Don’t use stockphotos (you don’t own)

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Unions not only have a legal obligation to respect copyright, but an ethical obligation. Unions have fought for intellectual property rights for photographers for years. Respecting copyright doesn’t mean kowtowing to Disney. It means not using photos from the Internet without permission of the owner.

I mention this as a “pro-tip” because I have often seen unions use images harvested from the Internet without permission – whether it’s a political cartoon taken from a newspaper website and used in a flyer or poster, or an “generic” image of workers for the union website.

Recently, I visited the homepage of Unions ACT and what I saw on the homepage disappointed me.

Unions ACT using a Stockphoto

While I welcome the increase in union membership by 4% in 2009, I am dismayed that Unions ACT have used a stockphoto that appears to be taken from the Internet without permission.

You can see the faint white lines laid over the image of those friendly workers – that’s a water-mark. You can also make out the Stockphoto logo (Stockphoto is an online company that provides stock photos for sale). The water-mark has been partially removed (presumably in Photoshop) – suggesting that whoever provided or uploaded the image for the Unions ACT website was aware that the photo was being used without permission.

(Update: Here is a link to the official Stockphoto website with the photo above.)

I’m “naming and shaming” Unions ACT because two weeks ago I contacted them alerting them to this fact.I received a reply a few days later from the Office Manager, letting me know that my email had been forwarded to “our web admin and design people”. Nothing happened for over a week – the image is still there now – so I followed it up again with the Unions ACT Office Manager, who again replied saying he had forwarded my email to the “web admin and design people”.

Union websites should be especially aware of the images they use. I try to ensure that the images I use on my own blog are Creative Commons licensed or have been made available for free by their creators. Similarly, at my union, we are making an effort to ensure no images are used without permission.

There’s nothing wrong necessarily with using Stockphotos – they can be useful when time is limited – although unions should endeavour to employ or hire a photographer and take their own photos, with their own members.

I feel, after two weeks notice, that there has been ample time for Unions ACT – made up of fine people doing good work – to remove the stockphoto image or replace it with one they have permission to use. I hope that after publishing this blog post, that they act more quickly.

My hope is that Unions ACT do have permission to use this stockphoto and have for some reason accidentally used the water-marked version. It is also possible that the company or person who created the Unions ACT website is responsible for using that particular photo, without the knowledge of Unions ACT staff. I would be happy to hear from Unions ACT to update this blog post.

UPDATE: In discussions with Unions ACT, the offending image has now been removed.

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6 Responses to “Don’t use stockphotos (you don’t own)”

  1. It also brings up an interesting can of worms that is stock photography. I admit I use it in my employed positions, as we never have the budget to hire a proper photographer.
    However as a photographer, the monolith that is Getty and micro stock photography in general is also part of the threats of a professional photographer. They undervalue the cost and time it takes for a photographer to create an image. It’s exploitative as they barely pay a few dollars for the photo when you buy from stock photography.
    But then again thhere will always be happy hobbyists who love it and love to see their work used, so who am i to complain?

    • For most unions, there is no doubt it is best to use images of members (who’ve given their consent). This is especially the case because endorsements of happy members are so important: (see here: http://alexwhite.org/2011/02/using-endorsements-for-your-union-recruitment/)

      For peak bodies (like ACTU or a Trades Hall) it is more difficult, since they have no members, only affiliates. In this case, stock photography is an easy option. It is of course essential to be mindful of both Intellectual Property, and also that the stock photos are not vulnerable to accusations of hypocricy. For example, the Greens Party was criticised for using an image of a bike rider without a helmet in the Melbourne election campaign.

      A union should ensure as much as possible the stockphoto match the union’s values.

  2. Great work Alex!
    When I was at an NGO we couldn’t afford to buy stockphotos (as in, we ran a deficit every year so we literally had NO money) so we searched Flickr for photos listed as Creative Commons (often the snapper just wants you to acknowledge them), and used the photos at ourcommunity.com.au

    And if you can’t find what you want, why not go out and take a photo? Or draw a little clip-art character? Unions should be helping to protect IP, not undermine it.

    • I completely agree. Ideally unions should use photos they have taken themselves, or paid a photographer to take for them. Particularly when you’re redeveloping your union’s website or about to embark on a big campaign, getting a good library of images can be important – albeit easy to overlook.

  3. We use a mixture of stock we’ve paid for, creative commons and hired unionized photographer. When we use creative commons we make sure we check the rights. Often when one we want has some rights attached when we contact the photographer we are given permission simply be giving photo credit. when in doubt we contact the photographer. It can sometimes be very economical to buy an image with full rights for non commercial use.
    Remember the photographer is a worker too who deserves fair wage for the work.

    • As a photographer, I wholeheartedly agree with you there Maureen. I also get really shitty when they don’t credit photographers, but will credit writers (and when i say “they” I mean any organisation in general).

      One question though Maureen, when you say “unionised photographer” what do you mean? There is no union for photographers. There is the MEAA but that is for photographers working for the media. There are two professional bodies – the AIPP and ACMP (of which i’ve joined as a student/emerging member) but they aren’t unions per se (though they do do lobbying to government).

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