Dear Photo Thief,
You don’t know me but you have stolen my photographs.
As a press photographer I cover events across the UK, sometimes sharing my work on my website and via social media. My work is clearly watermarked as copyright and the licensing information on my website reinforces this.
Although that is irrelevant because – and maybe you don’t know this but – as a matter of default, every single photograph is copyright to the owner, regardless of whether it is explicitly marked as such. Not that ignorance is ever a defence for breaking the law, of course.
It’s hard work being a freelance press photographer. That’s not a bad thing, just a statement of fact. I invest a lot of money in the equipment. Travelling to cover events costs, I have to pay for public liability insurance, petrol, vehicle and equipment maintenance, mobile broadband and, of course, there is my time, skill and expertise, industry accredited training – all out of my own pocket. That’s some of the investment I make in my living.
When you steal my work you are stealing bread from my mouth. You may not feel that way, but that’s what happens. My clients (newspapers, magazines and websites) are more likely to pay for exclusive content – if it’s plastered everywhere, you devalue it and that hurts me. It also hurts my professional pride – it’s offensive.
You also put me at risk. If I cover an event which is political I leave my politics at home. That is how professional news gatherers operate. In order to gain access to document events close up, photographers need their subjects to trust they will report fairly – not to fear we’re operating with an agenda. I have been assaulted at events by people who suspect me of serving a political agenda, even though I am not. Black eyes and cracked ribs hurt. They also take me off work, which damages my ability to earn a living. And then there was the time I was robbed of £10,000 worth of my equipment at knife-point for taking photos that the subject didn’t want to see published. You may feel my photograph supports your ideological stance or shows an opponent in a bad light, but I didn’t invest my time and money in order to further your political ends.
Of course, most of my work doesn’t involve these scenarios, but some of it does. I don’t know where I’ll be working tomorrow. That’s part of the joy of my job, but I have to be conscious of that fact when I work on stories that may be contentious. I’d hate for people to see my work used to promote your agenda and to conclude that my judgement is aligned one way or the other.
When you steal and republish photographs, you feed mistrust in photojournalists and that literally puts us in danger. It’s irresponsible. It also impoverishes us. I am self-employed. I have to buy new cameras with my own money. Without my cameras I cannot work and if I can’t take and sell photographs, I cannot pay my bills. I don’t get sick pay, I don’t get time off.
Now I’m sure you have no wish to harm me personally, but your actions *are* harmful. And they are inconsiderate. They are also illegal. It’s theft. A photograph belongs to the photographer, it’s not yours to just take. It’s that simple.
Now that I’ve taken the trouble to explain this in some detail, I need you to pay the enclosed invoice for the unauthorised use of my work thus far and to remove my photographs from your website without delay. And I need you to never steal my work again.
Dear Photo Thief – an open letter to those who think it’s OK to steal photographs
Dear Photo Thief,