I know I know, I don't write forever and then when I do finally crawl out from under my rock (and I had just gotten it looking so homey under there - I even put up paintings and hung some really nice drapes!), I come out here and bitch.
Well listen, I'm pissed.
What's ironic is that I've been thinking about taking a hiatus, or something like it, from Facebook, and this most recent incident, might just have pushed me over the edge. More on the whole Facebook hiatus later.
This evening I got a message from a friend on Facebook that she could swear she saw a photo of my cat my daughter Gaby's cat, Geronimo (you know the one, he takes up enough space out here as it is) on someone's profile, someone I don't even know, and this person claims to live in Waltham, MA and went in and found this " . . . Beautiful pussy cat, with big blue eyes and the softest fur EVAH!" at their local shelter. She went on to say that the cat had been brought in early this morning and she was lucky enough to get there early and snapped him right up!
My ass, she found this cat the morning after a major freaking blizzard hits her state and takes him home the same damned day!
Let's just forget for a minute that she stole this image of mine from one of my Facebook albums, one that I clearly watermarked (and she was obtuse enough to leave the watermark on the image! Ding Dong dumbass!), as MINE MINE MINE, and let's just run with the fact that she says this cat came into her local shelter this morning and she took it home the same day! LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE! I call complete bullshit on that.
For one, this creature is stunning, there's just no getting around that, and I know there are a lot of people out there who would like Geronimo for their own. People have offered to buy him. Seriously. We've had two offers. As if we'd ever consider selling our beloved cat. That would be like asking Gaby to cut off her arms. Anyhow . . . If someone were to have brought in an animal found after a raging blizzard dumped more than two feet of snow on the great pilgrim state, the shelter staff has the brains to not only check the cat over, but make sure to look into whether or not anyone has reported a missing pet, as can happen when the weather gets extreme. Even if no one had reported a missing pure-breed ragdoll, the shelter would still invest time in simple things like a health-check, shots, and other standard operating procedures before they release a cat for adoption, and I promise you that does not happen in a matter of hours. It's usually a few days before a cat that comes in as a stray is ready for adoption.
Let's also look past the fact that there is a pretty sizable watermark that says "Barking Mad!" on the image itself that Little Miss Dumbass wasn't bright enough to remove. There's also the little issue of the fact that not only did I upload the image to Facebook but I later turned it into a meme that I had posted to Facebook as well. I went back and checked the privacy settings on both of those images and neither of the images were set to "public." How she got her hands on the image is still a mystery to me. However, even if I had my settings set to public, it still doesn't give anyone the right to pull that kind of stunt!
OK so we have the fact that she lifts a watermarked image of my cat, but if that weren't already stupid enough, I guess it's some big hairy coincidence that she also happens to have a breathtakingly ugly area rug that looks like something that came out of the shagalicious seventies! That's our area rug. And then there's our battered coffee table behind the cat in the box, the one that has the baskets underneath it, that now resides elsewhere in our house because it's too embarrassingly scratched and beaten up to be seen by anyone other than the people who live in and our house and even we hate looking at the damned thing. So I guess it's just a coincidence of epic proportions that she not only rescued a cat that is identical to ours, but also has an ugly-ass area rug, an identical coffee table, and then out of the blue decides she's going to slap "Barking Mad" on the image.
Nope, sorry it's not a coincidence at all!
What it is, is astounding stupidity!
Sometimes the internet can seem like this massive black hole place that stretches on forever, but in reality, just by the mere fact that a friend can come across a stolen image of mine on the Facebook page of someone I don't know nor have ever heard of, that just proves how really small it is. Sometimes I like to joke that we're all just like that huge Kevin Bacon meme, Six Degrees of Separation. We're all connected somehow. Well guess what? Be careful because not only might you be related to the server that spilled a hot toddy all over Kevin Bacon's accountant, but you just might know someone who likes to steal someone else's images and not only pass off the image as their own, but the animal in the image as their own! Hell, you might even be next-door-neighbors to the dry-cleaner for the sister of the lady that stole the photo of Geronimo!
Who does something like this? Does this person have no relatives or friends who are going to wonder, when they come over for their weekly book club meeting, where the cat is? I, for one, would want to see such a beautiful cat. I simply don't understand the mental processes (or lack thereof) that goes on when someone does something as asinine as this.
Yes I sent the thief a strongly worded yet still civil message via Facebook letting them know that was not only my image, but my cat, and she needed to remove the image ASAP. I also told her I was reporting her to Facebook and filing a DMCA notice. She replied saying that I was harassing her and she was reporting me to Facebook. Thirty minutes after I got that reply her entire Facebook profile was gone. I know Facebook doesn't work that fast, so I'm assuming she knew she'd been caught and not only removed the image but got her pilfering ass off of Facebook altogether.
You might be wondering why I'm so upset? This is the third time an image of Geronimo has been lifted. There was also an image of mine called "Pink", that I shot as the sun was rising off of the Atlantic ocean and the colors it cast upon the snow-covered roof of one of the out-buildings at the Portland Headlight were absolutely stunning . . . "Pink" was on display in two Maine galleries for over a year; that image was lifted and placed on the blog of an amateur New Jersey photographer and claimed as his own. I was, and still am so very proud of that image. It's one of my best shots ever and it captures some of the things that have enamored me to the Maine coastline. It wasn't merely a lucky shot. I got there at 4:45AM to set up. It was -5F with strong winds coming directly off the Atlantic. I only had mere moments to get the shot I wanted before the weather started to affect my camera equipment and prevented me from being able to feel my extremities. To see someone else say that was their photography was a slap in the face. Not only that, the asshole was trying to charge people $25 for a 5x7 digital print, and $35 for a matted copy! After this happened it took me a long time to publicly share that image, or display it anywhere again.
Indeed, we all do take risks when we post images that we have photographed, online. We know that there are perfidious people that troll the internet, people that lack even a bare modicum of integrity and try and pass our work off as their own. It's not just photographers this happens, to. It happens to writers and bloggers who share their words on the walls of the internet. There isn't a week that goes by where I don't hear of someone being plagiarized. It's infuriating when this happens, but not only is it infuriating, in the simplest terms, this is theft. Even when it's as innocuous as a cute photo of a seven-year-old little girl's cat, it's still theft.
So why would we risk anything just to share our photographs or our words out here? Because even if it's only one person who smiles, or sees an image I've taken of a familiar place and it takes them back in time and brings them joy or happiness, it's worth it, or if someone reads the words from our hearts, words we've cultivated, crafted and then shared with others . . . these are (and I know this sounds trite and cliche') the fruits of our labors, and dammit, to steal it and then claim it as your own is about as low as it gets. Yes, some of us make money from our blogs, our photographs and our words. Some of us merely love the act of writing and letting others read the thoughts that we let flow onto the pages of our blogs that we haven't monetized. We do this because writing is like breathing. We love to do it and we need to do it. It doesn't change the fact that to steal the work of others is still wrong and it's still theft!
This morning there was a well-known review blogger who did this. She lifted an image that belonged to someone else, and used it on a blog that is monetized. She didn't cite her source or give credit to the original photographer/owner of the image. When she was called on it (after posting a back-handed apology on Facebook), she turned things around and made it appear that she was the one who was being victimized and bullied, and "woe is me, I didn't know, I'm so innocent." Except? She wasn't. This wasn't her first time at the rodeo. She'd been caught doing this before. After being called on her lack of integrity on Facebook when she posted the "apology", and when she realized she had been reported for the issue and that a DMCA notice was forthcoming, what did she do? She pulled the entire thread down. Deleted it. Poof! It was gone. Like it never happened.
A couple of months ago a very good friend of mine went through something similar, except the image of hers that was used, was not only used as the cover photo on another person's Facebook profile, it was posted to a corporate website as well, and passed off as being representative of another's accomplishment. Lisa has been making some incredible strides in her goal to live a healthy life and lose weight. She's been accomplishing this with the help of the folks at Nurtri-System. Every time you lose a certain amount of weight, you get a little Ty Beanie Bear with the weight loss milestone number on it. Lisa has an image of her row of bears when she had reached her latest milestone (this is the blog post of hers in which she displayed the image). She posted the watermarked image online and another woman, someone who was also using the Nutri-System plan, stole her image and claimed it as her own. Lisa found out about it because this woman had the gall to not only make it her own Facebook cover image, she dared to use that very image, Lisa's image - representative of her own weight loss, on the Nutri-System corporate page, to represent her weight loss mile-stone, one that she hadn't even reached yet! Lisa contacted this woman via Facebook and she didn't reply. So I asked Lisa if I could attempt to step in and see if I couldn't convince "Tracey" (the woman who lifted the image) to remove the image. This is the initial message I sent her:
Your cover photo does not belong to you. I have screen printed the image that clearly shows the watermark of the correct owner. Please remove it and apologize to Lisa for using content that did not belong to you, both here on Facebook and on Nutrisystem, to falsely represent your weight loss accomplishment. It's not cool. "
"Tracey" then had the audacity to reply by claiming:
I am sorry and had no idea that it was someones photo on facebook and nutrisystem. I found that photo on google search and used it only because my photo of my own bears were to small for the cover photo and I am waiting for my 60lb bear to ship anyday now so as soon as I get my bear I will remove the photo. I dont know who lisa is so please tell her I am sorry and will remove the photo as soon as I get my bear."
So not only did she say she didn't know whose image it was, but that she was only going to take it down when she received her own 60lb-loss milestone bear from Nutri-System.
I sent her a final message, seeing as how she did not reply to anything from Lisa, or anyone else that stepped in, and I explained what copyright infringement is, and how legal advice was being sought, and then closed by saying:
"I understand that you might not have known before that what you were doing is legally considered copyright infringement. You now know, yet you're still stating that you're going to continue to use Lisa's image, her property without permission, until you receive your next bear from Nutrisystem. This flies in the face of doing the right thing.
Please remove Lisa's image from your Facebook albums, covers, and anywhere else you might have it, immediately."
The next message I got from her was rather bitchy and belligerent and said that if Lisa wanted to sue anybody, she should sue Google. However, "Tracey" did remove the image from her Facebook page (I believe that Lisa reported the image there and that's what got the image removed the NS page), and then I blocked her.
If I post an image out here, it's either one of my own, or I've asked permission and cited the photographer, or gotten it from a source that allows the free use of images with appropriate credit given. Maybe in one or two cases in the past I've even bought a stock image from either iStock or another similar stock photography vendor. I'm not going to always claim that I myself have known better. I've been publishing online for close to nine years and there was a time when I thought that anything found through Google images is fair game. However, it's not. People have been sued before, for using an image that wasn't their own, on their blog. It's not like any of us can claim ignorance to the fact that using another person's copyrighted work without permission is OK. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know" just doesn't fly out here anymore. And in case there is that one in a million person reading this that genuinely doesn't know that it's not alright to use another person's work without crediting the person who produced that work, well now you do.
In light of this most recent act of brazen stupidity, I guess I'm going to have to start watermarking my images like the one above (because ya know, I'm a blogger, and they all say that bloggers are some of the biggest narcissists out there, so I'm obviously not going to stop sharing my photos anytime soon because after all, it's all about ME ME ME . . . or in this case, it's all about my damn cat!) or maybe I'll adopt a watermark like this:
OK, so I don't know if you're going to go to Hell for stealing (if so, then all those candies I stole from the old Hickory Farms store when I was a little kid have assured me a nice toasty seat down there!), nor do I have the ability to sic that gorgeous tiger on you, but the point is, stealing is bad. Get it? Got it? Good!
“Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.”
Excerpted from "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
by J.K. Rowling~