Friday, January 4, 2013

A friendly word of warning to my fellow bloggers...

I had an experience this week that gave me a little insight into something I've never given much thought to before, and I'm wanting to share what I've learned.
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In December, Google deposited $123.74 into my business bank account. It was an unexpected surprise, a payment made for a year's worth of ads on my Lark & Lola blog. Google only pays you when you accumulate $100 worth from ads, it had been over a year since I received my last $100. To some famous bloggers, that might be a day's pay off their blogs. Some bloggers make impressive incomes off their blogs. Not me. Which is just fine, blogging is not something I do to make money off of.

November was a slow month for my husband in sales commission, which is our only source of income. He makes no salary, no hourly wage. We start out each month with absolutely no idea what his exact pay will be on the 15th. His monthly income can differ by the thousands. It's an adventurous life for us!

Seeing as December is undoubtedly our most costly month of the year, and November's commission was our December pay, that $123.74 from Google was a very welcome addition to our monthly budget.

{The Lord always provides.}

I spent the money on gifts for our children. It was a nice little bonus for all the work I do blogging once a month. In fact, in November for some reason $26 of that $123.74 was made, the most lucrative month I've ever had--not sure why, possibly holiday posts and Pinterest? {Or God, knowing that it would really help for me to reach $100 that month? Probably.}

Speaking of Pinterest, I have it to thank for the increasing traffic to my blog. I've noticed a lot more folks popping in on my L&L blog ever since I joined. Just the other night, in fact, I was browsing some gorgeous vintage boards and pinning away when I suddenly ran into one of my own photos! A Pyrex shot. I was delighted and excited to just randomly run into my own photo in the vast creativelands that is Pinterest.

I immediately clicked on the photo to see who had originally pinned it, and even found more of my own photos. My delight did not last long, however, because I was dismayed to find that some my photos on Pinterest were actually taking me to another person's blog. My photos had been posted on another blog, and not credited or linked back to me.

A quick look around the blog quickly revealed to me that this blogger's blog posts revolve around all sorts of vintage collectibles. Sadly, she posts mostly just pictures, none of which appear to be hers. A blog that thrives on the careless re-posting of what other people have worked hard to produce? While we do this same thing on Pinterest, showcasing the photos we love, the difference is that every photo of MINE on Pinterest leads back {or should lead back} to ME. This blog was literally post after post of stolen, uncredited photos.

This is hardly the first blog I've seen do this, there are thousands of them. This was, however, the first time I saw one of MY photos used without permission or credit. They were being pinned all over Pinterest without any lead back to me, the legal owner of the photos.

It was troubling. Here I am, definitely not a photographer, and not blogging for profit {just a nice annual mini-bonus}, but I still found myself bothered that someone else was using my photo on their website, as if it were their property, saying nothing about the person who had staged and taken the photo. Photos of my own dining room.

Here's the thing about photos on the internet:

They belong to someone. Legally.

They ARE copyrighted unless listed as creative commons. Automatically. The second my finger trigger's my shutter, I own that photo and the legal rights until further notice. {You hear that, Instagram?}

Yet so many bloggers simply Google words to find photos to throw on their blog, without even taking care to see who legally owns the images. This is extremely risky!

I've never thought much about this until I realized it had happened to me. I was so grateful for that $123.74 that came unexpectedly in December, and it was earned by my blog. Small apples, but mine still. You all know my blog revolves around my photos. Not to say that I'm a professional, a lot of my photos really aren't that good. I'm just a blogger with a decent camera who loves pretty things--and sharing all of that. Still, they are mine. They are my creative works to be posted me and other people of my chosing. And the law stands behind me on this!

In fact, I recently read this post by another blogger. She had her pants sued off when she unknowingly downloaded and re-posted a professional photographer's image on her own blog. That's right, the photog found out, issued a takedown notice and had it promptly removed, yet she was still sued for big bucks.

It happens!

I think some bloggers might think, "I'm just a little league blogger, who will ever find out?" Well, I found out! What are the chances that I'd come across my own stolen photos on Pinterest so randomly? But it happened. Even more warning, zealous professional photographers can search for their images using Google Images and find out where they are posted. It's actually quite simple.

I think some of us might also ask, "What is the big deal? It's just a photo." But I implore you go read the sued blogger's warning post, look for a comment toward the bottom by Jordan. He tells his story, how he had a best selling print that was his bread and butter--until the day it started to be widely reproduced--illegally--online. His watermark was removed by someone, and his sales from HIS WORK dropped off. So...

You might not think it's hurting anyone, but it actually could be.

Just as we shouldn't steal from authors their own words.
Just as we shouldn't steal from designers their own designs {in fact, I paid to have the rights to use this new blog template you're looking at now}.
Just as we shouldn't walk into someone's house and just take something that isn't ours.

We also shouldn't use photos that don't belong to us! True, some people don't mind. But to other's you might be taking their bread & butter.

This time, for me, it was just a little sting. That $123.74 had meant a lot to me when it came last month, and it was my blogging work and material that earned me that. Whether someone makes mere cents or thousands of dollars off their own blog material, it matters not. What is rightfully theirs is rightfully theirs.

Did it hurt me financially for her to use my photos like her own? No! It caused me no damage other than to annoy me. As my mom has always said, "It's the principle of it!" She should have asked first. Period. But to see other people commenting on her post with MY pictures, saying how pretty the photos were and how great her blog was--I'll admit, that REALLY bothered me.

Look, I'm guilty of it too. In 2007 & 2008, back when I was just starting to blog, I used a few photos off of Google. I've tried to track down them all and remove them.

My point is this: be careful.

This blogger who used my photos {posted in June}, their blog literally revolved around stolen photos, every post used and centered around other people's photos. I know this blogger probably didn't mean to be stealing, but the law is very clear. It doesn't matter if you link back, it doesn't matter if you credit, it doesn't matter if you have a makeshift disclaimer on your blog--none of these things matter!

I've had a few folks email me over the years asking for permission to repost something I've blogged, always offering to link back of course. I have never said no to them. I'm willing to share, and I love when they ask so politely. I've also ran into a few bloggers who used things without having asked, but they have always linked back and credited me. Again, no biggie. {To ME! A professional photog could sue in that situation.} I'm not a meanie, I just don't want my work stolen and passed off as someone else's. Is this too much to ask?

Because when I do a blog post, I actually put a lot more work into it than some might realize. My photographs for my Lark & Lola blog are:
1. Staged & shot.
2. Uploaded to my computer.
3. Edited, cropped, re-sized, etc.
4. Watermarked.
5. Uploaded to Flickr.
6. Posted one-by-one.

^^^That's a lot more work than one might think. So, you see, a blogger's photos--whether a novice or a professional--are not just free for the taking. They are legally copyrighted automatically, and people work hard for their own art.

Just be careful and respectful to others! Don't post photos which aren't yours. Pinterest is another thing, Instagram, Flickr... there are exceptions and differing laws there, too much to get into right now.

I would never sue someone, but I did contact this blogger to ask that she kindly remove my photos. It took a couple tries to get her attention, but I finally got through and they were removed. My blog is small apples, but I enjoy seeing my photos on Pinterest, I just want credit given where it's due. I'm not trying to be petty, but the law is the law and fair is fair, and my photos belong to me. I enjoy the blog traffic, I enjoy the comments, and my photos work for that, it's only fair.

{I even called and asked my own father for permission to use photographs of his paintings for this post in November.}

If a blogger needs a photo, they should either find one that is unlicensed or put in the work and take their own photos. The risk of using something that isn't yours and getting caught, it's just not worth it. There is no excuse, there is a whole world of creative commons photos on Flickr and elsewhere.

Point is, your blog should not rely on other people's work. It should be your OWN work. Take your own stinkin' photos! Or do the work to find some that are unlicensed and won't get you sued.

Thanks for listening! I feel better now.

XO,
Heather

*If you come across any photos on my blogs that might not be mine, give me a heads up! I'm trying to remove any I might have posted long ago. I'd rather eat my own words than get sued.

**My friends have pretty much always asked, but anyone I know personally is welcome to download, re-post, and enjoy my images within reason. And Pin away! :-*

***No need for any concern by our seemingly dire financial circumstances last month, fear not. It wasn't as bad as I may have made it sound, just a tight time of year for us, every year. We're not only used to the rollercoaster by now, luckily December starts off Justin's busy season. The spring time is good and we're excited to be starting a brand new budget plan for 2013. Commission pay is just a crazy life! Onward and upward!

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