Monday, January 28, 2008

Old fashioned theft in Spokane

This weekend Google search decided to find thumbnails of my images which had been featured on Spokane Night Scenes. As I began to click though my images, they began to appear on sites owned by Spokane Realtors. That came as quite a surprise to me, since none of these realtors had any agreements with Spokane Night Scenes, to use any of our copyrighted images.

After accumulating 5 realtors that had used my images, I went back to Google search and on my first screen up popped a Spokane Law Firm, which featured prominently one of my images. Yep, you guessed it, no agreement or contract.

After 31 years in the policing business, it comes as no great surprise to me that “some people steal.” I have witnessed first hand, thefts of a variety of kinds, and now I am seeing them once again. Digital thefts are a bit different, but all in all, they are the same thing…taking something that does not belong to you.

Photographers speak about copyrights, and believe me; those conversations are many and frequent. In theory, copyrights begin from the date of creation, with or without filing/registering the copyright at the Library of Congress. In my case, I have registered my digital images with the Library of Congress. Not really to hard to do, just fill out the paperwork, generate thumbnails on a printed sheet, and two CD’s with the protected images. Write a check for 45 bucks, and send it off to the Library of Congress.

So, are copyrights even relevant anymore? I mean, do they actually offer protection from a digital thief, who decides to turn your work into something that they want to use for “their project.” Just this weekend, I found 6 examples of my images appearing on a variety of commercial websites. I must admit, my images looked great on these links, although I am sure that I am slightly biased…. In fact, I would gladly have let these companies use the images that they obviously wanted to use. I would have done so, after reaching an agreement with them, and invoicing them for their use on their websites.

It must be easier to just take whatever you want, any time you want it. My images are all a part of an ongoing documentary of the community I live in, and I have displayed images on the Spokane Night Scenes website. I know we live in a beautiful place, and as I have mentioned before, I have a lot to be thankful for in this community. Yet, ethics seem to at least be lacking when my copyrighted images are taken and used, without any permissions or agreements.

It costs me a lot of money each year for my membership in the Better Business Bureau, and as I run my Security Management business I know I would never present to my clients something that I did not have ownership of. Is that just old fashioned? I mean, is it old fashioned to “not want to take something that did not belong to you?” Further, is it old fashioned to not want to “present the material taken, as your own?” You know, I don’t know. I gladly pay my dues to the Spokane Better Business Bureau, and I pay my business taxes, and all of the other relevant costs associated with running my business. Only to find other Spokane businesses just taking my property and presenting it as “their own property.”

I guess in the real world, it would be nice if things were not this way, but I guess of all the people in Spokane, I should not be at all surprised. I have seen this stuff happen a lot in my lifetime, and the only difference now is that it is happening to my business.

My son and I talked about it a little yesterday, and as a deputy prosecutor he gave me his take on the issue, and we both chuckled a little. So, this morning I began sending out notifications to the offending businesses, along with billing them for using my materials. I have placed them on notice, that absent payment, I will see them inside a courtroom in Spokane. As I write this, I am shaking my head wondering why all of this could not have been avoided in the first place.

Then again, maybe I am just old fashioned.

Stay tuned. I know I will be asked to identify the “borrowers of my work,” and I guess that is still an option. On the other hand, I am happy that they like what I do, enough to use the photographs. They just need to pay first, and then use…..