographer someday and all of a sudden it will mean something to you.  Getting paid or not getting paid....

Thanks for taking time to read it.  If you have the inclination you might consider forwarding it to a young person who likes to download free music.  Or you could send the link to the guy in the next cube who thinks it's okay to download (steal) photographs for that big PowerPoint presentation....  


  1. I use Rhapsody and Pandora now for most listening, and hopefully the artists get more than a few nickles from my monthly fee. Having such a gargantuan catalog available for download and offline listening on Rhapsody does have a "cheapening" effect on the music, I think, very much the same way digital production and image abundance has had a cheapening effect on current photography. After all, if you've seen the 800 pixel copy, do you really need to spend $300 on the 30 inch print? I'd personally be in favor of artists being supported by some kind of tax, at least in part, collected from ISP fees and ipod sales and the like.

    1. I feel that music and photography, in particular, have been cheapened by digital "convenience". I enjoy the ritual of fetching the disc from a cabinet, putting it in the player, and listening as the creator of that album intended. I don't engage at all with music played on endless shuffle in the background. It feels the same way with photography online sometimes, where one can pull up a web size image, click "like" and maybe make a generic comment, then click on to the next one, without much time or effort required. Visual elevator music.

  2. This is really a great essay - and I hope it gets through to the people who look at anything on the internet as being free for the taking. I'm promoting it by reposting through all my channels and networks - Twitter, G+, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

  3. Thanks Guys. I had a good conversation with my 16 year old about copyright and property and personal responsibility. Sad to think that some of the musical artists we collectively admire can no longer "monetize" their careers. When did we (used collectively, not referring to readers here) become so selfish and venal?

  4. I'm sorry, but I disagree: I don't think it's well-written at all. No mention of software, no mention of scientific essays and educational materials, no mention of political propaganda, and of course no discussion whatsoever of the economical and legal problems the measures he defends are causing. Nevermind the rest of his articles on that site, where he attacks the very community he's taking advantage of by using WordPress for his blog.

    I know this issue affects many of you personally, as photographers, but as a professional software developer (another industry under the umbrella of copyright) I'd urge you to look at the complete picture before making a judgement; this affects far more than musicians and photographers. In fact, I don't think I exaggerate when I say it touches even the deepest foundations of our society, and not always for the best.

    1. As a past software guy, turned photographer, I do agree that this affects a much broader spectrum of creative work. And there definitely is some hypocrisy in photographers lamenting 'free' yet they use plenty of free software every day, starting from their browser.

      Now, in fairness, there is one distinction that is important - the trend that creatives are finding a hard to time to properly monetize their work, and as a result agree to freely give away their work vs. where their creative work is used without permission.

      In the software space there is much open source and freeware. Valuable creative work given away with permission. Arguably all those people that contributed countless hours to develop Firefox could have earned some money doing so (where the market force land on this, is another long study). But they decided not to. That is ethical, but nevertheless socially challenging, as all those people need to have some other ways of making a living.

      In the photography space, there are certainly many well documented cases of copyright infringement, where people copied images for their own gain without permission or compensation to the creator/copyright owner. But the vast majority of the photography space is also covered by sharing, creative commons, work for free, work for your portfolio use, and yet other incarnations of free and uncompensated work.

      In this discussion we have to separate the ethical issue of illegal copying (and how easy and pervasive it is), and the ethical and social issue of under-compensated or uncompensated creative work that makes it increasingly difficult to have a creative career, and the implications of this for our future.

    2. Daniel, I vehemently disagree with your disagreement. The article is very comprehensive in relation to the topical event that triggered it, readable and factual. The article is about music sharing and, by extension the "sharing" of all digital arts. Word Press is freely offered to users. The company makes money by monetizing the blogs with advertising. That's a whole different thing that offering art for a user license and having the art stolen instead.

      The article was in response to an event that happened in a particular field. I think most people can extrapolate the ideas contained in the article to related fields.

      IT people tend to get confused when individual intellectual property rights owners defend their work instead of the work falling under the umbrella of a large company. In theory it's all the same. That's why Adobe keys PhotoShop.

      If we (as a culture) continue to fuck artists then we all lose. One commenter below states that he's had his best profit ever using a "sell it at whatever price the market wants to pay." I challenge any real business to use that as a sustainable model. And, besides churches, which use communal pressure, emotional manipulation and shame to solicit donations, I challenge anyone to show me a functional company that uses a "pay whatever you want" model in their ongoing pricing structure.

      Free samples? Sure. As a continuous and logterm strategy? Insane.

    3. "Selling at whatever price the market wants to pay" may have lead to results, with one of two conditions: (a) the market didn't find the product valuable enough at regular pricing, but is willing to pay a steeply discounted price; or (b) the market was paying happily at a discounted rate, when they may have also paid full price if required, representing huge opportunity cost.

      But back to the discussion - in fact the metric we should be watching is not how difficult some are finding to sell at all or sell at full price, but how many people are actually selling at full price and how that is comparing to the past.

      The thing is that with the digital media revolution, it's easier to produce and distribute content than ever before. The middle man is no longer needed, and with went a critical editorial filter. Everyone can now create and distribute content. That doesn't make all this content worth paying for. If an increasing number of people have a hard time selling, that in itself is not conclusive evidence that the market is broken.

      But if the total number of creatives being able to sell a market rate is declining, then it's a more reliable indicating that there is a problem. Keep in mind that as the system changes, some of the old may get left behind and replaced with others that can demand market rate. So the total number is critical, not the anecdotal evidence from specific specimen.

      The original post makes reference to the total music revenue declining and the total number of professional artists declining. The revenue however may be declining due to a more efficient distribution model (e.g. digital distribution rather than physical distribution through stores). We would have to tease out revenue going specifically to royalties. The total number of professional artists declining is most directly correlated metric.

      As to the software industry - there is a difference when IP is created in essentially a work-for-hire setup (like someone writing code for Adobe) vs. someone volunteering their time to contribute to Firefox or a plugin on jQuery. Those are individual decisions and contributions, even if they occur within a larger framework.

  5. Lets wonder for a moment whether any of those posting on the original the ‘letter to emily white’ blog have in some way benefited from land taken from indigenous Indian people many years ago. In many area’s they were wiped out by ‘settlers’.

    Do any of those posting ever by products manufactured in far eastern factories in appalling conditions, where everything from clothes to foot wear to music players are made. Of course they do, do they think about those people ? May be for a short period of time .......

    The point I am trying to make is human nature is to take what they can in the vast majority of cases. Most musicians and photographers do understand the environment they work in and do have other options (more options than the indigenous Indian’s ever did).

    Its my bet that those protesting are just as responsible for indirectly inflicting suffering on others as is emily white

    1. And none of your argument makes the breach of law acceptable or ethically acceptable.

    2. This discussion reminded me of a phase horticultural suppliers and plant nurseries went through of trying to licence a plant variety. The labels stuck in individual retail plant pots told you that you needed a licence to take cuttings and propagate them ! The labels soon disappeared, I expect that the licences sold didn't even justify the cost of printing the labels .....

      Musicians and other artists have attempted to profit on the industrial capability to mass duplicate vinyl records, CD's and cassette tapes over the last 60 years or so. Before that they made a living through a paying audience. The fact that a much easier way to make money has come and now appears to be reducing is a cyclical event in history.

      Just as disappearing minerals, coal, oil etc. cause miners to move on so must artists ..

    3. Coal and oil production have INCREASED dramatically in the last two decades. The argument above just another way of justifying the screwing of creative people in deference to those who want everything for free. I just think there should be a fair methodology to pay musicians and artist for their work. I don't care if happy, happy people want to give it away but stealing it is a whole nuther thing.

      You can walk out into the streets and give away $20 bills if you want to. But you should still be protected from people picking your pocket or stealing the money out of your wallet. It's two different arguments.

      I still think the whole "creative commons" thing is a scam.

    4. Coal and Oil production may have increased where you come from, but thats not true the world over.

      If everybody who gave their knowledge away under creative commons demanded payment then that would only have the effect of diluting the money available to those who chose to earn money in this way. For example micro-stock agencies - everybody tries to get a dollar or even a fraction of a dollar. What effect does that have on photog's ?

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  7. I disgree also. There's a lot of discussion on these articles in the music world at the moment. Here is one response which is worth reading imho.


    It's in no way a perfect response and I don't agree with everything but it does contain a lot truth to me...

    Speaking as someone who makes their living via photography and music (playing gigs with my band, selling cd's, recording other artists etc etc) I can safely say that I am making more money from both than I have ever made. And essentially what I've learnt is that regardless of all the doom and gloom spouted people will still pay (and pay fairly) for things that they feel have value.

    About 4 years ago my band made a decision that given that to all intents and purposes any music can be had for free we would sell all our music (digital and physical) for pay whatever you want. Or as we prefer to say "pay whatever you think it's WORTH". Anyone who wanted could download the music directly from us for free or buy a CD for cost of manufacture + postage. Rather than concentrating our efforts on trying to protect our music from theft or trying to protect a business model that made sense 10 years ago we concentrated instead on making great art, building a community (we sometimes call it a a tribe) who valued our art and giving them reason and opportunity to pay us for making it.

    I personally feel far from threatened by file sharing, by the decreasing revenues of mainstream music industry. I actually find it all incredibly invigorating! In music (and photography) the cost of entry is so much lower now and the playing field is so much more even. The tools exist for us as musicians to monetise much smaller audiences much more efficiently than ever before.

    I'm not trying to say that it's in anyway easy or that there are even any rules that I can pass on. The world is changing incredibly fast I don't feel it's unfair or controversial to say that this has been my experience. In today's environment and culture if you are making unique and awesome art that connects with an audience then you should be able to monetize that. If you are merely making good or competent art, if it is not unique in some way then you may well struggle to find an audience at all.

    1. [TYPO] Should read "The world is changing incredibly fast BUT I don't feel..." in last paragraph.

    2. I think people should be able to charge anything they want but (and this is the important message all you people who are adapting new pricing models and feeling smug about it keep missing....) I don't think ANYONE should have the right to take your work without your permission and without paying what you ask for it. Period.

      I want a car. I want a new Ford Fusion SHO. I want to pay $500 for it. I have a lock picking tool set. I should go to the dealer lot on Sunday night and liberate one? Because the car wants to be free? That's just stupid. Same thing with photos. Same thing with music.

      If you want to offer it for free that's your choice. But allowing people to pillage other people's work without their consent or fair compensation is illegal. Immoral and unethical. Shame on the stealers.

      As to the scam called "Creative Commons." I don't have an answer for people who are willing to shoot themselves in their own feet with their own handguns and feel groovy about even having paid for their own bullets.

    3. Have some patience you will get that Ford for $500, may take 10 years of somebody paying for depreciation and servicing ... Thing is Ford worked out that its difficult for their average retail customer to copy their designs – not that it really helps them make much money

      Creative Commons is a bit like the musicians who play for pleasure, happy and content to create music

    4. Why do I need to copy their design when I can just steal the whole thing? Your argument presupposes that each music thief has the ability to put together a band, become virtuoso's with the instruments and perfectly mimic their favorite songs, right down to the sound waves, from the Beatles or Daft Punk or Sting instead of having to pay for the privilege.

      It's a bad argument.

      We can all sing. We can all photograph, we can (almost) all write. But when we offer it for money and people steal it for free it doesn't become some innocuous shift in culture it becomes an illegal act. Theft.

      I don't think the penalties should be too extreme. In fact, I'm against cutting off the ear of a first offender....
      Maybe the infringers should just be required to pay for everything they've stolen. Technology goes both ways. It's only a matter of time before the IP owners will be able to track down their unlicensed property......

    5. P.S. I want the Ford brand new and spotless.

    6. You are missing the point I am trying to make. If you are motivated by the financial rewards of your artistic endeavours you need to be smarter, and produce a product that cant be copied so easily. Add some value and some differentiation.

      And please please don't sit back and complain when you get 'mugged' in exactly the same way as you have seen countless others get 'mugged'

      I have great sympathy for those who cant earn a living creating art, lets face it if I could I would also. But brief market research is all that's needed ...

      You can crow about what's what's right and what’s wrong but you have to face facts and accept your destiny is your responsibility.

    7. No. You miss my point. It's illegal to copy the work without the author's permission. Period. U.S. Law. Just like laws against robbing banks and killing people. My work is well differentiated and my clients pay good money for it. The whole point of the article, which you seem to have missed, is that people are willfully breaking the law and stealing intellectual property. Until you change the laws you live under them.

      When I get "mugged" I fight back and have won monetary awards in every infraction suit I have been involved in.

      I am still earning a living at what I love doing but it would be so much easier if people lived within the laws that are on the books and it would be even easier if people didn't give away their intellectual property for free. Everything has value. I guess it's up to you if you'd like to stand in the front yard and light twenty dollar bills on fire for the delight of your neighbors but it's still a pretty stupid waste of resources.

      Don't worry too much about my destiny, worry for the next generation after the meatheads have given everything away and messed up all the business models.

      Finally, all of our destinies are wrapped up in a cultural responsibility to be a society of laws. When they are breached and unenforced everyone suffers everywhere, not just a few lone, ancient artists who "don't get the new economy..."

  8. I think that the argument is a little more nuanced than the link posted and your (understandable) reaction to it suggests. For context, my day job depends on IP and I write and edit other people's work in my spare time.

    While I entirely agree that artists should be fairly recompensed for their work the music industry is a peculiar model and I think that comparing the difficulties that photographers face with that of people working in the music industry (including lecturers in music industry economics) is likely to lead you up cul-de-sacs, I find it odd that the author of the post seems to be lambasting the girl for buying apple goods (on which she stores her illegally downloaded stuff and then suggests that she buys it all from itunes, then damns spotify (which although he doesn't like it, is still legit). Regarding the Music business - that issue has been written about extensively and eloquently by Kristin Hersh & I'd strongly recommend you check out her articles and interviews on the subject and how she's struggling to make creative commons work.

    Ultimately, copyright law does not work in the internet age, it is broken by everyone, even if they don't realise it (in the UK for instance it is illegal to transfer music from a CD onto an Ipod). This is also where the comparisons to traditional theft break down. If you take the Ford car (with an intention to permanently deprive the current owner of its use), the current owner no longer has the benefit of owning it. If someone reproduces your photograph that does not remove your ability to use it (although it does limit your ability to make a fair living from your work).

    Even people working in the industry struggle to know or accept the boundaries (see this particularly unedifying story: http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/news/2032282/photographers-gallery-centre-copyright-row ).

    This is where I struggle with the tone and the thrust of the original article you linked to. There is a general feeling (particularly in the music business) that the law should stay as it is or be strengthened so that the traditional streams of income they enjoyed continue unabated. The practical upshot of this is that, for instance, I would be expected to re-buy all of the music I'd already bought on CD through Itunes as MP3s if I wanted that music on my ipod.

    These past models do not work in a digital age and unless sensible changes of legislation can be agreed the impression will be of media companies (for they, along with the artists are in the firing line and frankly they are the ones with greater political lobbying power) playing King Canute.

    The future in this way is scary, however artists do have less to be concerned about than the hangers on. People are consuming more media than ever before and there are new ways for monetizing quality content. These need to be entrenched in law and enforced. The artists who are mediocre will struggle, as with those who just intend to churn out the same old rubbish and don't spend time keeping their work fresh.

    Photographers such as yourself will be fine because your expertise and skill are clear from the blog, your pictures and your writing and will be in demand. As you have written extensively on these pages modern cameras are technically incredible and bring amazing image quality within the capability of amateurs. With this in mind many companies will bring photography 'in house', the stuff produced won't be as good, but will be good enough for the intended uses.

    But for the showpiece stuff the really talented guys like you will still be called upon. Also, all those amateurs will shell out for training courses and workshops run by people like yourself (especially if their bosses will pay).

    But don't equate photographers with musicians - that way leads to madness.

  9. While I'm with David in his calling out of the NPR intern, I take pretty serious umbrage to his lumping together of all copyright reform advocates as corporate stooges and his assertion that "the duration of the copyright term is pretty much irrelevant for an ethical discussion."

    Duration of copyright term is entirely relevant to an ethical discussion of how law can best "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," which is what the US Constitution says that copyright is intended to do. Giving creators a time period in which they can exercise financial control over their work as though it were real property is clearly a part of this, but extending the duration and expanding the scope of protection every time Mickey Mouse is about to enter the public domain is exactly the sort of big corporations remaking the norms to their own benefit that he accuses the Free Culture folks of engaging in. The original statute gave you 14 years of exclusive protection, plus another 14 years if the author remained alive at the first expiration; today it's the lifetime of the author plus 70 years (or 95 years from the date of publication for corporately authored expression, like most Hollywood films). A lot of us ivory tower eggheads who deal with this stuff for a living (think this is particularly harmful since it's of no benefit to a deceased artist to collect royalties, and given how many of the enduring works of our culture have been adaptations of already existing works. Surely a healthy regime of copyright has got to strike a balance between giving creators a right to make a decent and dignified living with their own work and putting that work into the public domain where it can be drawn on by future artists, as it has been for centuries.

    I mention this here not to make the argument that corporate abuses of our political system to extend copyright beyond reason (because make no mistake, as soon as that Mouse is up for public domain status again the Disney empire will spend as much in campaign contributions as it takes to get the law changed) in any way justifies ip theft. Until you can feed an mp3 to a starving child there's nothing that would begin to constitute an ethical justification of outright piracy. But Lowery's portrayal of himself as standing up for the little-guy against big bad corporate interests is only half the story, and many people who advocate for intelligent copyright reform (note that I say reform, not abolition) see the situation in reverse.

    1. Now that was brilliantly stated. Thank you.


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