Imagine for a moment that you wrote a book. Then, someone came along, took it and republished it. Only they used their own name and not yours on the cover.
Would this make you happy? Would you feel honored that your work was published? Would you feel privileged that the thief chose to steal your work over other people’s work? Just someone else is getting credit for it – or even making a profit from it.
My guess is – you’d be anything but pleased. This book was your intellectual property after all. So you attempt to fight it and collect damages from the person who stole it as their own.
Now (and this is the interesting part), for fighting it and trying to protect the rights of your work, people look at you as the bad guy. They consider you to be a cheap pain in the ass. Why can’t you just stay quiet and allow the work to be stolen? Maybe you should feel happy they stole (er, used) your work. Seems backwards right?
That is how photographers including myself are positioned every time a company steals and/or uses one of our images without obtaining the rights to do so. I’ve seen my photos up on a billboard as I was driving by, wrapping a bus, flipping through a magazine in an advertisement or being used in a Facebook advertisement. But I should be happy about this! And if I try to go after those who stole my work – I am made into the bad guy.
It is a very fine line that must be balanced to protect our work.
If you’re a modeling talent and you’re reading this you may think “well, what is the big deal?” You may be really excited if a supplement company (for example) took an image of you and used it in an advertisement. You would show your friends “Hey look, I am in this advertisement! I wasn’t paid for it, but here I am!”
But what if it were an ad for escorting services? What if it were an ad for the latest VD treatment? Would you feel the same? What if it were an ad to call the person featured in the photo for a great session of phone sex? The last one actually did happen about eight years ago and I can assure you – the talent was just as upset as I was.
As a community we must stand together to protect our work from being used without permission. Just as it is your brand and likeness in the photo, it is the photographer’s intellectual property.
The best solution, as I’ve found it, is open and honest communication between the models and photographers. What can the photos be used for and what uses require permission. This saves mistakes, assumptions and surprises.
Lastly, don’t assume a photographer defending their work is immediately an bad person. You’d most likely do the same if it were the work you did.