Thursday, July 21, 2011

If you meet this photo on the road kill it

Have you seen this photo recently? It was shot in the New York subway a few years ago by Melanie Einzig. She placed it on her personal website and in her In-Public portfolio. Since then the image has taken on a life of its own. It has popped up in all sorts of places online, rarely with a photo credit and never with Einzig's permission.

At least one person has put the photo in their personal flickr stream. Another has printed the jpg as a wall decoration. Some people have taken the liberty of adding their own captions.

Most photographers would be upset to find their images treated like this, but for Einzig it's particularly galling. More than most, she is very careful with the use of her photos, and normally doesn't allow any of them to circulate beyond her direct control.

But with this photo it may be too late. The genie may be out of the bottle. Or is it?

I have a simple proposal. Let's eradicate all unauthorized copies. If you have published this photo online, please take it down. If you encounter it somewhere online, send a personal email asking that it be removed.

On the face of it the effort might appear futile. The web generally works in one direction only. Images are like invasive weeds. They don't go into remission, they proliferate. I'm not sure it's possible for an image be removed from circulation, and in fact the eradication effort itself may lead to further proliferation.

In any case there's only one way to find out. Let's make this a test. Please help eradicate, and spread the word (not the image) to others, and we'll see what happens.

A TinEye search this morning lists 117 unlicensed copies of Einzig's image. Let's see if we can cut that number in half by August 1st.


bryanF said...

I don't know, she might want to start by pulling it off of her website and iN-PUBLIC.

timcarpenter said...

totally agree that people shouldn't be stealing images.

but . . . hard to see how someone is being "very careful with the use of her photos," and not "allow[ing] any of them to circulate beyond her direct control" while also posting those photographs to two different public websites. unfortunately, you sort of can't have it both ways.

still, i support your anti-piracy mission.

cybergabi said...

@bryanF and @timcarpenter: So, if a woman goes out at night in a short dress and gets raped on the way home, that's her fault too?

Be careful with comments like that. Putting your stuff out on the web only means that you share it for viewing. It does not mean that others can copy, modify, reupload it or sell it as their own.

K. Praslowicz said...

Whenever I've see this image I usually at least leave a comment stating Melanie as being the original creator.

I assume at this point making it stop is going to be about as easy as kicking water uphill.

Anonymous said...

Did she get permission to take the photo in the first place?

Janet B said...

"Did she get permission to take the photo in the first place?"

In the United States you're not required to obtain permission from your subject in order to photograph them in a public space.

John Goldsmith said...

Well, at least none of the posted uses are for corporate use. They are all pretty banal and, quite frankly, the value of the photographer's was not degraded, at least in my opinion. It would bother me, however, if any of these uses were to promote a high value product. I've found similar uses of my own work and I usually blow it off unless someone is greatly profiting off of my work. But probably the most disturbing use is the photo on the wall, only because it's nice to have a relationship with the artist when you appreciate their work.

Mateusz GrybczyƄski said...

U can use Tineye to reverse search the images.
Have fun :)

Blake Andrews said...

Interesting comments.

Bryan, you're right that once on the web images are beyond control. The only foolproof eradication method is never to post in the first place. But to me that seems like an extreme, and ultimately self-defeating, measure. Shouldn't one be able to post images with minimal expectations, e.g., photo credit? I know John Goldsmith has been through the ringer with a similar situation. I'm not sure what the solution is, but mass eradication seems worth a shot.

Regarding the initial permission from the yarn-guy, good point. As upset as Einzig is, the yarn-guy probably has even more cause for alarm. Legally the photo is in the clear, but morally I think this and most other street shots fall into a grey area. But of course that's what makes them exciting. If we were shooting waterfalls no one would care.

There was a recent similar case with Winogrand's shot of 3 women on a bench. They had no idea the photo existed until many years later when one of them saw it. They were fine with it. Still I think there are inherent tensions in this type of work which will probably eventually lead to its strict regulation if not elimination. So enjoy it while you can.

John Goldsmith said...

I'm would not characterize my experience as "through the ringer." For what it's worth, I got a paycheck out of it. While it was not the most enjoyable way of working, everything worked out for the better in the end.

Of course, I'd rather that users of my imagery just ask ahead of time, and citations are nice, but I agree that pulling all work from the interweb is extreme to say the least. In fact, even though I've dealt with this situation several times (including a new one today!), I'm thankful that people are seeing my work instead of it just being squirreled away on my laptop's harddrive.

Also, I'm not sure the use of my photo is a similar situation to Einzig's. Has she shared her story publicly? There is a big part of the story missing from the above.

Why is this a moral gray area? We all put pants on before we leave the house, right? Clearly this guy is OK with people knowing he knits.

Finally, for anyone who thinks street photography is an only one-sided affair, this is a great and heartwarming read:

Anonymous said...

@cybergabi; That's a helluva leap from discussing photography to discussing rape. Sheesh! Ease Up.

With regard to the image, beyond not posting it anywhere (self-defeating) or wacking a great big watermark on it (unattractive)there's unfortunately little that can be done to stop this sort of thing.

It's one of the downsides of the digital age. Just ask the music industry.

K. Praslowicz said...

Nice read John.

I always operate on the street with a subtle fear that anyone who notices what I'm doing will assume that the only reason I took their photo is because I find some trait in them that I want to put a LOLcaption over it to have a laugh at their expense. Which, if the knitted guy ever comes across these photo, very likely might assume about Melanie's intentions.

Usually though I'm ok with people sharing my own work without asking, so long as they don't put some negative spin on it.

A few months ago someone at buzzfeed included one of my street photos of girl who was about 11 into one of their "Humorous photo of ..." type posts. Eventually the aunt of the girl came across it and tipped off the entire family. Ended up getting a lot of positive comments about it afterwards, and ended up mailing the father a complimentary print. I'd have hated it though if folk who used it without permission had changed it to be an object of scorn somehow.

Adam Gasson said...

@Cybergabi - Trying to compare images being used without permission with rape is ridiculous. I'm pretty sure if I had conversation with a rape survivor and said "I know how you feel, someone used one of my pictures without permission recently" they wouldn't nod in agreement.

I'd also be wary to simply say images cannot be copied, modified or anything else. Images can be used in parody or in a review without infringing copyright. I'm also aware in the UK eduction institutes can use copyright images for teaching without permission.

Copyright isn't black and white, it has murky grey areas labelled fair use. I'm sure, if it were to go to court, the people who added funny captions would argue it's a parody and therefore fair use.

cybergabi said...

@phillhunt and @Adam Gasson: I was not comparing the type or severity of offense, just the line of argumentation - putting part of the blame on the victim is never fair.

Blake Andrews said...

On the permission issue, Comedy Central actually wanted to use the image and offered to pay for the rights but Einzig declined. When In-Public had a show in Derby last spring we wanted to put the postcard (with her image) on Facebook but Einzig declined. I point these cases out not to make her seem obstinate but to show how careful she is about the use of her images. So this photo's proliferation is sort of a slap in the face.

As for the moral grey area, I think it depends on how the subject is depicted. If you take a photo that riducules someone and put it out there in public, the person in the photo has a right to feel peeved, or at least used. I'm not sure if this particular photo does that, but clearly some have interpreted it that way. I think that's the main reason for it's popularity. Look at the weirdo on the subway. Ha ha. Maybe he is fine projecting that image. Maybe not. We'll never know for sure. Moral grey area.

Anonymous said...

What can you do? I think the vast majority of internet users don’t give a damn whether your images are being misused or not. Nothing will be done about it so just accept that your photos may be appropriated at some point and you are not going to get credit for it. If that’s unacceptable then don’t post and try to get your photos out in the way it was done for the previous 160 years – by book, magazine or exhibition.

Melanie Einzig said...

Interesting to hear comments. Anonymous, your point is well taken and books and exhibitions idea. Can you get me some? And sure, it is a risk to post things.

Technology changes and so do the means to share/distribute work. One generally doesn't tear books out of pages or deface work hanging in exhibitions. So with this mode of sharing/distributing I think it is appropriate to have a discussion about what is cool and not cool about the way things go down. And perhaps develop some standards and expectations.

I believe that my photo is respectful to the people in it. For me, it is about this amazing man's personal, happy creation, the process of it, that he is entirely embodied by it and the way people seem oblivious or just it accept it as a normal new york day. I hope that if those in the photo see it they will feel that way too. Not really a LOL for me but IWTBH ( I want to be him). But I do worry when I see some of the "appropriations" they will not be so happy!

Anonymous said...

Melanie, I want to be clear that I don't condone what happened to you, and many others, but it seems that the overriding philosophy these days is that nobody owns anything and everything can be used by anyone. Just look at how many people download illegal movies and music files and feel that they have the moral right to do so.

timcarpenter said...

wow. so after posting a rather anodyne (i thought) comment about photo piracy, i come back to see that i've sort of been accused of blaming rape victims.

i could sort of laugh it off as being just the overheated rhetoric of the interwebs, but i have to respectfully and completely reject that analogy. not only because it is shamefully out of whack in terms of severity, but because i don't even think it stands up as analogy.

there's a more interesting one to be found in music, as someone mentioned. but even then, it's different, as the musicians themselves don't (with some important exceptions, of course) upload their songs to filesharing sites. but i dunno, maybe i should stop before i get compared to hitler or something.

bryanF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cybergabi said...

This is becoming a really interesting discussion, and I appreciate the last two comments of bryanF, which have brought in a couple of good arguments on why we might want to loosen up on copyright infringements of our photos by kids who use them for fun.

Still, the issue remains: What if you find someone who took your photo not to put a LOL on it, but to make money with it? A few weeks ago APhotoEditor wrote a comprehensive and enlightening article about legal means and procedures in following up on copyright infringements. You all may wish to consult this.

bryanF said...

I've deleted my comments, but a variation can be found Google+ if you're over there...

cybergabi said... - not the same, but related; just from a different perspective.

grouchomarx said...

Please comment on the use I've made of Melanie's picture. I think it perfectly falls under fair usage rights, but would like an opinion if possible.


groucho marx

Owning Art said...

When Andy Warhol used borrowed images, made unlimited multiples, and derided integrity making sound old-fashioned, we all thought it was cute -- and now where are we?

Jessica said...

I think it reflects my priorities that all I can focus on about this story is the fact that people keep saying the man is knitting. The man is not knitting, he is crocheting. And the outfit he's wearing was crocheted. Oh god I'm a yarn nerd.

J. Wesley Brown said...

Blake (and everyone else) - I think you'll find this pertinent and interesting:

offset printing said...

It's a disappointing incident when want you want is just to share "captured moments". Well, I think everybody has to be wary for what they post online. She can probably have her photos watermarked.

Blake Andrews said...

I think the difference between this case and some of the others mentioned here, e.g. Warhol and Baio/Maisel is that the image was not significantly transformed in any way, merely recirculated as is without any supporting info. I'm fine with Groucho Marx's reposting, since it gives credit. But when an image is stripped of author and context, copied, and sent out there into cyberspace, it's problematic for the creator. Maybe in the post-modern world authorship is completely dead? Hopefully not.

Blake Andrews said...

Microcord adds:


Please comment on the use I've made of Melanie's picture. I think it perfectly falls under fair usage rights, but would like an opinion if possible.

Fair use is a concept in US copyright law. Let's assume for a moment that it applies to your blog (which may be hosted in the US).

When not vandalized, Wikipedia says that the relevant law says in part:

the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright [...]

(The passage goes on to make several observations on fair use itself.)

By contrast, you are not using it for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. You're merely reproducing it.

There's no hint that "making a publication look better" or "making a publication more interesting" are acceptable rationales for fair use.

What do you want to say about the pair of photographs? Well, say it. And then link to them on the author's website. Or ask for and get her permission to reproduce it -- after all, it's easy to contact her. (Incidentally, if it weren't easy, that would be your problem and not hers.)

grouchomarx said...

I should have added that this is the second post of a set of posts with my favorite street photographers from the book "Street Photography Now" (the first post of which is here, and in it I say that I'll be posting some of their works in the next months...)

Microcord said...

Well, grouchomarx, I see no criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, or anything resembling any of these.

Maybe you think that by reproducing work from Street Photography Now you're adding to its prominence and thus to its sales, and to the remuneration and repute of the photographers. Well, that's an argument you can put to the copyright holders when you ask for permission to reproduce the photographs; it's for them to agree and give you permission. But this has nothing to do with Fair Use.

Susie Linfield devotes a whole chapter of The Cruel Radiance to photographs by James Nachtwey. If seeing the particular photographs in the book isn't necessary for an understanding of what she's saying, it's at least very useful. (I for one possess none of Nachtwey's books, and the library I use only has one of them: Inferno, which of course is so heavy that I wouldn't want to borrow it to refer to while reading Linfield's book.) Linfield would seem [to me, and IANAL] to have a strong case for Fair Use, if she reproduced a small number of Nachtwey's photographs in the same way that she reproduces, say, Capa's. But she doesn't make it. The publisher asked for permission to reproduce, this was turned down, end of story. Instead of claiming fair use, Linfield, her editor, or the legal advisor to the University of Chicago Press decided to print blank rectangles where the photographs should be.

grouchomarx said...

@Melanie Einzig?


Anonymous said...

Asking everyone to help remove Melanie's wildly popular image from the internet, in the face of no known corporate profits being made, is the exact WRONG thing to do.

Read this, and hopefully you'll all have a better understanding of the connected world we now live in, and how it's better to learn to swim with the tide than against it.

Hannah said...

To me the iterations pushed through the internet play-doh pasta maker are much more interesting as a collection of images than the single original. That is I learn more about the world seeing the collection of "stolen" appropriation that I do seeing the one picture.

How about embracing the sea and what goes in and what comes out?

(some one might tell me I'm missing the point, i'm guessing)

Hannah said...

How about making lemonade?

What if Melanie made something with these images? What if she took them back?

Unknown said...

I first came across this image in a book about about street photography that I bought from waterstones; street photography now published by Thames an Hudson and it sparked my interest in many photographers,including melanie einzig, and partly why I stumbled across this blog is because I wanted to share melanie's brilliant picture, ah well, I won't be doing that now. of course misappropriation and not crediting the author of the work is wrong but to declare that all copies of the photograph in question should be taken down and reported is detrimental to ethos of being an artist, we should share things, locking stuff down isn't in my opinion the way forward to disldodge the ruling business class from keeping things ugly. Which they are at the moment.

Anonymous said...

The worst thing that came out of this is it probably made Melanie even less likely to share her work online. I'm a big fan of her stuff but she only posts about once a month on her blog it seems. I get the feeling she doesn't like computers much or doesn't have time to figure out the best way to share her work online so that she doesn't have to worry about it.