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Aaron Wong DSC 2065Copyright: Aaron Wong

The Social Media Dilemma

Promote or protect? Renown underwater photographer Aaron Wong discussed the dilemma each photographer faces when sharing their images online

Social media has completely changed the way we connect with each other. Never before have we been so aware of each other’s lives. Needless to say, this also became a great platform for photographers to share our images with the world. Be it for promotion of our work, or simply to share images with family and friends. While this is in general a great thing, the unfortunate infringements of image rights and intellectual property inevitably immerges.

Image rights are basic laws that awards ownership and protection of an image or an art piece to the creator. This basically means images you share that does not belong to you should always be credited to the original image maker. In some cases, there must be monetary pay out if an image is used for a commercial gain.

While some people may genuinely not be aware of these restrictions and repost or use images just to share with friends, there are those who know but opening use images not belonging to them, and this is where the line blurs. As a photographer, I understand very well that each time I post a picture online, I run the risk of it being copied and used without permission. I have had my fair share of seeing my images pop up in places I did not post. I know for the most parts, these are just people who love the image and wanted to share them with friends. In any case, I am often flattered and would not think much of it. The problem really starts when a person deliberately uses your image and claims it as their own or uses them to promote something it does not represent. I have had the misfortune of encountering both where someone had gone to a rather big effort of digitally removing my watermark that was placed across the image. Another recent incident involved an Instagram account that had used images of several renowned underwater photographers for his own promotion. Both these accounts were later removed from Facebook and Instagram, which goes to show how serious social media platforms view intellectual property rights. These instances are of course just a matter of principles where some would question what the big deal is about. Why kick a fuss over someone using your image? Well, it boils down to a matter of ethics and of course it is understandable that nobody likes their hard work being ripped off by someone who did nothing to deserve it but yet reap all the gain. The issue of stolen images of course becomes more serious when commercial gains are involved. As a professional photographer who makes a living solely on photography, this is something I have to take very seriously as it does affect my business in a big way. These are my opinions on both ends of this issue and why I tend to stand up to it when needed.

While intellectual property rights in most countries are automatically owned by the creator, getting them enforced is of course easier said than done. This is because IP laws in different countries differ and proving ownership and / or wrongful usage can be a long drawn out affair that is simply not worth the time or money. So unless there is a significant monetary loss, most of these infringements are left unpunished. This is where the social media platforms come in to support by taking a stern approach to people who abuses IP. In sort, it is my believe that in this digital age, whenever we share images online, we must accept the inherent risk of infringements. However, photographers and protect themselves and do think it is the responsibility of photographers to practice due diligence when sharing images online. The one best way to do this is to watermark your images. By putting a simple watermark, you make an official claim to the image. If can be something as small as a line at the bottom of across the image like Getty. Sure, some by argue that a watermark can be digitally removed, but in so doing, it is a clear intent to mislead on the part of the image thief and he or she can no longer say they ‘did not know’. In the end, removable or not, it is till better than not having one.

Of course the last best way to protect fellow photographers is to be aware of these laws and to respect each others IP and to support and report if there is an infringement. A social media watchdog if you will who would stand up to people who enjoys stealing. In some ways it is up to us to prevent them from making the social media a difficult place to share. No one should rob everyone from the joys of sharing, which is what photography is about in this digital age.

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