This is a post that is long overdue. Very long.
Georgia Popplewell of Caribbean Free Radio posted today (with the absolutely perfect title “photos don’t take themselves“) about two Trinidad and Tobago publications using one of her photos, without permission and of course without credit (Newsday even placed their watermark on the photo!). TriniGourmet, with her usual alacrity, updated her Dem Tiefin’ We?!? post (another stellar title! you’ll have to settle for my pedestrian one). This happens at an opportune time for me to write some more on this…since it was just a couple weeks ago that I finally sent the Express formal pre-action letters via my lawyer.
My first post about this was outrage when I discovered the Stabroek News in Guyana had used my photo of Guyana cocoa to illustrate a story. Further outrage when I realised that the story and photo was from an official press release from the Guyana Government News Agency (GINA). This led to further discoveries of photos on the official Guyana tourism page, where my Trini pelau was featured for Guyanese cookup. Argh. Fortunately, I have a lawyer in the family (apart from myself) in Guyana and we wrote to all 3 violators. Stabroek News was the only one who responded, apologising and offering to publish appropriate credit, noting that they were officially provided with the release and photo by GINA. The Government agencies promptly pulled the photos from the relevant sites, but never responded, either to the letter nor the phone calls.
Then, back in October 2008, the Trinidad Express used a photo of Lilandra’s roti and curry for the front of the Lifestyle Magazine (no permission, no credit), for EID no less…and then less than 2 weeks later there was one of my pelau photos (again, no permission, no credit). We emailed promptly and got what are essentially holding responses from the Editor, admitting nothing and stating that the matter was referred to their lawyers. And then silence. We were going to make Hajj a month later and so I compiled the information, correspondence and proof and sent it to my lawyer for action. Due to some technical problems, the letters were not sent and I will admit that when I returned from the Hajj, pursuing action was not foremost on my mind. I did, however, start watermarking my photos. A watermark had not occurred to me back then in late 2005 when I first started posting photos to Flickr. First of all, I like an anonymous presence online and secondly, who on earth would want my photos?
The issue returned to prominence when the Trinidad Express (AGAIN!) used my photo of doubles in September 2009, without permission or credit. This time the response was truly classic, revealing the Express’ lack of understanding of copyright and the internet -
“I have investigated your claim and I’m forwarding the response from the reporter for your information. While we understand and respect your copyright claim, in this instance, the reporter did not source the photo from your website although I checked both websites and the photos are the same.
Meanwhile, I am forwarding your letter of complaint to our attorneys for their comment and guidance.”
With the usual referral to their lawyers…
What the response did NOT include was whether they had requested permission from this other site. I contacted the other blogger about my copyright, who promptly apologised and with my permission to use the photo credited me. Now, these particular doubles photos proliferate the internet, particularly Facebook and it’s flattering that people seem to think they’re good to use. However, a media house cannot simply poach images from the internet because they are there. Clearly they never bothered to ask that other blogger for use of the photo. And the fact that the Editor believes this is a reasonable response to my copyright claim is beyond shocking.
It goes without saying that when I explained the legal nature of copyright and permission, my email went unanswered. And so I revived the issue of taking legal action. Or threatening same to get a response.
The delay should not suggest that I don’t pursue the protection of my rights. I post my photos to Flickr, even where I haven’t written a post, because I want to share the views captured in my photos. I had been enthused with the idea of a digital camera partly from my own discovery of Flickr and the great resource it is just to see the world and experiences. Even better to learn about photography! I had considered the options and originally posted my photos with a Creative Commons license to permit use for non-commercial purposes, provided I was credited, and no derivative works were made without my permission. I changed that, to All Rights Reserved, not because I was averse to sharing, but because I wanted to know where and how people were using my photos and at the time, preferred that I be asked. There are others who may not need or want this request and that is fine. The point is, the photos belong to me and unless I release it into the wild for legal capture and free use, I am entitled to retain control over it. That’s the nature of property. It’s a personal choice and maybe it’s linked to some idiosyncrasies of mine about ownership and control, but right now, when photography and blogging are very much personal commercial-free endeavours for me, this is the path I have taken.
What annoys me about the theft of the photos by big media houses in Trinidad and Tobago and the region, apart from revelations of ignorance of the law governing their particular environment, is the disrespect for the online community and the role we play in recording and sharing our history and culture. Complete disrespect. The small Caribbean food blogging community for example has a dedication and generosity that has produced, in a relatively short period of time,* a wealth of information, stories, recipes and photos that rival the archives of local newspapers with its focus on local foods and traditional recipes. And do you know why we do this? Well, for me, it’s the same reason I started collecting recipes from Mom. I wanted to record the foods which are part of my life and history. Food and recipes which may not be easily found online for those Trinis abroad (like I once was). I first started taking photos of food when Lilandra and I were back home after studying abroad and our first Eid back, our older sister and brother were not in the country. We wanted them to share in the usual preparations even though they were not there (no Mom, not just to torture your eldest and youngest children, they appreciated it). This blog is like that, but on a public scale.
The attitude of the more traditional media seems to be that we are nobodies even though they want our product. Prime example – during my first year of blogging and posting photos, an advertising agency in Trinidad contacted me wanting to use my photos for free, since “it is very difficult to get good images of indo-trini food unless we hire a photographer.” I was upset on behalf of the pro-photographers in T&T who actually know what they are doing, but at least they asked. So I am not that mad at them…. But…that’s the POINT. There are certain foods you cannot easily find photos of – I couldn’t illustrate my Bread Van post last month because there are no photos of biscuit cake, jam tart, currants roll etc freely available – not even any I could link to. I had to go out and buy these items (ok, Dad bought them), take my camera (which cost a bit) and my lens (also expensive for me) and actually take the photos myself. I am fine if people want to use these on their own blogs and other non-commercial sites, but just ask.** And if you are making money from the use of these photos – why should you get them free? They were not free for me – I have invested time, money, effort, lost brain cells to try to take better photos, learn about processing them and then share them here – I also pay annual fees for this site and Flickr. I have thought about what it would take to fill this gap of food photos on a professional level, commercially, but I am not a pro, have no real equipment or training and I already have a demanding job. This is not to say that I have not granted permission for possible commercial use of some photos, with/out payment but with credit. This is my choice and not to belabour the point, but my right.
I salute those publications who make the effort to showcase food and culture (hail out to the current Caribbean Beat food issue!), and create or pay for original content, including photos. From my brief interactions with the Trinidad Express, it seems clear that the food related content is hurriedly put-together with limited planning and thought, and as galling as it is to my ego, with no realisation that there is a world of people online who do a better job. At least we look out for each other!
* TriniGourmet and I first started in 2006 – I am not sure who preceded us.
** One reason it’s good to require permission – people using my photo of say, Trini pelau to illustrate a Guyanese cook-up recipe. Or I am looking right now at a bara recipe on Facebook with my Doubles Bara photo (which was made from a specific recipe that is very different). These things annoy me.
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