Shame on the photo thieves
I am finding it hard to get motivated to post anything after last week’s wholesale theft of a photo I posted here. The photo of a honey bee secreting wax from her wax glands was the work of one of my regular readers and is truly awesome. The trouble started like this:
Last week after I wrote about photographing bees, I invited readers to share their own successful photos on my site. But after this particular photo came in, I double-checked with the owner to make sure it was okay to post—I didn’t want any misunderstandings because I knew the photo was good enough to get lots of attention.
Within minutes of posting, it began showing up everywhere. Of course, when you post photos online you expect them to get tweeted, pinned, mentioned, linked, Facebooked or whatever, but you hope for a link back to your site. Most people play fair. But the first big irritation came from a popular beekeeper who re-tweeted the image. First he posted the image to his own Facebook page and then sent out a tweet that linked back to that page. In the tweet he included a link to my site as a parenthetical, but we all know that no one is going to follow both links. When I went to his site, I found a non-linked mention of Honey Bee Suite but no photographer name on the photo.
This really irked me because, without an active link back to my site or a photographer credit, the owner gets no recognition whatsoever. This beekeeper proceeded to get something like 172 Facebook likes and 200 shares to my 40 likes. The comments on his site are nearly all the same: “great photo, awesome, wow!” Wouldn’t it have been nice for the photographer’s name to be on the damn picture? Wouldn’t be nice if she got just a little of the credit?
Of course, when something goes viral it goes everywhere—and, indeed, this photo went everywhere. Without trying very hard, I found it on at least two dozen sites. The reputable people give credit; most don’t bother. I didn’t actually lose my temper it until someone on BeeSource.com accused me of stealing the photo from someone else’s Facebook page. Can you believe it?
I’m not naive; I realize theft goes with the territory. I know photographers whose work has been stolen for commercial purposes. I know of photographers who have found their work with other people’s copyright notice attached. I have had my own written work republished under someone else’s name. So it’s no surprise that it happened with this photo—but that doesn’t make it right.
It’s hard to say where the line should be drawn. One person wrote to say she immediately shared the photo with her bee club. In my way of thinking, that is great. That’s what these photos and articles are for—to teach, to illustrate, to inform. They should be passed around in the spirit of sharing and learning. For that reason I have never—not even once—said no to someone who asked permission to use either my photos or my writing for non-commercial purposes. But to post work and give the impression it is your own—even if you don’t specifically say it’s your own—is low. It’s even worse when you’re trying sell something.
And in this case, the permission to republish was not mine to give. The photo was graciously shared with me to post, but since I don’t own it, I can’t decide to give it away. Shame on all of you who think the rules don’t apply to you. Did even one of you stop to think how you would feel if it was your photograph? No one is asking for money here, just a little recognition. I suppose I’m an idealist, but we beekeepers and bug lovers are a small enough community that I would expect a little mutual respect within our ranks. Is that too much to ask?
I’m in a quandary. I have so much unfinished business here on Honey Bee Suite. I’d like to share my recent success with the Girl Scout pollinator project, my plans to battle the Washington State Department of Transportation over alkali bees, my enthusiasm for matching native bees to their preferred forage, my recent experiences with triple deeps, HopGuard, and Hive Tracks—and my love for anything to do with bees. But the website is so much work and the fouls so numerous, that I wonder if I shouldn’t continue on in silence and let someone else deal with the morons. It’s something to think about.
P.S. For all of you who linked back and/or named the photographer—and there were many—my heartfelt thanks.