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Copyright, Blogging and the Media

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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21 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Girl well you know how I already feel about this. Updating my post (alacrity whoa!) right now!!

    1. The Trinigourmet on April 7th, 2010 at 10:09 pm
  2. well I knew you would be alacritous (had to look that up), but I didn’t mean to put pressure 😉

    3. Chennette on April 7th, 2010 at 10:32 pm
  3. Great post. I couldn’t track where my photos were going but I could see that the blog was getting a lot of Google Images hits which meant that the images were probably being copied. What I do now is upload really low-res images. And I don’t store my high res anywhere but on my external hard drive. It’s pain because I have to re-size anything I want to upload but there is no respect for anything online. It’s a free for all. When there was a buzz about saving the Boissierre house, a report in one of the dailies lifted a whole chunk from my post. Verbatim. And presented it as news. I should have kicked up a fuss but figured it was only a few lines – silly me.

    4. sharon on April 8th, 2010 at 9:18 am
  4. thanks Sharon. I know the risks of posting to Flickr which degenerates believe is a free stock photo site – but I made a decision to be part of that experience and many people have asked through Flickr for use of the photos. It just means I have to expend some energy sometimes to find the commercial uses of my photos and deal with them. But newspapers…

    5. Chennette on April 8th, 2010 at 9:35 am
  5. I think in the Caribbean the Internet is still in that ‘Wild Wild West’ stage. There is no respect of anyone elses property and the laws are still being created.

    Seriously though, who wants to have to hunt through the publications to see if their ‘property’ is being used. From the handling of the Carnival rights to the lack of respect for “bloggers'” property it shows ignorance rather than boldfacedness I believe. It’s up to us to keep discussing these topics in public forums and so that traditional editors and journalists become more educated. We had 2 great discussions on this on the No Behaviour Show already.

    7. Andre on April 8th, 2010 at 12:01 pm
  6. I would say its ignorance until you get some of the reactions…I know, when I was working in T&T, the Intellectual Property Office had tonnes of seminars and training for government officials on all kinds of IP issues – did they not have these for the public, like the media? And shouldn’t the media have self-education on the laws that govern their work? In T&T at least we have some kind of real legal framework for copyright and other IP issues and the same way companies know their tax obligations (and avoid them) for example…IP is no different. It’s another property right and obligation.

    I hope my internet suffices to start following the No Behaviour Show

    8. Chennette on April 8th, 2010 at 3:17 pm
  7. Well those are some truly classic “legal” responses you got here! You had me laughing at their audacity.
    As for me I don’t get worked up-I am more happy contributing the society’s knowledge-hence why I post Caribbean recipes and do posts about our culture, for the very reason that there is so little of it in the media-to me life is way too short to bother about stuff like that.
    I could fully understand Sarina, as that is her main source of income.

    9. Nicole on April 8th, 2010 at 10:33 pm
  8. I know – I haven’t made the decision to set things free :-) but I share by way of my posts and uploads and despite the image searching, and restaurants all in the diaspora using my photos on their clearly commercial sites, I still don’t think twice about posting them, because the primary purpose is for people to see them and see my view of the world. I don’t actually want to make money of this right now, but I still want control over my words and photos.

    10. Chennette on April 8th, 2010 at 10:52 pm
  9. i just can’t believe anybody would want to steal your pictures


    (much less mine)


    11. Lilandra on April 8th, 2010 at 11:12 pm
  10. and they stealing the P&S shots…but I guess I never watermarked those.

    12. Chennette on April 8th, 2010 at 11:37 pm
  11. *sigh*

    the quality of a picture is not only judged by the quality of the file/camera/lens

    13. Lilandra on April 9th, 2010 at 11:56 am
  12. The thing is though that until somebody does something about it, the Newspapers will continue to flagrantly disregard people’s rights. I would encourage you to fully pursue the picture thefts, you still are within the limitation period. (Of course, being a lawyer, I would say that)

    14. Kevin on April 9th, 2010 at 7:01 pm
  13. Hello and welcome Kevin :-)
    Even though I let some time lag, in my mind I kept going – you wait Express, you forget limitation period for civil action not done yet – I have time to decide! Truthfully, it was the 2nd response that really motivated me more…

    15. Chennette on April 9th, 2010 at 8:51 pm
  14. Guardian’s recent Easter Recipe booklet featured one of Cynthia’s pictures I alerted her. Also featured was another big name international blogger. I haven’t yet encountered this kind of theft but am not naive enough to think it hasn’t happened and I just don’t know about it. Both the Guardian and the Express routinely steal content both pics and entire articles from the web. I have wanted to do a post on this for such a long time but have been too angry. Great post keep at it. It’s important. Have you contacted the Media association? I’d be curious to know what is their position on this.

    16. Wizzythestick on April 9th, 2010 at 11:35 pm
  15. Last year, I had thought about doing that – the Media Complaints Council right? Something like that. I think I might consider that again. You can always see when they’ve just lifted content from the web, but to do it from Caribbean based people is on the stupid side.
    The family needs to buy the Guardian…

    17. Chennette on April 9th, 2010 at 11:47 pm
  16. why do we need to give money to the people who stealing from us

    yeah we need to

    18. Lilandra on April 10th, 2010 at 3:21 am
  17. Hi, I want to ask how to write a copyright notice for my blog. I am using blogger so all the content is not mine.

    19. Aruna on April 11th, 2010 at 12:47 am
  18. Excellent post!!

    I have been a “victim” of this type of theft but not by a big “educated” media house. The way I see it is that policing your photos is difficult and I actually have no problem in people using my photos on blogs and commercials web pages once my watermark is attached. But that doesn’t always happen and right now I yawn when I see the odd photo popping up in the most unlikely and sometimes flattering places besides media house publications. My photos have appeared on TV without credit and I don’t have lawyers on retainer :)

    Like Sharon, I also upload reasonably low resolution photos so I can sleep better. One internationally popular photographer recently told me to not make available any photos on my website I want to have full control off. On the web the law of the jungle prevails and I am not sure I understand how to manage that type of lawlessness.

    There are also too many images on the web where the origins cannot be traced (no watermarks or IPTC info), much less ask permission to use. As for media houses not respecting the work of bloggers, I think that is changing as more and more local journalist and photo journalist also have blogs and websites with their original work.

    20. aka_lol on April 11th, 2010 at 6:31 am
  19. Where should I start…

    The disrespect to us, as bloggers, is becoming unbearable. I can certainly identify with you Chennette with the amount of time and money it takes to post. People don’t seem to understand that ingredients have to be bought before any cooking takes place and then posting pictures is another problem by itself. Blogging is hard work and to have your content and pictures stolen from you is unfair and utterly disgraceful.

    Now that media houses have joined in on the “poaching” (like that term :) ) soon bloggers like me and probably the rest of us would wonder why post when they’re going to steal it anyway! That would be sad. It’s strange and disheartening to see that we are being “advantaged” by our own people. What a nice picture we paint for the rest of the world to see. Even online there is the same “dog eat dog; crabs in a barrel” mentality.

    I have to agree with andre that it’s really a “wild wild West” online here in the Caribbean… I just wished I could have shot a few thieves and gotten away with it true wild wild West style.

    YeeeHa :)

    So Chennette, Sarina, Lilandra, Wizzy and other commentors please protect your self: watermark your pictures and put up your copyright big and bold where everyone could see. And while you’re at it, do a privacy policy and disclaimer, that way people will see that you’re serious.

    And also trust no one online …not even “big name” websites!

    21. Felix Padilla (raz4125) on April 11th, 2010 at 9:35 pm
  20. This issue really frustrates me. It angers me. All I want to do is shout “thief! thief! thief!

    I have had my pics stolen by the Nation Newspaper and used in their tourism magazine. I have had it stolen most recently by the Guardian as indicated by Wizzy. I wrote to them but no response. I also had one of my photographs stolen and used for an advertisement in Guyana. I have had many pics, on one occasion, someone stole 14 photographs at one time!

    It is so tiring and exhausting having to deal with this kind of dishonesty.

    22. Cynthia on April 25th, 2010 at 9:27 pm
  21. My head here spinning from reading that post I have a lot of run in with thieves. There was the one guy in Barbados doing a a Bajan Food Event and 2 of my photos were on his flyer and he gave me a wash water story. Other sites were making big bucks from my photos..recently I have not been seeing much but I will find them and they will feel my wrath.
    You made a point that there are photos that are not on the net. Search for ham cutter and you can only find mine the vegan ham cutter. They will see…I am really annoyed.

    23. Taymer on December 2nd, 2010 at 4:52 pm

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] again moving forward with legal action and has written an amazing post on the whole matter entitled “Copyright, Blogging and the Media”Excerpt: “What annoys me about the theft of the photos by big media houses in Trinidad and […]

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