Today marks the first time I am writing on the topic of copyright infringement, especially as it relates to my photos. As basically every single other post on this blog makes clear, I take a lot of photos. In particular, I take photos of transit systems, especially the Chicago L, since, ya know, I live in Chicago. My long term goal is to photograph every station on the L, but in the meantime am nearly halfway there. Still, I have a pretty sweet collection of photos for the stations I have photographed. All photos I deem worthy of publication are on my Flickr, and I also have posted a number of photos on Wikipedia to improve the respective articles. For example, the article on the Bryn Mawr station includes photos from me:
Anyway, where I’m going with all of this: I have a bunch of photos posted online. Most of my photos do not have any explicit license (i.e. I hold copyright and you need to contact me to use them for any reason that would not count as fair use), though a number of my photos (including all photos posted on Wikipedia) are available under the Creative Commons license. The Creative Commons license basically says “you can use this photo, but you have to give me appropriate credit.” Credit could be as simple as “Photo by Jacob G. from Wikipedia,” it doesn’t need to be anything crazy.
There have, however, been a number of people who have used my photos illegally. Here are some highlights.
I’ll start with the most egregious usage: Brasco, a manufacturer of bus shelters:
This is a page from the Brasco website. Apparently they make bus shelters (or, in this case, a shelter at a light rail station). They are using a fine example of their product, the shelter at the Lee-Shaker station westbound platform, which was installed as part renovations to the station were completed. Hey, that photo looks familiar! I wonder where it could be from…
Yup, they stole the photo from my Flickr (click the image for a link to the original). Obvious hints include the orange work zone sign and the car in the background. I don’t even know how they found the picture, but my guess is that they were just Googling for photos of the station and happened to find that, since it turns out there really aren’t many photos of that station out there (at the time I posted that photo, there was not a single other one I could find with a Google search). This photo was not posted to Wikipedia, so it is not available even under a Creative Commons license, so they could not use it without my permission except under fair use (which this definitely was not).
Anyway, as a result of this, I reported this case to Pixsy, a service that handles illegal corporate usages of photographs, and they were able to recover compensation for me.
There have been quite a few illegal usages of my photos on Twitter, I’ll just show the best one:
This tweet originally contained this photo of the Belmont Blue Line station, which now has been removed:
The follow-up tweet which pretends to explain the original photo is just awesome. Every single part of it is a lie, let’s break them down:
- No it’s not a screen capture, it’s a still photo
- No it’s not “by you,” I took it
- The picture was not taken on a Friday, it was taken on March 12, 2020, a Thursday
- It was taken at about 4pm, not in the evening
- Trains were passing by every few minutes at the time I took that photo
Yana is obviously just exploiting my photo to get clicks by trying to make a clickbaity headline. There are plenty of legitimate problems with the CTA and Chicago that could be brought up, but apparently actually researching/investigating those was too hard so she just straight-up resorted to stealing someone else’s photo and lying in order to get clicks. She didn’t even look all that hard, she just yanked one off Wikipedia (but of course didn’t attribute it, since that would make it obvious she was lying). It’s extremely disappointing that someone would not only steal someone’s photo but then blatantly lie about it just to get clicks, but apparently that’s what some people will resort to.
Anyway, I filed a DMCA claim and the photo was removed from the tweet. Problem solved.
Beyond The Dalet
My personal favorite one is a case I discovered a few days ago where a blog known as “Beyond the Dalet” decided to steal one of my photos in an article titled “Stepping Thru the Dalet – Out of Fear and Into Confidence.” From what I can tell, the Dalet is a blog of a religious nature, maintained by a woman named Betty Hall, and the Dalet program is something of a religious nature that involves fostering a relationship with God and Jesus.
In this particular offending post, Betty Hall describes using the Dalet program to get over her fear of walking on the elevated platforms of the Chicago L. I wasn’t aware many people feared walking on those platforms, as most of them are fairly safe (with maybe Sheridan and Bryn Mawr being exceptions due to how deteriorated the wood is), but apparently Betty Hall did experience that fear. Through “intimacy with God,” she described her ability to overcome that fear and walk on the L platforms. She describes one station in particular, Chicago/Franklin, being daunting to her due to its longer platform and being located on a curve, and apparently swaying when trains passed over it. The north end of the platform indeed is on a gentle curve, but the platform is about 480 feet long according to Google Earth, while Merchandise Mart (the station immediately to the south) appears to have a platform that’s 470 feet long and Sedgwick (the station immediately to the north) appears to have a platform that’s 450 feet long, so I’m not sure why she thinks it’s so much longer than the others when the actual difference is in the ballpark of 30 feet (since I measured this with Google Earth my measurements are definitely not perfect). The factual error about the length of the platform notwithstanding, all’s well and good. However, she decided that it would be good to illustrate what the station looked like by using a photo. Here is the relevant paragraph:
Hey, haven’t I seen that photo before? Well yes I have! I took it!
Well, what better place to find a photo than Wikipedia, right? She decided to use this photo from the article about the Chicago/Franklin station. The photo is licensed under Creative Commons, so of course she’s welcome to use it as long as she provides attribution. One problem: I don’t see any attribution. The photo also does not link to the original in any way. Strangely, she did provide credit for some other photos in the article, which seem to be stock images she got from pexels.com. Apparently she figured that since it’s on Wikipedia that means you can use an image and claim it as your own? Well, it doesn’t work like that, so I submitted a DMCA claim to WordPress (her site is actually hosted by WordPress, unlike this site which runs on WordPress but is hosted independently). Within 24 hours, they handled the claim and the image was removed:
Not only has the image been removed, but it has been replaced by a large warning sign, clearly indicating something was wrong and pretty hard to ignore.
I post my Chicago L pictures online for viewing free of charge to showcase my photography and show what the L looks like. In particular I post pictures on Wikipedia so when people read about stations, they have a nice visual. It is not my intention that they be used to promote anything religious. While you are welcome to do that under the Creative Commons license (for photos that are available under that license), you still have to provide attribution, and not providing any attribution is implying you took the photo yourself, which clearly Betty did not do. So, I handled the situation, and the situation has been remedied.
It’s also of course disappointing that she posted in the name of a religion that believes strongly in the Ten Commandments, one of which is “Thou shalt not steal.” Yet, she stole my photo. Simply because it’s not a physical good, or because she probably didn’t directly profit off it (though possibly did use it as a recruitment tool for Dalet, though without looking further into that blog, which I really don’t feel like doing, I can’t be sure) doesn’t make it ok. It’s still stealing, and it’s still immoral and illegal. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean you can use it however you want. It’s not your photo, I’m just allowing you to use it. However, this still means you have to use it under my terms (in this case the terms of the Creative Commons license).