Barmy Boycott

If you’re on Twitter, you’ll know what I mean when I say that some new follows can be a little odd and surprising. Take my recently acquired new follower @BoycottGetty as an example.

At first glance I was hopeful that this was a new movement formed from designers disillusioned with the banality of stock imagery; a return to the values of using real images of real people for truly interesting design. URR! URR! WRONG!

It turns out @BoycottGetty is an anonymous twitterer with an equally opaque identity at an online petition hosting site (see Boycott Getty Images!) with a mission to get Getty Images to change their approach to dealing with people who, wittingly or otherwise, use Getty-managed photos without paying for them. Quite why they’d want to follow me, I can’t work out.

Boycott Getty Images (BGI) don’t like the current tactics used by Getty to chase copyright infringers because they feel they’re too belligerent. This may be so, and I’m no fan of Getty or its micro-payment subsidiary iStockphoto (anyone who has followed my blog for a while will know I don’t much like stock photography in general), but the alternative solutions suggested by BGI make no sense, unless one assumes that the person or people behind BGI have been caught using unlicensed Getty images and are a tad hacked off at being asked to pay up.

Let’s look at a summary of what BGI are demanding, then you’ll see what a nonsense his/her/their campaign is. From BGI’s petition website:

“This petition demands that Getty Images immediately cease its highly unethical extortion practice before another innocent US citizen is intentionally harmed, and announce the implementation of new copyright protection technologies & business practices that are consumer friendly, protect their photographers copyrights and benefit the general public at large.”

The petition sets out these points more fully on the site, but this is a pretty good precis of the thrust of their arguments, so let’s unpick what they’re saying here.

For one thing, I suspect the author of this petition decided to remain anonymous due to the  “legally dancing on thin ice” nature of the opening sentence. Using phrases like “unethical extortion” and “intentionally harmed” strikes me as dangerous, considering how readily Getty likes to threaten legal action, but perhaps they’ll let this go as the angry ramblings of an irrelevant campaigner with an axe to grind.

The author mentions the “implementation of new copyright protection technologies,” but as of the writing of this blog article no such technologies exist, and even in the paragraph dedicated to this point the author doesn’t seem to know what these technologies might be. Furthermore any technologies that do exist are useless once a paying client has bought, unlocked and published a photo on their website. From thenceforth the photo is subject to the same copy and paste problems as any other image on the internet. Getty would still have to search out and demand redress for images used without payment.

BGI demands that Getty adopt business practices which are consumer friendly. Does that mean like making millions of photos available at penny prices for anyone who wants to legally buy them? Or are they seriously suggesting Getty should stop demanding payments from people who steal their assets?

And here’s a contradiction; BGI wants Getty to “protect their photographers copyrights.” They say they don’t know if the compensation moneys collected by Getty from infringers is shared with the photographers, but firstly I suspect it is and secondly it’s not any of BGI’s business. That’s between Getty and its contributors. What they actually call for is wider use of Take Down notices, which would mean photographers get nothing for the infringing use of their photos, except the hassle of having to deal with infringements. No protection there then.

This final point is quite strange: “benefit the general public at large.” Ignoring the tautology in that sentence, is Getty Images some kind of humanitarian organisation now? What other corporate giants should we demand general public (at large) benefits from? Microsoft? Walmart? The Zimbabwean government under Robert Mugabe? Dream on, Sunshine.

Although the Boycott Getty Images name seems misleading in that it doesn’t directly boycott the buying of Getty images (just their issuing of legal letters), the site is linked to which is campaigning for people to avoid using Getty-licensed images altogether. I’d applaud this concept except that the alternative ideas put forward on that site are nuttier than squirrel shit.

So to @BoycottGetty, I say sorry, but I won’t be following you back. Your ideas make as much sense as a pocketful of baked beans, and this weakens your case considerably. You’re welcome to follow me though. You might learn something useful.


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  • Ken of London January 4, 2011   Reply →

    Dammit, its only the 4th and some weirdo is making my head hurt already. How do you attract these people Tim, actually I stop there as that’s an indictment on myself mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm?

    Nice watermark you have developed over the Christmas break, very subtle, I feel it has a big future.

    Happy New Year and am looking forward to the musings of Tim in 2011


    • Glass Eye January 4, 2011   Reply →

      Hi Ken, well I can’t comment on your sanity except that you must be mad to read my posts and you’re starting to hum to yourself.

      I think just being out there in social media land means sooner or later, the woodwork starts to reveal the fruit bats. All part of life’s rich tapestry.

    • Glass Eye January 4, 2011   Reply →

      Haha, yes I saw that some time ago. It’s a well-illustrated point.

  • Ken of London January 4, 2011   Reply →

    I should just have put the greater link, its all really funny ……….. at first …

    • Glass Eye January 4, 2011   Reply →

      Jeremy’s an amazing blogger. He and I were conversing about the Boycott Getty article. I know he’d have done a much more biting article, but I was feeling charitable towards people with low intelligence…

  • Robert Day January 4, 2011   Reply →

    So if Getty pursue someone for infringment in the way suggested, it’s “highly unethical” whereas a snotty letter from me or you following up a Digimarc report of unauthorised use is “consumer friendly” (i.e. easier to ignore). Hate to say it, but I’m probably with Getty on this one. Just this once.

    Mind you, I have some mates who are pretty burly and who could “persuade” payment out of someone fairly easily. But would that be “ethical” or “consumer friendly”?

    • Glass Eye January 5, 2011   Reply →

      I suppose that’s what they’re saying. By “consumer friendly” what they mean is that people should be allowed to use pictures for free until they get caught, after which they can just stop using the pictures. Hardly protecting photographers’ rights, is it.

      It’s annoying for those who get caught out that their defence of “I didn’t know it was copyright” or “I thought I had permission” isn’t taken into account. The problem is that people need to understand that using a photo is a responsibility and should be taken seriously. It’s not that the law should change to accommodate ignorance. Photographers also cannot be expected to prove culpability in every single case. The onus is on the publisher of the website to make sure all permissions have been cleared prior to use.

      Of course the easiest way to avoid legal action from the likes of Getty is not to use stock imagery at all, unless it’s directly commissioned by the client, but people continue to take the risk then complain when it all goes wrong.

  • Jerry Cripps August 24, 2011   Reply →

    I just have to say that Getty Images have a policy of quilty until proven innocent. They send out very threatening and therefore scary letters demading money as the first approach.
    I received a letter from Getty Images claiming I was using there images to promote my site.
    It turned out that the owner of these images had posted them on a forum on one of the sites I look after. The owner of the images had posted a link to his own website to promote his website, this is against the rules of the forum but as it was, I thought, a harmless link to a photographer I left the link alone. But now if the owner does not make changes these images and the link to his website will be remove, thus removing his promotion.
    You would think that if Getty Images are truly interested in protecting their customers they would have made a simple check how these images where being used before sending me such a bullish and demanding letter.

    • Glass Eye August 24, 2011   Reply →

      Hi Jerry, I know many people have had Getty letters and it’s a subject which tends to generate much heat. It sounds as if in your case you’ve been caught up in a less straightforward situation, though Getty will always see publication of unlicensed images as a bit of a binary scenario. It might also depend on whether the photographer who posted the images had permission to do so.

      Getty spend a lot of their resources and time seeking out infringements because they have a lot of images out there. It’s one reason I believe the microstock industry is a self-destructive mess. I don’t always agree with Getty’s tactics, and I’m sure they get things wrong, but I also see a big problem for photographers (not represented by Getty) who are constantly having to fight for and defend their copyright. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of Web 2.0

      I’ve commented widely on Getty elsewhere, and you’ll forgive me if I don’t get into a protracted discussion about them here. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to say everything I’d like to say about Getty, the microstock industry, the people who think copyright is an annoyance and the unfortunate ones who fall unwittingly into the fray, but thank you for your comment. I do appreciate your taking the time.

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