I often tell my students that I learned more by screwing up than I ever did by doing things right and that no mistake is worthless if you learn something from it. It turns out that not everyone has that same experience with errors, often learning the wrong lesson from making a dumb decision.
Dan Dasilva is a “YouTube celebrity” and an “internet entrepreneur,” two terms that are pretty vague and meaningless. He also has a website called “eCom Dudes” where he operates “a collective group of individuals and coaches as well, that we come on and we share what’s working now.” (Truth be told, I watched his intro video about four times and I still have no idea what he does or how it works. We’re bordering on the “Underpants Gnomes” model of commerce at this point.)
Dasilva took to YouTube recently to complain about a lawsuit that a photographer filed against him for copyright infringement. In most cases, people who violate copyright and are sued learn a valuable lesson: Don’t steal people’s stuff. Dasilva, however, seems to have learned something else entirely:
To put it into context, the reason I was sued was because I used a picture that I found on Google Images. Now, I should have known better, yes, in my position I should know better. But, again, I never really thought that there are malicious people out there that all they do and this is what I want to tell you is that there are people out there maliciously put pictures on the Internet.
They copyright pictures that they take and what they do is they’ll get like a copyright on it, and they’ll put it out on the Internet, and it’s freely available on the Internet if you run a Google search their image will appear… And they have a team they’ll have like three or four people who are searching the Internet for their image to find all the sites [that use the images without permission]…
His business model is taking photos and suing people for a settlement.
In other words, photographers create photographs. Other people then take those photographs and use them without permission, in violation of copyright law. The photographers then sue to protect their work and receive settlements based on those copyright violations. In Dasilva’s world, this is somehow a “malicious” racket that is meant to entrap people like him and bilk him of his hard earned cash. And what he apparently learned from all of this is that you have to be careful to avoid these “malicious” individuals and instead use “lesser quality” images from Creative Commons.
Dasilva didn’t name the “malicious” photographer with whom he settled the case, but other sites posting on this issue have done so. Nick Young, whose actual “business model” appears to be taking stock photos for a variety of uses, runs his photography business through nyphotographic.com. (I emailed Young and asked him for a short interview about all this. If he gets back to me, I’ll update and post it on the blog.)
Young’s website is upfront about his usage rules:
I allow some of my series of images to be used on a free basis in return for an attribution link back to my web site, I do this as it provides useful advertising for my business:
These images are offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license and if you want to use the images for free it is very important you follow the terms of the licence. Underneath each image are the details needed to fulfill the conditions of the license and also a link to the license so you can read for yourself the terms of the license.
Should you not wish to follow the terms of the license then please purchase a rights managed license through this site which does not require any attributions.
Many of the complaints surrounding Young’s quest to control his own work fall into two basic categories:
- He only charges small amounts of money for some of his photos (one poster noted a $9.95 rate), so suing over the use of these images for upwards of six figures is clearly a scam.
- He is shooting “generic” images of food, computers and other “stock” items, so it’s unfair that he can copyright these shots and make money off of people who just want to use them on their websites.
Let’s unpack the first premise in some other legal venues and see if this makes sense in any other way:
- It’s unfair that I had to pay a $1,000 ticket for stealing a $1 candy bar from the store. I mean, it was only a $1, so that fine shouldn’t be so high.
- It’s so mean that this guy who parks his 2004 Honda Civic in outside my office locks his car and takes his keys with him. I mean, there are TONS of cars around here, there’s nothing special about this and I just want to use it to get home in time to watch the Packer game.
First, the rate (the cost of the image or the candy bar) is based on you doing the right thing and paying for something you want up front. The fine (the lawsuit or the ticket) are in place to penalize you in a way that prevents you from doing the wrong thing again. That’s why tickets for speeding or illegal parking or other similar things are really high. If we dropped all speeding tickets to the price of a gallon of gas, the roads out near my house would look like “Death Race.” The penalty is supposed to teach you a lesson, something Dasilva clearly did not learn
Second, the guy OWNS the material. He paid for gear, studio time, the subject matter (fruit, eggs whatever) and other overhead to shoot that image. He also paid for an education that helped him become good at this. The whole reason people are taking his images is because they are GOOD PHOTOS. If you think the images aren’t worth paying for, you go try to shoot a bowl of fruit or a dozen eggs or whatever and make it look as good as Young can. It’s not that easy and therefore, you are paying for his TALENT not just the PHOTO. Just because you’re used to people letting you ignore the law, it shouldn’t become a stunner when someone catches you and penalizes you. It’s no more of a defense than telling the cop who pulled you over, “Officer, I know it’s only 25 mph out here, but nobody ever ticketed me for going 50 on this road before, so this is really unfair!”
One other thing that you should consider about copyright: It’s not always about money. The goal of copyright is to provide you with a legal right to control your work. Let’s say I take a photo of my kid (she’s really cute) and I register the copyright (which you don’t have to do for it to be copyrighted, but it is essential if you want to ever sue over that right), I control how it’s used.
So, if a guy from a white supremacists website comes to me and wants to buy that photo for use on his blog, I have the right to say, “No.” Without copyright laws, and a means to enforce them, that photo could be used to promote child trafficking, white supremacy, gluten-free breakfast cereal and McDonald’s burgers (the last of which would really be horrifying to me). I don’t think that Young is worried about his photo of carrots will be used nefariously to promote a “master race,” but if he is, that’s his business.