Sunday 22 July 2012

The killing blow for "hottie of the week" blogs

Copyright is serious business. It is. Authors want to get paid for their work. We waste many perfectly good writing hours sending DMCA takedowns to sites that pirate our work. Every author in our genre is passionate about piracy (leading to some meltdowns and some diatribes and some indignant rants, some of which I've written).

And I believe firmly we're in the right if we reserve the right to decide *which* story we charge for. I've given away years of work for free in Special Forces, so people who only want "free" can have those one million words. I believe it's an attitude that's largely consensus in our industry. We want to get paid. Some of us rely on royalty cheques for groceries, utilities or making car/house payments. So, many of us *need* to get paid.

A while ago (= years), I came across the freshly-relaunched website of an erotic romance writer. The first thing I saw was that the blog was peppered with, among others, images by Luis Royo - who, you can see on his official page (do go!), is pretty sexy and pretty awesome. She must have had like 30-40 images on there. And her newest blog post was a vicious rant on piracy - surrounded by all the stolen Luis Royo images that I can guarantee she did not acquire licenses for, because at Royo's level, that's really expensive. I mean "display those images or buy a house"-kind of expensive. It shot her credibility to pieces. How can she expect to have her copyright respected when she doesn't respect the rights of one of the most easily recognizable visual artists alive?

Now, for a long time, I was told that those "pictures are public domain" - they aren't. High-end erotic nudes are not public domain, at least not in 99% of all cases. To look that good, models want to be paid, photographers are spending thousands of dollars on equipment, fees, and it takes hundred of hours to get that good. Years. If you like looking at it, it's most likely the work of a pro, and pros like to get paid.

Another argument was "well, everybody does it" (yeah, and everybody can get fined for it).

Another was "but the man candy pics are the most-viewed entries, I *need* them, and it's just harmless fun" - well, look at all the e-book piracy sites who live off traffic selling advertising - people come for pirated content they can't get elsewhere, and they, too, believe it's "harmless fun".

I don't want to get all sanctimonious. I, too, like looking at "man candy" images. Who doesn't. But recently, I hear more and more stories of photographers suing and fining blogs (that includes the owners of Tumblrs and Pinterests) - and the fines are not small. If you think you get slapped with a $50 fine for one Royo, well, add a few zeroes. Keep adding. I'll tell you when to stop.

Back in the days when I was covering start-ups as a biz journalist (4-5 years ago), I covered some tech start-ups that were developing programmes that crawl the internet and do pattern recognition. Basically, they can compare images and find unauthorized content and then point the copyright owner at it. The "reblogging" tail in Tumblr? Very easy way to track everybody who reblogged a photographer's image. Every single display can be fined. We're talking hundreds and thousands of dollars for every single image. Those IT programmes are out there, and I hear more and more stories of fines and taken-own sites and blogs and I think this is really just the start. Music piracy was first, now it's e-book piracy, and piracy of images is coming right after.

As authors, the very laws that protect our copyrights also protect the rights of photographers. Please respect them. I'd strongly advise every single blogger to go through their entries and very carefully consider whether you actually own the image or have the right to display it (hint: your book covers should be OK). If you keep images of unclear source, be prepared to pay top whack for every single  one. Personally, I think the risk is not worth it. This is money most of us can't afford - or at least spend on much nicer things.

And here's the link that prompted it all. Do take the time to read the comments from the photographers. Please respect their work in the same way you want others to respect yours. Thank you!


  1. I went back and checked all the photos posted on my blog, and deleted all those I wasn't sure of. Fortunately there were few.

    I definitely don't want to risk it; I could never afford the penalty.

    1. Yep. I think that's the most sensible solution. You can still link to cool photos, but only on their creator's site. (There's plenty of "man candy" around legally in places like deviantart and various international model portfolios.)

  2. In the German as well as the beauty-blogosphere this has been an issue for years and from the beginning I've made sure that the images I use are either press-material supplied by the publisher, the artist/writer, or photos I took myself.

    Big publishers usually have a section on their website where one can download bookcovers for reviews and where they offer information for the press and blogers. With indie-writers the best and easiest thing to do is to ask. I also usually put in a note/link to the source of the image. Something along the line of "Cover: Heyne"

    Alternatively I would look for a CC-license or what kind of share-policy artists/photographers have on their flickr or deviantart account. And again ask if the information wasn't very clear or just put in a link to the artist's page with a comment about the amazingness of the art. I do this a lot with Etsy-shops.

    I know that a lot of beauty-bloggers are watermarking their images now because people (other bloggers!) have stolen them and used them in their blogs or even for Ebay and such. But if you ask them and are willing to attribute most give their permission to use images.

    I was always surprised by the amount of pictures on some blogs with no indication of the source (and no Google doesn't count as a source). Sure, I like looking at the eye-candy but wow, how did they afford the licensing fee? Now it's obvious that most didn't.

    1. Yep, my thinking, too. But I was properly trained (essentially, as a journalist, exposing yor media company to a lawsuit is a firing offense, and I did like my jobs while I did them. :) ). Few people are, and lots of people think they're doing nothing wrong because "the others are doing it, too". It's no protection OR excuse.

    2. I have a background in Marketing and I've gone through the whole 'which licenses do we have'-issue when it came to photographs. In one instance I even had to educate my then-employer. Could have cost him a lot of money, definitely more than re-negotiating with the design-agency did.

  3. What would constitute fair use? For instance, if one were writing a news piece or book review? Thinking cover art here...

    1. Nerine - I don't know. It's a matter of local copyright laws, but generally, cover art should be safe - it is promotional material for a specific product, after all, and the license has been usually acquired by the author/publisher to use it for promo (=commercial) purposes.

      But I'm not an IP lawyer, so I can't give legal advice. :)

    2. It really depends on local copyright laws. Some countries for example don't have a fair use rule but publishers in those countries often offer covers for the press/bloggers to use. They have a section on their website or a link on the page with the book.

      Alternatively you can always contact the press-department and ask.

  4. that is the reason why, as of today, I only post pictures by artists that are available to the public (and under specific artist bio post) or if the photographer gave me the authorization (like for Dylan Rosser). I HATE when I see pictures from my posts "stolen" by other blogs and posted without the right copyright.