Stop the War nicks a pic

PHOTOGRAPHER Marc Vallée is usually happy to let anti-capitalist, anti-war, socialist websites and non-profit blogs use his images without a fee. "I just expect to be asked," he says, "before an image is taken from one of my websites. Why? To make sure the image is used in an appropriate way."

The offending photo, and the cropping

A colour version of the photo, and the cropped part used in black and white on the Stop the War website. T-shirt design by Katherine Hamnett.

But when the Stop the War organisation used one of his pictures, Marc saw red. They hadn't asked. They hadn't credited it. Worse, they'd cropped it, badly.

So he invoiced them for £100, to wake them up. And it did.

In a number of emails and one phone call STW told Marc he should be "ashamed" for trying to "take" donations away from STW and that he was trying to "personal gain" from the anti-war movement. At first he was told the image was "sent" to STW by one of its "supporters" and that "we had no idea that it was yours or cropped". Then he was told by "Tom" in the STW office that he took the image from a website and cropped it, but he can not remember from which site or whether the image was colour or black and white...

Then things started getting silly. Someone from STW wrote:

as you did not ask us for permission to photograph our specially commissioned T-shirt, we request that you pay us £100 for doing so without authorisation. We have removed the image from our website and we insist that you remove it from your website. Under no circumstances are you to seek financial gain by using Stop the War designs or images now or in the future.

This is what is technically known among lawyers as "bollocks". The original photo, before butchering, was of a stall with many t-shirts. It was not, therefore, a reproduction of the t-shirt. You are also free, for example, to take a picture of a laptop displaying this page - that copying of these words is in the jargon "incidental".

At the time of writing STW had not, in fact, removed the image from their site.

The matter of collecting the fee due is now in the hands of the Freelance Office.

The Freelance recommends organisations ask. And 'fess up, rather than risk looking arrogant, stupid or both, if they foul up.

18 August 2006

STW now claim that they took the photo from www.indymedia.org.uk and that images posted there fall under the "copyleft" licence.

Even if true, this merely makes it worse for them. Three of the essential features of the "copyleft" licence are that:

  • All works re-used under it must be credited;
  • commercial use is not authorised; and
  • a statement of the copyleft licence terms must be presented with the re-use, so that all these conditions are imposed on further re-users.

The last point is the entire point of copyleft.

Posted: 16 Aug 2006; modified: 18 Aug 2006 - © 2006 contributors
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